Kurdistan is an area located among four countries (Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria), where the majority of the population are Kurds. Who are the Kurds and since when did they start to inhabit there?
According to many historians who are interested in the relevant field of study, it is suggested that the Kurds are the descendants of Medes and the people who inhabited the Kingdom of Corduene.
One of the earliest records showed that the land of the Kurds can be found in Assyrian Christian literature, describing the stories of saints in the Middle East. Some later evidence supporting the existence of Kurds in that area is the mentioning of “Kurds and Kurdistan” in the journal of the Venetian merchant, explorer and writer Marco Polo, only with a different spelling (Curds and Curdestan).
Kurds have been living under the control of invaders since 1502, beginning with the Safavids’ take-over of the land and then the Ottoman Empire after they had won the battle of Chaldiran. Occupation remained until 1914 when the British colonized the area after the First World War. The British and French divided the area into modern countries according to the Sykes-Picot Agreement and Treaty of Lausanne. Unfortunately, due to certain political considerations, the Kurds were not given their promised country.
Ever since then the Kurds have been trying to reclaim their own country on the land that their ancestors have been living on for thousands of years. The fact that the Kurds are the world’s biggest nation (population ranging from 35-45 million) who lacks a country, and that various United Nations agreements give the right of self-determination to all nations, should be sufficient to justify the referendum held by the Kurds on having their own country, which I believe is a matter of common sense.
However, as the common saying goes, “the winds only blow in ways that ships do not desire.” Within the four countries (Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria), the Kurds were not only being denied the right to self-determination, the military and dictatorial governments even denied the Kurdish population basic rights and enacted different laws in attempt of eliminating the Kurdish identity. Teaching the Kurdish language is forbidden, and the language itself is even denied the official status (even though among the four countries, the Kurds make up the second largest group in most of these countries, if not all). The governments also committed genocides against those whoever revolted or advocated for the Kurds’ rights.
Some of the cruelest crimes in the 20th century were committed against the Kurds. Iraq launched some of the worst operations against the Kurds, especially under Saddam’s dictatorship which was known for not having any mercy for any of his opponents.
After discussing the justification of the Kurds’ right to their own country, we will move on to discuss the special case of Iraqi Kurdistan referendum.
Brief background on Kurdish people’s situation in Iraq
Kurdish people had experienced good and bad times under the rule of the Iraqi government, where the situation hit bottom low under the Saddam regime and the according events will be illustrated decennially as follows.
Kurdistan Iraq in the 1980s
In Iraqi Kurdistan, the Baath regime led by Saddam Hussein started the Anfal operation against Kurdish rebels and the Kurdish villages in which civilians were killed. These operations were conducted between 1986 and 1989 and culminated in 1988. They included the destruction of villages, mass killings of citizens, and even the deployment of chemical weapons against unarmed citizens.
The death toll amounted to 186000 and millions of people were displaced, among them 5000 were killed in a single day by chemical attacks in the city of Halabja.
Kurdistan Iraq after Gulf war 1991
After the “Desert storm” operation carried out by the United States against the Saddam regime, Kurdish people were able to gain some sort of autonomy after the Kurdish revolution in 1991.
However, the situation wasn’t so stable and it resulted in a civil war among the Kurdish parties which ended by a split of authority between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (“PUK”) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (“PDK”).
Situation after 2003
The US attacked and ended the Saddam regime in 2003. The war was short but the consequences were far-reaching and dire for the Iraqi nation. Kurdistan was not part of the war and was guaranteed official autonomy in 2005. For the first time in Iraq’s history, a Kurd became the president. But the new Iraqi government wasn’t able to protect the people from terroristic attacks, which led to a short civil war in 2007. Corruption level remained high, resulting in surprisingly high poverty rate in a supposedly relatively rich country like Iraq. However, the situation in the Kurdistan Region was, on the contrary, stable on the national security level, and economy experienced steady improvement.
Unfortunately, Kurds only enjoyed short-lived peace. ISIS initiated an attack on Iraq; they managed to occupy one of Iraq’s largest and most diverse governorate (Mosul) where many Christians and Kurdish Yazidi lived side by side with the Arabs for hundreds of years. After the Iraqi army retreated, many executions and tortures directed by ISIS fighters occurred, trigging millions of citizens escaping to Kurdistan and the south of Iraq.
Since then Kurdish forces (Peshmerga) started fighting back the ISIS with the aid of western troops. Kurdish Peshmerga managed to reclaim big cities like Kirkuk and and many other Kurdish Areas as well as some disputed areas.
The Kurdish people took up most of the population in most of these areas. They acquiesced to the injustice done by the Maliki government which had cut all employers’ salary since 2014 in Kurdish Areas, using the oil selling quarrel between Iraq and the Kurdistan Region Government (“KRG”) as excuse.
Workers worked for 3 years with no salaries, only a small portion of it was paid by KRG itself. Despite that, all Kurdish people in Kurdish areas voted for yes to an independent Kurdish nation. It demonstrates how determined Kurdish people are to establish an independent nation of their own.
Another reason for Kurdish people to seek independence now is that the Iraqi government is being heavily influenced by neighboring countries and it is not entirely independent as it used to be. For example, many of the Iraqi fighters who fought ISIS were fighting under direct orders of the Iranian government, which makes those fighters (e.g. Hashad Shaabi) an illegal force that laws cannot be applied to. Even they had played a big role in defeating ISIS, however, unfortunately, some of them committed crimes against Iraqi Sunna and no punishment was enforced.
After the referendum, the Iraqi army has taken control over most of the disputed areas because the Kurdish forces preferred to avoid bloodshed. But the independence dream never dies and all Kurdish people from all areas under the control of KRG or in disputed areas are still striving for independence. It did not stem from the hatred towards Iraqi; they are our brothers and sisters and we wish them no harm, but it’s clear to the whole world that a nation of 40 million people deserves their own homeland.
As a Kurd, I always feel that it’s our duty to help our nation to acquire her own country. Despite my dream to achieve Kurdish independence, I would like it to happen by peaceful solutions. I have witnessed some of the Saddam wars and the American invasion of Iraq. I saw how much harm and pain a war can cause. There is no winner but losers in wars. I hope one day we will get our beautiful Kurdistan Independence through negotiations and agreements with our neighboring countries.
（Yahya Namiq Abdullah，Student at National Taiwan University）