Many have noted, in the current centenary observance of the beginning of World War I, that among the ongoing direct consequences of that global conflict and its aftermath was the Middle East map created at the 1919 Versailles conference. As with many of the contrived boundaries formulated at Versailles that year to satisfy the victors’ (Great Britain, France, Italy, the United States) revenge against the vanquished powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary,Turkey) AND their territorial ambitions, the lines drawn, and the new nations created, were mostly artificial and unstable, often ignoring the historic religious and ethnic groups in disputed areas.
In addition to the punitive terms against Germany, the most egregious acts of the resulting treaties were in the Middle East. The British government’s false promises to both the Jews in Palestine and the Arabs throughout the region are by now well-known and have led to decades of chronically bitter conflicts. Concessions to Italy in North Africa backfired before and during World War II. The aspirations of religious and ethnic groups were usually ignored. The dissolution of the vast Turkish empire did lead to a post-war revolution and the creation of a democratic secular regime in the now-smaller nation of Turkey, but even there the seeds of minority ethnic persecution and unfulfilled national aspirations festered.
Among the smaller but historic and culturally-rich groups in that region were the Armenians and the Kurds. The Armenians are Christians; the Kurds are Moslems. The former suffered genocidal and violent persecutions between the world wars, their populations were divided into the regions controlled by hostile larger groups. Eventually, following the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, an independent democratic Armenian state was created, fulfilling the aspirations of the first Armenian nation that existed 2600 years ago
The Kurds, on the other hand, have not been allowed their own state, although a revolt in 1922 declared the short-lived kingdom of Kurdistan that was suppressed in 1924, and its territory was turned over to the British mandate of Iraq.
When Saddam Hussein was overthrown through U.S. intervention in 2003, the Kurds of Iraq, living most in the north of that country, formed a semi-autonomous province, and although part of Iraq, they have for the most part controlled their area with their own leaders. As the U.S. has completely withdrawn from Iraq, and the central government in Baghdad faces insurrection from a new terrorist offshoot from Al-Qaeda which now proclaims itself the new Islamic “caliphate,” the Kurds have seized on the Iraqi disorder to reclaim and secure nearby areas and cities which were historically Kurdish lands.
Importantly, Turkey, which has long opposed an independent Kurdistan on it border, has reversed itself and now accepts Kurdish national aspirations in Iraq.
It is, as many have now observed, a rare opportunity to at least in a small way to repair the current Middle East map by creating an independent Kurdish nation. The Kurds are Moslems, but they are generally pro-Western and opposed to Islamic terrorism. If given their own nation, and supported by the U.S. and Europe, they would likely be another island of balance to the rabid anti-Americanism in Iran and Syria. Because the Kurdish territory contains
some of the current Iraqi oil fields, an independent Kurdish state could be economically self-sufficient. Since the population would be mostly ethnically and religiously homogeneous, an independent Kurdish republic would likely have few of the tensions so prevalent in the current “artificial” nations of Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Longer-term, Kurdish minorities throughout the region could settle in the new Kurdish state. Located between Turkey and Iran, it could serve as a buffer between conflicting Islamic forces in the region. Israel is known to be ready to welcome an independent Kurdish state, and would promptly add the new nation as a trading partner.
The Obama administration has stubbornly opposed a new Kurdish nation as a threat to Iraqi “unity,” but any true unity now seems beyond any reality in the present political situation. The United States should be advancing Kurdish national aspirations, not blocking them.
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.