The history of Kurds is ancient and catastrophic, and with few exceptions, is filled with a continuous struggle for independence. The Middle East, where Kurds are scattered, is one of the most unstable regions of the world. As the fourth most populous linguistic group, they have been vainly seeking to form a national identity.
If you look at the map, you won’t find any country for Kurds. The population of some 25 to 35 million of Kurdish nation has been reduced to a scattered minority across five countries, including Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Armenia.
The Kurds are said to have been inhabited along the plains and mountains of Babylon and Nineveh, the ancient civilizations. The region now comprises the parts of southern Turkey, north-eastern Syria, northern Iraq, north-western Iran, and south-western Armenia.
However, the greater number of Kurds inhabit in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey, followed by north-eastern Syria. These regions are usually called Kurdistan.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the north-eastern region of Kurdistan also hosts huge number of Kurds.
Like many other middle-eastern problems, the Kurd division into these different states is one of the many outcomes of the agreement between Britain and France in 2016, known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
Under this, the middle east was to be separated, and later to be transformed, from Ottoman caliphate, and came under the influence of Britain and France. It permanently divided into different states in 1920.
Kurds region in Turkey was given a separate status, which the national government of Turkey opposed. After this in 1923, under the Treaty of Lausanne, Iraq recognized Turkey’s boundaries, rendering a fatal blow to Kurds’ hope for a separate state.
Subsequently, the Kurds scattered around the boundaries of Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The immediate effect of this agreement was that Turkey denied the Kurds their basic rights. Until the end of the 1990s, the Kurd condition was not different from the Rohingyas’ condition in Myanmar.
Similarly, the Syrian Kurds have been fighting for their language, culture and for other political and economic rights. In Syria, the Kurds had no voting rights before the civil war. Now, while they have liberated their territory from the ISIS threat, they are to face another challenge from Turkey.
The History of Persecution of Kurds
The history of Kurds is synonymous with persecution and has been equally tragic across the borders. The Iraqi Kurds have faced the worst kind of atrocities during Saddam’s period. Saddam was even accused of the Kurd genocide. During his reign in the 1980s, chemical weapons were used against Kurd citizens, killing thousands of them.
Iran also suppressed Kurds living in the north-western border areas when they tried to form a free Kurdistan in 1946.
Ancient History of Kurds
It seems unlikely that Kurds had a sovereign state in the pre-Islamic period. They began to form a sovereign kingdom on the ruins of the Abbasid caliphate. The most famous among the Kurds was Salahuddin Ayubi, better known as Saladin in the West.
They Kurds formed a part of the Ottoman caliphate as the sub-nation when the Muslims recovered from the Mongol invasion on Baghdad. Despite these differences with Ottoman Turks and Iran, they lived under their sovereignty.
One of the Kurd’s scholars, Idrissi Bitlissi, helped forge an alliance between the Kurds and the Ottomans. According to this agreement, the caliphate gave their autonomy to the Kurdish tribes in exchange for Kurdish loyalty to the caliphate. After which the Kurds had been co-existing peacefully under the caliphate for the next many centuries.
But then the western concept of nation-state began to emerge, it spread among the Kurds too. From 1830 to 1839, a Kurdish chief, Mir Muhammad, fought against Ottomans for a united Kurdistan. But after the failure of this Kurdish struggle, the Ottoman caliphate directly assumed the control of the Kurdish areas.
The Kurd chieftains were rewarded, and their children were given the facilities and jobs in exchange for their loyalties to the caliph. Over time, these state privileges created an elite group of educated Kurds, who created among their fellows a political awakening. Soon they found an organization and struggled for the national identity.
But the world war suspended their plans. While Britain and France were slicing the Ottoman caliphate into smaller national identities, the Kurds lost their cause amidst this chaos, due to lack of organization and comprehensive plan.
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