Oppression, denial of existence, prohibition of usage of mother language in public, the press and institutions, forced relocations, no recognition, fear of expressing identity, inequality, economic stagnation or decrease and false hopes are words that could describe the history of the largest ethnic group in the world without their own state.
Though the numbers differ, there are around 30 million of Kurds. The exact number is unknown because their existence was denied even in the recent past in some countries and because some of the authorities report of smaller number of Kurdish people on their territory. In some countries Kurds are even afraid to define themselves as Kurds because of political oppression. Reports show that Kurds are the fourth biggest nation in the Middle East behind Arabs, Turks and Persian people. Everyone has so far heard for Kurdistan but except the landscape with the same name cannot be found on the map. Kurdish destiny is decided by three main factors, dispersion, fragmentation and territorial policies.
Kurds are people that in the past had no right to autonomy or self-determination and were not even recognized as minorities in some countries. They are spread across Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria restless territories. Based on CIA World Factbook in 2014 the biggest number of Kurds is in Turkey 14.7 million (18% of the population), than in Iran 8.1 million (10% of the population), Iraq 5.5 million (17.5% of the population) and Syria 1.7 million (9.7% of the population).
History of Turkish Kurds is interacted with oppression, restriction of usage its own language publicly, political institutions, no freedom of expression, assembly and association, displacement as a result of conflict and confrontation with military, journalism activity no recognition and underdevelopment of its territories. Economic problems exist in southeastern part of Turkey, where most of the Kurds live with high unemployment levels. In 2002 Ankara had made some reforms about its very restrictive Kurdish policy, where Kurdish broadcast on radio and television was prohibited. The launch in 2009 of a public television channel broadcasting in Kurdish was a step forward. However, the expression of Kurdish identity is still perceived as a threat to the country’s unity based on the 2011 European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ERCI) report. ERCI reported that many Kurds live in concentrated in the poorest remote provinces of country with difficult economic and social conditions. Inequality is still seen among populations where Kurds are still not equal to the majority of the population. Through time we have seen active Kurdish political movement in the country. Almost all of the parties were prohibited after some time. Reasons for banishment were promoting separatism and Kurdish nationalism among others. A lot of party members were sent to prison and even sentence to jail. Conflict between Turkey and PKK that is composed of various Kurdish insurgent groups, listed also as a terrorist group by some countries, are demanding separation from Turkey and creating an independent Kurdistan or autonomy. The conflict started way back in 1974 and is still going in different phases. Both sides have been accused of atrocities and human rights violations. For many years it was in fact illegal for Kurds speak their own language, use Kurdish names or play their music, going even further with the Turkish government refused to recognize the existence of Kurds and named them Mountain Turks. The situation is yet to get resolved with many obstacles still on the way to peace and freedom. With elections and the HDP – The People’s Democratic Party recorded more than 10% of the vote and pass one of the highest electoral thresholds in the world, it will play an important role for Kurdish people. It was founded as a pro-Kurdish party in 2012. Its representatives will take seats in parliament for the first time and make Kurdish voices heard and improved their overall situation. In my opinion that kind of political solution is needed to help ending more than three decades lasting conflict.
Situation in Iraqi Kurdistan is different and makes and exception in the position of Kurds. Semiautonomous region has been achieved through economic cooperation and opened the road to prosperity. Following the first Gulf war and with the United States (US) imposing a no-fly zone in northern Iraq, Iraqi Kurds have managed to develop de facto self-government since the year 1991. After US invasion after 2003 after two years, followed the new constitution with emerging federal state and declaring Kurdistan’s special status. Even though right for autonomy comes from the constitution, Baghdad has done much to prevent self-government and wants to further lead centralized politics and control over the country. Main problem resides with oil and gas revenues that are found in this area. In the light of Turkey policy regarding large Kurdish population of its territory and often violent disputes country made a shift with supporting financial independence of the region and started doing business and abandoned its stance opposing the autonomy. Baghdad could block Kurdish-Turkish cooperation, but that could backfire in declaring Kurdistan’s independence. It looks like neither side wants such an outcome where Iraq would lose oil and gas revenues or even encourage other provinces to do the same and the other side challenges of independent states. In every way the region is shifting from the central order and rule to more decentralized one with international cooperation.
In Iran Kurds are facing similar economic problems as other countries, such as poverty and underdevelopment. Iranian Kurds have in the 20 century established a semi-independent state which was abolished in one year. Amnesty International has reported of abuses and suppression of Kurdish people, their social, political and cultural rights and even of big number of Kurdish citizens being executed. Kurds in Iran are getting less international attention than in other countries, but political repression is present every day. Iran remains second largest executer in the world and reports from international humanitarian organizations accused Iran of unfair trails and right violations against minorities and activists. Many Kurdish political prisoners were till this day executed. In May we have seen Kurds protests in Mahabad against authority, but their situation does not seem to be improving.
Another country where Kurds are important minority is Syria. Syria’s Kurds have managed to declare their own autonomous region in the northeast part of the country. As a result of the Syrian war and the rise of the Islamic State, Kurds in Syria have established a self-ruled region called Rojava which spans parts of northern Syria. Rojava is an inclusive system where local communities and groups have great influence on political and social issues. These communities are diverse and include Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, Christians and so on. Kurds have unilaterally declared self-rule in 2012 and since then protected territories from Islamic State forces. The People’s Protection Unit (YPG) has been fighting against the Islamic State; with support from US-led airstrikes the PYD’s and PKK’s effectiveness in ground operations against Islamic State, most notably in the battle for Kobani in 2014, has led some experts to call for the United States to remove the PKK from its list of foreign terrorist organizations.
It is not the last time we have heard about Kurdish problems, since there are many potential outbreaks of the conflict possible, with unresolved situations in four different countries regarding the same ethnical group. With further suppression and human rights violations the possibility of creating greater disagreement and walls against opposing sides is rising. The Kurdistan remains so far unreachable Kurds distant dream, but hopes and fight against injustice never dies.