Thursday, 31 May 2018

‘A Modern History Of The Kurds’ by David McDowel, a cut down version.

David McDowall (1996)

This is the most comprehensive history of the Kurds for the 19th and 20th C. Meticulously researched, with calm and balanced analysis based on the evidence. Hence the power of the conclusion at the end that Iraq, Turkey, and Iran would all be stronger if they achieved a long lasting negotiated settlement with their Kurds.

While it is well known that the Kurds have suffered at the hands of Baghdad, Ankara, and Tehran, the extent of the violence and cruelty inflicted on them is shocking. The number killed or deported after government action is never in the hundreds, always in the thousands and tens of thousands.

It is worth noting the total failure both of Islamic systems (the Caliphate, the Islamic Republic) and the secular systems (Kemalism, the Baath Party) to control the rampant cruelty of racism. 

The deadly failure of these systems should reignite a Christian's zeal for mission and to remember what an explosive and powerful message we have. It's a message that can change evil attitudes. For wherever a true church is planted there is neither Jew nor Greek, white nor black, Iranian nor Arab, Turk nor Kurd.

McDowel's book is over 400 pages long; my notes are 22 pages if you want a cut down version

Chapter 1 Introduction: Kurdish Identity and Social Formation

25 – 27 million Kurds
Two issues

a. the conflict between them and the central governments they find themselves under
b. the move from being Kurdish to having the characteristics of a nation. Till the end of the 19th C there was no serious thought of the Kurds being a nation.

The sense of nation happened at the same time as the Turks and Arabs talked of national identity; and while the Iranians never pushed Persian ethnicity, as they were only about 50% of the nation, they always promoted their language and expected all the other tribes to give allegiance to the Persian scheme of things.

The Kurds are only a sort of nation – there are different languages, which some call a dialect of Persian; and while the Saljuqs used the term Kurdistan so there is a clear area where Kurds are, there is no iron border. It’s been a ‘peripheral’ region for centuries, caught between three major powers (Turks, Arabs, Iranians).  Wrong to think of the borders being modern inventions. There are various myths about the origin of the Kurds. And a strong emphasis on heroes such as Saladin.
75% are Sunni, but from the Shafi’I school, not the Hanafi school like most Turks and Arabs; some are Alevi (edge of Shiism) and Ahl-i-Haqq, both have sediments of Zoroastrianism. Not exclusively Kurdish. And Yazidis. The religious make-up runs closely along tribal lines. 15% are Ashari Shiis. There is also the influence of Sufism.

There have always been Jews, though there was a mass exodus to Israel in 1948; and Christians. Armenians in eastern Anatoolia, around Van. And Assyrians. So there is the expression ‘Christian Kurd’.

Dominant social group – the tribe with ideas of ancestry, kinship ideology, and a territory. This inevitably means conflict with the central state for the tribal leader is the one who deals with disputes and all dealings with outsiders. Despite urbanisation tribalism continues. Tribal chiefs have played a major role in the grim story of Kurds and central governments. And tribes play a key role in the Kurdish parties. They have modern sounding names, but behind the name are old tribes and old loyalties.

So: ‘The Kurdish struggle has been as much about the conflict of such urban Kurds with the class of chiefs…as it has been about freedom from state control’.

Book I
The Kurds in the Age of Tribe and Empire

Chapter 2 Kurdistan before the 19th C.

Kurds first supported the Sassanian armies, but when they saw they were doomed switched to the Arabs.

The theme of Kurdistan and Kurds is in two words, ‘nominal submission’.

With plenty of rebellions and some tribes had ‘functional independence’. Provided troops to the Islamic armies in the Crusades. They managed to deal with the Arabs, had a harder time with the Turkomans who displaced them. Intermarriage not a success.

Kurds suffered from being on a main West to East artery, especially when the Moguls came. Kurdish villages and towns sacked. As in Iran, total devastation.

As the Ottomans and Safavids emerge, Kurdistan is the ‘border march between the two empires’. So – which to choose, when?

Iran not that successful in undermining influence of the Kurdish tribes because they wanted to use their own administrators; the Turks used pragmatism and local chiefs and developed a quasi-feudal situation. This meant they were also a military asset.

The two great dynasties were the Ardalan and Baban families. The Ardalan family allied with Isphahan; and then with the Ottomans. Only broke loyalty under duress. The Babans were more opportunistic. Alot of criss-crossing of alliances. 

In the 18th C imperial powers were treated with truculence.

Chapter 3: Ottoman Kurdistan 1800 – 1850

Ottomans challenged by Russia who used Armenians and Kurds; and threatened by the European interest in the ancient churches. Turkey forced to recognise the power of the tribal chiefs – who were fighting each other.

Great leaders such as - Mir Muhammad expanding, this brought action from Turkey. He was humiliated.

Badr Khan Beg – managed to expand East without inviting the wrath of the Porte, and then they allowed him to deal with the Assyrians who they feared were going to increase their power due to American missionary involvement. So Band Khan Beg led a massacre of the Nestorians in July 1843. Due to protest from Britain and France, the Porte now dealt with Beg. Exiled in 1845.

Chapter 4 Ottoman Kurdistan 1850 – 1914

The result of the Porte suppressing the chiefs was an increase in local conflicts in the region. And an increased role for mystic brotherhoods. The Qadiriya were challenged by the Naqshbandi, wove themselves into the old power structures. Stirred up hatred against Christians and Yazidis.
Shaykh Ubayd Allah of Nihri in 1880 invaded Iran and talked of a Kurdish nation. Pushed back by Iranians. This left an ambition for there to be a Kurdish nation, or at least for a leader like him to be given freedom over his area under an imperial power.

Some ambivalence in Turkey because Shaykh hostile to Christians and so would help Porte to halt Russian advance. Kurds feared the impact of a British protected Armenian state. None of this public.
Sultan raised up the Hamidiya Cavalry from selected Kurdish tribes; but it led to conflicts within the tribes and more suffering for the Armenians as if not paid they were told they could take taxes from them – become lawless. They then take the lead in the persecution against the Armenians, egged on by the Porte. 1890s.

Allowed because of Russian threat.

‘On the eve of the First World War the Kurds were generally noted mainly for their disorderliness, banditry, and harassment of the Armenians.’

Chapter 5: The Qajars and the Kurds

Tehran had modern weapons; and there was a decline in tribalism across Iran. Still, the Qajars had to deal with powerful Kurdish leaders. Difficult to suppress because Kurds just went across the border to Turkey. Tried to deal with them via taking hostages, or by marriage. A Shah’s daughter with a chief. Taxed lightly; sometimes troops. A lot of poverty among the Kurds.

There was grim inter-tribal rivalry, complicated by Kurdish Azerbaijan. ‘Treachery was part of the world Kurds inhabited; (they) practised betrayal between themselves and in their dealings with outsiders.’

Azerbaijani Kurds also felt the Christian threat.

(Kurd in Iran also meant tribal with ‘its own censorious resonances’.

Qajars under pressure from Russia and Britain. 

During Constitutional Revolution Kurdish rural leaders sided with the monarchy; because of feudalism; the urban Kurds with the constitutionalists.

Two main types of Kurds around Kirmanshah – the Ashari Shiis, or the Ahl-I Haqq.

Pilgrims, dead and alive, passed through Kirmanshah on way to Kerbala and Najaf.

The southern tribes full of grim rivalry. And little respect for the governors. The chiefs did as they pleased because central government not strong enough to take on tribes.

Then in 1911 Salar al Dawla raised the flag of revolt against Tehran with other tribes joining. They were mowed down by the government’s machine guns.

Kermanshah remained in disorder.

Tehran faced problem both of Turkey and Russia’s hostility, and the Kurds played each off with the other for money and freedom, especially over the border.

Chapter 6: Revolution, Nationalism, and war 1908 – 1919

Ottoman Empire heading for a crisis; gave rise to identity issues for Kurds. Some preferred to cast off ethnicity for the cause or patriotism, a modern state identity. Others just wanted to stay in the anciem regime

Others were concerned with their ethnicity, but wanted to stay in the wider embrace of Muslims.
Others wanted separation solely on ethnicity. These people would consider the first group as traitors. And the first group consider this group as separatists/terrorists.

The first Kurds to challenge the Porte did it in the name of general political reform allied with other Turks.

Later other Kurds got involved. Two main groups – autonomists (Sayyids) and secessionists (Badr Khans), both backed by two great families.

Happening in context of growing influence of Young Turks who rejected religion and were secular. Also with Armenians and Assyrians declaring their ethnicity, now the Turks were doing so, instead of being a part of the one umma.

Journals started promoting Kurdism: this is within the general emphasis on ethnicity that was happening in Turkey. There is no desire to secede yet.

The CUP (Committee of Union and Progress) = a danger for the agha class, especially as the CUP had said they would restore stolen Armenian land. A number of aghas led revolts against the new regime. There was also the issue of Russian intrigue.

So for the new government in Istanbul, the Kurdish areas were problematic.

The First World War plunged Kurdistan into desperate disorder with Russia and Turkey fighting each other and so triggering the expected ethnic cleansing. Armenians killed Kurds, and there was a terrible vengeance. The pogrom began with a proclamation on 27th May from the Council of Ministers in Istanbul that approved the deportation of populations ‘suspected of being guilty of treason or espionage’.

Over a million died – at the hands of Kurds and Turks. ‘Most Kurds involved in the massacres probably felt it was a question of them or us’. The irony is that they did not know what the Young Turks had planned for them: forcible assimilation. This happened under the excuse of a scorched earth retreat policy.

With the Russian Revolution, all support for the Armenians collapsed.

And the rest of Kurdistan endured famine.

Whole areas devastated. With the war over about 800,000 Kurds had died.


Chapter 7: Redrawing the map: the partition of Ottoman Kurdistan

Defeated Turkey alarmed at what their enemies had planned for them, especially regarding Anatolia.
The Kurds (and the Armenians) would always remain a secondary issue for the great powers. The British were the main power in the region and from outset they would not countenance a united Kurdistan that took land from Iran. Whole issue riddled with problems, especially Mesopotamia.
The British did not have the troops to defend a Kurdish area in the hills; only in the plain. North of Mosul was the problem.

Also issue of which Kurdish leaders to work with. The Turks (wanting to lose as little land as possible) were also courting the Kurds.

All changed by the Greek landings in Smyrna; confirmed fears of a Christian invasion where there were ancient churches. So Turks whipped up pan Islamism, including Kurdish apprehension.
And this further changed by Mustafa Kemal and his rise to power. He wrote to Kurdish leaders asking for their support against the carve up of Turkey. At the same time he acted against all moves for the creation of a separate Kurdish state.

As Kemal became stronger and the USA withdrew, so dream of an independent Armenia faded; and no clear answer for Kurds, exacerbated by their inability to provide a united front. This meant that for the Kurds, Kemal was the only one giving a clear call – for Islam. The allies also missed the potential of the Kirkuk oil fields.

A treaty was forced on a weak Turkish government providing for the autonomy of the Kurdish areas who could then have the option of independence. (Sevres).

This didn’t last long as Kemal drove out the Greeks and the French. In the new treaty there was no provision made for either the Armenians or the Kurds.

Chapter 8: The Kurds, Britain, and Iraq

Britain betrayed its promise to the Kurds in Iraq. While they tried to bring relief in the aftermath of the war, they saw that the area was inter-dependent with the rest of the country. Kurds also nervous about Britain when its troops were sent home.

Britain tried ruling with a light but efficient hand. There were uprisings, one with nationalist tones, Shaykh Mahmud, but he was really an Islamist inciting nationalist areas. When put down the Briton, Soane, ruled with an iron hand. He saw the revival of the tribal system (ruling via them) as ‘a retrograde movement’. In March 1919 he was dismissed. Again uprisings and threats from Turkey. Britain need Shaykh Mahmud. To keep the Turks out the British let it be known they would allow the Kurds to run their own affairs. Then SM talked with the Turks, so Britain drove him out. Kurds divided; Britain not faithful in keeping promises of independence. British trust in Kurds very low, saw them as cunning.

Problem of a united Kurdistan was this: the Kurds were still ‘clannish’ rather than ‘nationalistic’.
Meanwhile in Iraq the British seeking to set up an Arab government, and this meant that there was no commitment to protecting Kurdish interests. Churchill stated that Britain’s aim in this area of the world was ‘to maintain firm British control as cheaply as possible.’

So now the policy was to see the Kurds as a minority in an Arab Iraq. Most Kurdish areas co-operated except Sulaymaniya. Percy Cox claimed he had consulted the Kurds. Most important thing for British was to have a compliant Iraq; Kurds were secondary. Faysal was Britain’s choice for Iraqi king.

But Kurds were dangerous because they could let in the Turks. They had to be brought off. So Britain had to look both ways. Assure Faysal that Kurdistan was within Arab Iraq; assure the Kurds they were an autonomous administrative unit. Difficult town was Sulaymaniya. Most supported…and Turks less of a threat when made clear that Kurds would be under Baghdad. So – Kurdish autonomy abandoned. Blamed the disunity among Kurdish leaders.

Late 20s seemed Kurds had integrated. Allowed to use their language; a lot of talk, not that much action on the translation front…policy of UK was for a ‘stable and homogeneous state’. So, no ‘pandering to Kurdish particularism’.

Small new leadership among Kurds growing up with two beliefs. Kurds should not be ruled by Arabs; nor by tribal chiefs like SM. And there were calls for complete independence. Eventually trouble in Sulaymaniya, 1926. Lots of covering up to try and get Iraq into the League of Nations as an independent state. Successful. October 3rd 1932.

In early 1930’s rise of Sheikh Ahmad Barzani, called divine by some. Collected taxes. Opposed by Sheikh Rashid. Raids. Baghdad failed to subdue. Then Barzani surrendered – to Turks. Driven to defeat by RAF bombing. So…Baghdad not strong enough to deal with tribal resistance. They had to have the co-operation of the chiefs.

Chapter 9 Incorporating Turkey’s Kurds

The Kurds had helped Kemal resist the invaders; now they were crushed by the Kemalists; but not completely.

1920 Alevi Kurd uprising and demands for autonomous Kurdistan wherever Kurds were in the majority. Dersim the centre of activity. Kemal stretched because of Greek invasion around Izmir.
For Kemal, the Kurds were a threat as a Trojan horse for the West/Armenians, so in early days used Islam to keep Kurds and Turks together, talked of ‘one Muslim element’. For the future it was smoke and mirror talk, illusion of autonomy.

Kurds had no united leadership…so it was just a matter of waiting. Once the Greeks had been dealt with; it was the turn of the Kurds.

Turkey was to be re-built on European lines, no room for Kurds and their folk customs. Kurds were to be turned into good Turks.

The process began in the summer of 1923 – Turkish officials, only Turkish to be used in courts…committed now to expunging all non-Turkish expression. No Kurdish medium schools. March 1924 Kemal abolished the Caliphate. The Islam link was no longer needed.

Kurdish response. New organisation, Azadi, from Istanbul to Dersim, with support of chiefs and religious people plan uprising for May 1925. Got support from the Bolsheviks. Crushed by Ankara; ring leaders arrested. Good intelligence.

Another revolt in March 1925 led by Shaykh Said of Palu. Rebellion spread, towns taken.
Brutal response from Ankara. Martial law. Executions – 660. Aghas deported. Sheep sold. Religious schools closed down. Others of Kemal’s enemies dealt with using the insurrection as an excuse.
This was ‘implacable Kemalism’. One party state authoritarianism.

Failure of all Kurds to unite. Too many religious and tribal differences e.g. Alevis (close to Shias) didn’t get involved. But also Ankara just too powerful.

Resistance continued in mid and late 1920s. Response = forced transportation, especially of Aghas. Observers reminded of Armenians. Cabinet talked of ‘the elimination of the unfit’ i.e. the Kurds because they were backward. (Clear influence of racial theories, harbinger of Germany). Reports of Turkish officers ‘tired of slaughtering men, women, and children.’

Some moderation under Ibrahim Tal the governor general; but Turkification intensified, Kurds knew that to get on they had to be Turks. Dismal economy, partly because the elimination of the Christians = the elimination of a wealth creating middle class. Absence of banks.

Ex pats take the lead in resistance. Khoybun (Independence) formed in Lebanon in 1927. Flag of revolt raised in Ararat in 1928. Spread to others. Inflicted damage. 1929 dominated from Ararat to south of Van. Turks couldn’t surround because of international borders. Many motivated by religion, not nationalism.

Eventually Iran allowed Turks to surround Ararat. Instructions were to exterminate; not take prisoners. Law 1850 protected anyone dealing with the Kurds.

Iran’s co-operation crucial; but Kurds also a threat to them. Other side of Ararat now ceded to Turkey in exchange for other land.

1934 Law 2110 divided Turkey into three zones – for Turks, areas where non Turks would be assimilated; areas to be evacuated.

Aim = to have no area in Turkey where more than 5% of the population was Kurdish.
This type of social engineering popular among European intellectuals.

Dessim province – home to mainly Alevi Turks – remained defiant. 1937 25,000 Turks v 1,500 Kurds. There was also aerial bombing. Now 50,000 troops. It was ethnic cleansing. Scorch earth policy.

British FO report – ‘thousands of Kurds including women and children were slain; others, mostly children, were thrown into the Euphrates…’

Up to 40,000 perished.

‘Dersim marked the end of the ‘tribal’ revolts against the Kemalist state.’

But – the Kurds were still far too populous to be either all killed, or deported. The hope was that now cowed they would become good Turks.

Nor was it so easy to eliminate the Sufis and the religious leaders. Outside the Kurdish areas they still gained followers e.g. Said Nursi.

In the future the Kurdish nationalists got support from the left; the religious from the right.

Chapter 10: The Kurds Under Reza Shah

Reza Shah, using machine guns and field artillery, weakened the Kurdish tribes so they were dependent on Tehran.

Reza Khan ‘driven by a…determination to rid Iran once and for all of any foreign presence and to modernize the economy.’

Kurdish tribes in early 1920s were in disarray. Riven with division; plotting with outsiders. Area around Urumiya harassed by the adventurer Simqu one of the leaders of the Abdui, the British campaigned for him to be given official responsibility. All because still Iran too weak to deal with the Kurds. He was interested in independence…and caused a lot of trouble. Got help from Russians and Turks.

By 1921 he has 4,000 men, then 5,000 and a lot of towns. Inflicts defeat on government troops. But – there were anti Simqu factions throughout; not all supported. Further south, little interest in the revolt.

1922 Reza Shah dealing with uprisings all over Iran and subversive actions from Russia and Turkey.
But – biding time, waiting to have enough men to ensure success (like Kemal)

With 8,000 men, the rebellion was dealt with August 1922. Simqu fled. Pardoned 1924. Back 1925, again soon in rebellion, has a rival Amr Khan. Killed 1929.

Simqu didn’t really have a national vision for Kurds; more a tribal pastoralist against settled urbanites.

Similar rivalries in Kirmanshah which were exploited by Tehran.

Tehran determined to make Iran homogeneous – one language (Persian), one uniform.

But till possible, RS played tribes off against each other, used hostages to exert control. Also he needed their muscle.

Frustrated by proximity of border to British controlled Iraq and suspicious of Britain’s plotting with tribes.

Moving of tribes raised questions about land ownership and tax. Confrontation with the Pizhdar tribe around Sardasht in 1923. Hostilities off and on during 20s. Also till 1934 regular conflict with the Hawraman and Mariwan tribes. Cruelty. Assassinations. The Pahlavi hat, introduced in 1929 caused a lot of resentment. Conscription also caused problems. Then Kurdish language in primary schools banned. Some deportations. If his rule was unopposed RS left tribe to be a bulwark against communism spreading among peasants.

End of 1930s – ‘resentful submission’.

1941 RS abdicated, and aghas again tried to build up their force.


Chapter 11 Tribe or Ethnicity? The Mahabad Republic

Ethnic nationalism began in Iran because of power vacuum caused by 2 WW.

Both Russia and Britain wanted to use Kurds for their own security agenda.

Russia want to protect Azerbaijan, so leave Kurds as a buffer.

Britain did not want independent Kurdistan as this would disrupt Iraq. Wanted to rule via chiefs. This alarmed Tehran. Kurds thought Britain would help their independence aspirations.

Kurds were on a roll in and around Tabriz rich with looting after the Iranians left. Plus inter-tribal conflict.

After 41 many chiefs try to work themselves in with the state in order to reinstate their own influence. It was landlords who were elected as deputies. And they exploit their tribes as much as the government.

If near the Soviet zone Kurds thought carefully: Tehran or Moscow. Soviets lured them with promises of autonomy. They soon blew cold.

Kurds becoming more sedentary because of economy. So now we have groups of urban nationalists e.g. Komala-i Jiyanawi. Cells. Delegates all over. Not so much for independence, as for a revival of their culture. Qazi Mohammad, dominant leader in Mahabad, became their president. Supported by Soviet Union who gave them a centre and got them to change their name to ‘Kurdish Democratic Party’ which aimed for ‘national independence’ within the borders of Iran. Left wing…’single law for both peasants and notables’.

December 1945 Eastern Azerbaijan all with Soviets; Qazi Mohammad declares independence for Western Azerbaijan. Capital is Mahabad…23 January Republic of Kurdistan declared (just had Mahabad, Bukan, Naqada and Ushnaviya) Many tribal chiefs came, but had misgivings. Plus tension with Tabriz.

And the elephant in the situation was that the Soviets were due to retreat at the end of the war. The protector goes. Then what? There was the Tehran Tabriz agreement which protected Tabriz after the withdrawal, but left Mahabad hanging. Tribal support dwindled.

Then Qazi was betrayed by other tribes who joined the oncoming Iranian force in December. He was hanged in March. The orderliness of his administration was much more of a threat than an ordinary tribal revolt with the looting and criminality.

Mulla Mustafa, leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), dominated by the Barzani family,  marched his way out to Soviet Union. Created a legend.

Mahabad was inspirational only; there were no long term foundations.

Chapter 12: Iran – Creating A National Movement

Tribal system destroyed by improved communications and worker migration. So –ethnicity became the glue for Kurds.

The Kurdish Democatic Party Iran (KDPI) very left wing and remained heavily influenced by Tudeh party.

1949 after assassination attempt Mohammad Reza Shah moves towards dictatorship. KDPI more active in Mossadeq years. Then Shah back and suppression of Tudeh beings in earnest. No support for monarchy among KDPI. Tehran fears Soviet interference via Kurds. And these tribes had arms. SAVAK very active.

KDPI now comes under Mulla Mustafa’s who wants the Iran part of the name to drop. So they help him when he rebels against Baghdad. But then MM wants Tehran’s help to and ask KDPI to cease activities. Outrage. Now MM turns rebels over to the Shah. Treachery. KDPI continues on – new leader Abd al Rahman Qasimlu. They kept the nationalist dream alive. This burst out in 1979.
Reza Shah had a policy of coerced settlement. This weakened tribal ties. Then there was the land reform, though the Kurdish landlords kept hold of quite a lot of their holdings. But there were more small farmers; plus mechanisation.

So – eventually…all this spelt the end of the magnates.

Travelling made Kurds realise how economically backward their area was.

Chapter 13: Subjects of the Shi’i Republic

1978 Kurds seized weapons. Hated Shah. There were soon clashes with the new regime…because in Khomeini’s vision there was no room for autonomy, nor was there room for democracy or secularism, very much a part of the KDPI mind set.

Till 1981-2 rural areas with the Kurds; town in a fragile way with the government. Mahabad kept on changing.

10,000 died – Tehran used the Pasdaran/Sepah and the hanging judge, Sadiq Khalkhali. Problem of Shia fanatics working in a Sunni majority area of Iran.

There were attempts at cease-fires. Relations broke down irretrievably with the outbreak of the Iraq war. Hard line clerics in Qom opposed. Pasdaran used because AK didn’t trust army.
For Kurds there was a lack of leadership. KDPI not accepted by all, called bourgeois nationalists. Rival group Komala inspired by China. Strong around Sanandaj-Mariwan. More determined to fight. Led peasants in conflict with land-lords to get land – Mariwan.

There were also the Aghas who were more open to working with Tehran; as were the religious leaders.

And the Barzanis worked with the regime.

As did the Shia Kurds. Wanted to be a part of the new Islamic Republic.

Tehran saw autonomy as secession and rejected it. For AK security the key issue.

And then once the Council of Experts had mangled the new constitution there was no room ideologically for the Kurds, because there was meant to be Muslim unity. The term ethnic minority was offensive. And there was no mention of Sunnis.

So the Kurds didn’t vote for the constitution. They abstained.

Shaykh Izz al Din Husayni emerged as a leader. Rejected vilayat-i-faqih as dictatorship under the name of Islam. Wanted separation between the state and religion. Anathema for AK.

In 1980 there was a split in the KDPI over taking aid from Baghdad when Iran was in danger.
When Iraq invaded the KDPI leader Qasimlu told Tehran that it would only turn its forces against the invader when the government had first withdrawn from Kurdish areas. This was treated as treason.
KDPI had an uneasy alliance with the National Resistance Council (Bani Sadr, Rajavi)
Iranian government turned their attention to Kurdistan in 1982, by end of 1983 all land back with them. This forced KDPI and Komala to work with each other – but 1984 vicious war broke out between them.

Qasimlu ended alliance with KDPI, upsetting many.

Rift = how some Kurds wanted overthrow of regime; and how others wanted a compromise.
Komala lost support when it condemned Mahabad – the one year republic had symbolic power in people’s mind. So they went back to Kurdish identity, causing the hard-line left wingers to form a separate communist party.

End of war Qasimlu saw negotiation as inevitable. There was no military solution. But this harsh as up to 50,000 Kurds had died in struggle. This cause a split…new party under Ghadani formed called Revolutionary Leadership. Qasimlu kept most of the support so after AK’s death Tehran opened up negotiations. This led to Q’s assassination in Vienna in June 1988. His Kurdish opponents gloated. Others though were also assassinated, including Sharafkindi.

No talks now. KDPI went for guerrilla tactics. Tehran had forts, but no support in the homes. Sympathy had gone south now to the Shia Kurds, disgusted at the savagery of the regime.
Kurdistan like the rest of Iran, suffering economically, so Kurds travelling more and this underlined their ethnicity.

So – Kurdish resentment and ambition the same; refusal to accept any separation fixed in Tehran. That was the situation in the 1990s.


Chapter 14: The Birth of a National Movement Under Hashmite Rule

Kurdish cause linked to fight to free Kurds from landlords; but culture of patronage very strong.
1935 Kurdish demands in vacuum left after Faysal death 1933. Secular education of Kurds was the springboard for nationalism. Provoked by pan-Arabism movement.

The Darkar group formed in Sulaymaniya, then started a new party called Hiwa – centres both in Kurdish areas and Baghdad. Mainly middle class and professional. Had links with Iran and Mahabad.
Mulla Mustafa emerged as the leader of Barzanis who rebelled. .. Government attacked. MM betrayed by other tribes. Fled to Iran.

Hiwa also fell apart.

Communists now most effective place for Kurdish resistance. Tension between social justice and national identity.

In Mahabad MM needed financial independence. Tried to form one united party in Iraq. The new Kurdish Democratic Party = KDP. 1946. 1947 = Kurdistan Democratic Party.

In Iraq regime worked through the landlords. Challenged by the communists, not the KDP. Communists helped peasants in Arbat against a vicious flogging landlord.

So – KDP had to follow suit.

With Nasser, landlords feel nervous about security of the Hashimite monarchy.

Chapter 15: The Kurds in Revolutionary Iraq

Kurds supported overthrow of monarchy led by Karim Qasim. There was a personality clash between Qasim and Mullah Mostafa (MM) invited back.

Lot of competing forces: Arab nationalists; KDP; ICP; Kurdish Aghas.

Qasim wanted to use MM as a counterweight to the Arab nationalists.

MM paid and looked after and helped Q deal with his Arab enemies.

Q also uses MM when he turns against the communists; and so MM moves against them in the KDP including the ejection of Abd Allah. In KDP MM tries to include autonomy for Kurds. Rejected by Q.

The arrival of Q and MM alarmed the traditional Kurdish chiefs; MM saw them off, so becoming even stronger in Iraq – so he moved against his Kurdish rivals. This in turn alarms Q who makes overtures with MM’s enemies – Surchis and Harkis.

Situation moving towards conflict. No move from Q towards autonomy; instead talk of one Iraqi people.

September 1961. War began. Started by the chiefs unhappy with the land reform. Soon joined by MM. Q response with air strikes. Then by KDP. Communists and left with KDP rejected agha led rebellion as reactionary. KDP formed the Peshmergas (those who face death). Plenty of Kurds on the government side; but ‘unreliable loyalty’.

Q becoming isolated; his fall a matter of time. So overtures to Baath who promised autonomy (lied).
They took power in February 1963. Their concern was Arab unity. And this was impossible for Kurds. They weren’t Arabs.

So MM’s demands not agreed to; plus now the complicating factor of Kirkuk where there was oil. Obviously to be controlled by Baghdad. In ensuing war not much unity among north and south and government took parts of K. Not the mountains. So a failure.

Then new government with Salim Arif which MM made peace with to exert full control over K movement.

Two main groups among Kurds – MM and Ahmad-Talabani. MM dominant because he is the face of Kurdish resistance. MM makes KDP entirely loyal to himself. Ahmad and Talabani driven into Iran.
Point of interest: Ahmad and Talabani had criticised MM for not including autonomy in agreement. MM refused to budge. But when A and T driven out, he then insists on autonomy. So – the politics was not about the policy, but about who initiates the policy. It is all about personal power.
Army launches a war. Not successful. Arif dies in a helicopter accident. Truce.

MM is armed by Iran (Iran’s aim is to resist Soviet Union). MM doesn’t help Iranian Kurdish militants in return. Israel also helps MM.

Government therefore unable to defeat Kurds.

July 1968 Baath and army now take over.

Chapter 16: The Kurds Under The Baath 1968 - 1975

Bitter defeat and sham autonomy. Kurds seen as treasonous.

Irony that at the start Saddam Hussein was a Baath leader ready to be more amenable to the Kurds. Turned to Talabani – Ahmad faction because they were more left wing. Baghdad needed Kurds because feared Iran, so willing to accept the price for this was autonomy. Negotiations started; Baghdad frustrated by MM who was more concerned by his enemies than by the needs of the settlement. Slowly came; Kirkuk to be decided by a plebiscite.

It was Saddam who got the agreement from MM, led to 11th March 1970 Peace Accord (see page 328). Later MM saw this as being wholly cynical. Tariq Aziz said it was sincere. There was a brief honeymoon.

Problem over Kirkuk. And MM keeps on getting arms from Iran, especially after Iraq signed alliance with Soviet Union. Also US now wanting to undermine Baghdad…but crucially US never wanted Kurdish independence. That MM failed to understand, the usual Kurdish problem of trusting the West too much.

MM also in the pay of the Israelis.

The two sides had a list of grievances against each other.

KDP link to Israel and the West = offending communist Kurds.

MM offering Kirkuk to West, angered all Arabs.

Iran now offered to abandon Kurds if Saddam conceded Shatt al Arab issue. Saddam contacts Kurds…if they co-operate then he can confront Iran. If they don’t, he must crush the Kurds.
This MM fails to see and makes a fatal mistake: he doesn’t respond to Saddam.

KDP talked, but sticking point was Kirkuk…MM even claiming it as the capital, even though it was mixed.

1974 Saddam publishes autonomy law; gives MM two weeks to respond. MM rejected it. There were some defections, including MM’s oldest son, to the National Front.

War from 1974 – 1975.

90,000 Iraqis versus 50,000 Kurds supported by Iran – but when Iran and Iraq signed agreement on Shatt al waterway, support stopped. MM retreats to Iran with 100,000. Acute suffering in Bahdinan, because Turkey wouldn’t open the border.

Iraq then ruled Kurdistan by appointing MM critics. Resettlement. Execution to any Kurd trying to return. Arabs brought in to cities, especially Kirkuk.

Massive investment in the area…more than anywhere else.

Autonomy was paper thin. Behind the screen was Saddam’s iron will. So all candidates vetted.

Chapter 17: The Road To Genocide1975 - 1988

MM to Iran; Talabani to Damascus. Forms PUK  - Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. KDP reconvened in Europe. Other parties.

PUK and KDP fought each other. PUK split. As did the KDP.

What we have is ‘a plethora of fractious Kurdish groups’. The KDP attacked the KDPI in Iran to get support from Iran. This angered Kurds. PUK gave KDPI its support.

Saddam described them as ‘hopelessly divided against each other and subservient to foreign powers’.
Kurds’ blood continued to flow in inter Kurd feuds.

Iran opened second front in war in Kurdistan, with support of KDP. Also wanted to eliminate PUK which opposed Iran.

Saddam never forgave the Barzani tribe for helping Iran take Hajj Umran. Executed 8,000 of them – all males over thirteen…first paraded through the streets of Baghdad.

PUK linked up with Saddam. Got weapons to fight Iran. Saddam again cannot accept PUK demands – Kirkuk and elections – and when US tells him that the defeat of Iraq ‘contrary to his government’s regional interests’, Saddam no longer needs to deal with the Kurds.

The two main groups of Kurds eventually make some sort of alliance in Tehran – November 1986. They formed the Kurdistan Front. About seven groups.

Savage response from Saddam. Villages razed; torture and killings.

Kurdish forces were a Trojan horse for an Iranian victory.

Saddam’s cousin, General Ali Hasan al Majid put in charge. Used chemical weapons. Males who came to hospital were taken and executed.

Majid used scorched earth, mass executions and deportations.

Hard liners in charge now. Those who suggested negotiation disappeared.

Also had support of Jash = Kurds who supported Baghdad. Those with Jash were protected. Given money. Iraq’s plan to divide.

January 1988 Operation Anfal = chemical and high explosive attacks on Peshmerga controlled areas.
West ignored claims of genocide because politically inconvenient.

Halajba – 5,000 died March 1988.

Mass executions a week later – including women and children. The jash played a prominent part, thinking perhaps that it would only be confinement, not execution.

And so this continued. It was genocide. Chemical weapon attacks, mass executions.

Anfal killed up to 200,000 people. Many sent to Topzawa…a death camp…tortured and then executed.

The motive moved from security to the total elimination of all Kurds who did not work for the government.

Iran took the most refugees. Turkey initially refused. Then miserable camps. Sometime food poisoning from Baghdad.

International response to Saddam’s cruelty pathetic…the West didn’t want to jeopardize post war construction projects. And arms.

Chapter 18 Uprising and Self-Rule

KF now used lightening raids. Then saved by the Kuwait crisis; but feared association with the West.
And West not willing to support Kurds because of fear of break-up of Iraq.

With Saddam’s defeat, 1991, there was an uprising in Kurdistan. Very few of the jash remained loyal to Saddam. With jash joining, force rose to 100,000. 19th March took Kirkuk. Saddam soon came. Up to 20,000 Kurds and Turkomans killed.

1.5 million Kurds flee to Turkey and Iran. Bombed on the way. West shame.

When refugees reached Turkey, border closed. In contrast Iran opened their borders.
Press shamed Turkey to opening border and creation of a safe haven.

Now Front negotiated with Saddam (embraced by Barzani)

Talabani knew Kurds would need international recognition for any deal to have meaning. But also wary of returning to nationalism with its bitter fruit.

But fighting again broke out. Saddam blockaded Kurdistan. So demonstrations in winter.

Kurds decided to elect their own government. Barzani versus Talabani. But they both won about the same amount of votes; so both led the new government. Saddam continued to wage economic war. Talabani tried to link up – unsuccessfully – with Ankara. Only used to fight fellow PKK Kurds.
The liberated area somehow survived…tension between two main parties erupted in conflict in May 1994. And into this now the Islamic group (IMK) stepped in, receiving strong support from Iran.
And all depended on allied air power.

So, in 1995, all very fragile.

Chapter 19 The Kurdish National Revival In Turkey 1946 - 1979

Post 45 Ankara nervous of Kurdish question; and still denying there was a problem.
Authoritarian Kemalist model changed to allow more freedom. Hence two parties, the opposition = the Democrats who went for the religious vote (smouldering with resentment at the Kemalist suppression) which was particularly strong in Kurdistan. Political and religious axis there revived.
The Democrats also appealed to the exiled Agha class who were still the intermediary between the illiterate peasants of their villages and the outside world. So they stressed the sanctity of private property.

The Democrats swept to power in 1950.

They backed agriculture and received thousands of tractors under the Marshall Plan. In 1948 there were 1,700 in the country; in 1954, 40,000. Much used in Kurdistan…put peasants out of work, and strengthened the aghas.

1960 army take over, alarmed by Kurdish aghas, but failed to deal with them. They remained powerful when civilian rule returned in 1961. On election day the aghas delivered votes. That was the system.

Because of mechanisation many leave the land and sought work first in a local town, then to major cities, here they lived together, so the Kurdish question spread across the whole of the country. Kurdish population remained high in countryside because of high birth rate.

In 1956 Anthony Parsons (Ambassador to Iran 1979) toured Turkey – ‘I did not catch the faintest breath of Kurdish nationalism. ‘

In 1970s very different. Because educated Kurds, ostracized in Turkish cities, in the 50s and 60s had started to work together. Inspired by Iraq revolution in 1958, and return from exile of Mulla Mustafa (MM).

Massacre of Turkomans in Kirkuk by Kurds on 1959 led to calls for revenge; especially in Nigde. The Kurds protested and there were calls for them to be hanged.

Democratic Party now blamed for allowing the Kurds to get out of control. Military in 1960 more robust policy of assimilation of Kurds. President Gursel tried to argue that Kurds were in fact Turks, i.e. the Kurdish ethnic identity didn’t exist. Caused demonstrations, several hundred shot dead.
1962 civilian government, more freedom for discussion over the Eastern question, i.e. the Kurdish question.

Democratic Party dissolves; now Justice Party.

Racism against Kurds is rampant on the right. At school they are asked, ‘Where is your tail?’ As with Jews in Germany in the 1930s there was talk they were not fully human and so needed to be exiled to Africa or worse.

More sympathy on the Left, so Kurds join the Turkish Worker’s Party, and when in 1970 the party spoke up for the Kurds – the military intervened, and the TWP was declared illegal.

1967 mass meetings for Kurds organised and later cultural cells formed across the region.
Brutal commando force sent out to crush these cells. They would surround the villages at night; men and women humiliated. (racial power). Leaders put on trial.

After leftist attacks, military rule again in 1971 and again iron rule in Kurdistan. Thousands arrested.
Under Ecevit many released, but a lot of pent up frustration; plus unemployment. Spawned extremism on both left and right…the rightists were more disciplined, and hated Kurds and Communists. There were left and right clashed, and these covered up underlying conflicts.
The army, turned a blind eye to the right wing violent, but were killing up to thirty leftists a day in the East – i.e. Kurdistan. Complex…so in Maras December 1978 where 109 were killed this was right versus left; Turk versus Kurd; and Sunni versus Alevis. So Kurdish and Alevi slums had their own vigilante groups.

Death toll reaches nearly 4,000.

Again the army intervenes; 60,000 arrested. Officially only 592 killed. A lot of manipulation of the statistics. The generals returned the country to civilian rule with a new constitution with a focus on strict central control.

The generals though did not get the prime-minister elected that they wanted. They god Turgot Ozal who had links with the Islamic right.

Chapter 20 The PKK and the Mass Movement

PKK founder = Abd Allah Ocalan, known as Apo. Student, leftist in the 70s…’gathered six political colleagues to initiate a specifically Kurdish national liberation movement.’ Withdrew to Urfa, Elazig, Gaziantep, and Maras. Unlike ‘all previous Kurdish groups’ because recruits exclusively from proletariat. Raw anger at exploitation. They identified the enemies of the Kurdish people as: the fascists, the agents of the state and their supporters, the leftist who subordinated the Kurdish question to the revolution, and the agha class.

The aghas were the first victims. Horrific exploitation. See page 419. Laid low during military rule. Returns to Turkey 1982 (had been in Iraq) and began shooting landlords. Completely different to previous Kurdish groups. This a. got rid of a hated exploiter and b. showed the inability of the state to protect its own. Though numbers killed only in the hundreds they created a climate of fear.
Government created village guards to protect; PKK attacked them. They wiped out whole families. Kurds divided – but many admired their daring.

1980 another military government; only real war military knew was against the Kurds. So, ferocious response. 1983 Law 2932 = law prohibiting the use of Kurdish. All trace of Kurdish identity to be banned. Children’s names, village names. Severe violence, whole villages arrested, electric shocks, sexual abuse. By end of 1994 over two thousand village razed, 750,000 homeless.

Impact was the opposite of what the government wanted. Support for the PKK increased, who were increasingly getting support from Iran, not Iraq.

The success of the PKK in gaining public attention seen in 1990 when families of those killed started holding public funerals, with thousands in attendance. A public debate started because clear the army had failed. Oppression had not worked.

Creates tension at the top. The army and Ozal continue to oppress, so stifling press control; but the Social Democrats oppose and in July 1990 recommended freedom of expression and the dismantling of the village guards, and so the whole apparatus of state control of the Kurds.

Now the right, under pressure, talked the language of concessions, especially because Ocalan made clear that the Kurds did not want to separate from Turkey.

Ozal walks on coals, burnt whatever statements he makes, but manages to repeal Law 2932. At the same time Kurdish refugees from Iraq pressing on Turkey’s border so forcing the government to negotiate with the KDP and PUK.

Ocalan tenders federalist solution. And in elections PKK via the party HEP showed its influence in the south.

The days of saying there was no such person as a Kurd were over.

Sunni Islam very strong in Kemalist Turkey, especially in the 80s and 90s. Secularists shocked by the presence of 20,000 worshippers at a Nurculuk ceremony in Ankara. Islamic organisations influencing state institutions, religious observance in the police was common.

Mid 1980s Allah Yumruki group (The Fist of God Party) emerged, wanting to take violence to left wing atheists in Kurdistan. This was PKK. By end of 1993 500 activists assassinated (journalists, even sellers of sympathetic papers). Nobody charged. Seemed the government was giving religious fanatics free rein. PKK sought influence of mullahs willing to argue that Islam and Kurdish self- determination not mutually exclusive and this spawned pro Kurdish religious groups ready to use violence like the Partiya Islami Kurdistan (PIK), or Islami Herekat (Islamic Movement) in Van.
By supporting these religious groups the PKK also made themselves more acceptable to Iran whose support was crucial.

Economics seen as the key by many, so Ozal launches major development programme for the East. This focused on hydro-electricity; but the main issue was land reform, for absentee land-lords crippled agriculture. The vision of electricity creating an industrial base at odds with the very low education level of the Kurds. Only 9% completed secondary education.

So – Ankara remained ‘locked in contradictions’ regarding economic development in Kurdistan.
1992 Ozal gives into pressure from the right and allows the army to deal with the PKK. Towns attacked, people fled, about 2000 died. PKK responds with terrorism. Kills 40 – mainly women and children – from a village guard clan in September. Next day killed 29 troops.

PKK then closed the Iraq-Turkey border by threatening lorry drivers. This allowed Ankara to work with Erbil (Kurdish authority) to attack PKK in the border-lands. This was a conventional war, not PKK’s strong point, especially as Turkey probably had satellite information from the USA. Ocalan faced bitter criticism.

Response was for Ocalan to offer a cease-fire with more modest cultural demands. No talk of self-determination. Unfortunately Oxul died and his successor Demirel showed no interest in a political solution. The policy was to crush the PKK.

So the war continued. About 6,500 perished just in July 1991. PKK attacked the south’s tourist sites. By 1993 about 10,000 killed. Turkish journalists unable to work in some areas = control of PKK.
300,000 troops set about razing villages in 1994. Kurds flee to Diyarbakir, and to Iraq’s safe haven.
In Ankara Kurdish parties closed down and reformed with another name…a religious party, Refah emerged as the most successful in attracting support from Kurds. It noted that under the Caliphate Turks and Kurds lived in harmony. The answer was a multi-national state.

In 1994 Rafeh, with 19% of the vote, became the main opposition party. Secularism also dealt a blow by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Till the 1990s the Turks had swallowed the government lie that Kurdish separatism was foreign inspired; then it became clear that it was the actual Kurdish population that was an issue. Racism increased – among ordinary Turks. There was profound distrust. There were mob attacks on Kurds. And many ethnic Turks left Kurdistan, the opposite of what the government wanted.
Fears worsened by the birth-rates. The minority was set to become a majority.

As for the Kurds, wholly alienated. All that emanated from Ankara was tainted by blood and lies.
Ankara had backed itself into a cul de sac. Repression was costly – 8 billion US$ a year – and useless. The Kurds didn’t go away. Furthermore the repression tarnished Turkey’s international reputation. And finally, the failure of a Kemalist solution encouraged the religious parties and the memory of the Caliphate.



Iraq: there is no agreement between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan’s autonomy. Baghdad willing to have a smoke and mirrors sort of autonomy whereby Baghdad always had the final word. However the strident tone of Arab superiority had diminished.

Iran: there is deep resentment smoldering in the Kurdish regions, but no likelihood of the Kurds achieving any autonomy because of the control the government exert over the country. The creed is still loyalty to the Islamic Republic first.

Turkey: Success of PKK was to get Ankara to realise that the Kurdish issue cannot be solved just by military means. Politics necessary to provide stability to attract investment for the economy. As for moving the population; this back-fired. Turkey’s shift away from Kemal’s disdain for religion can be seen partly as secularism’s failure to deal with the Kurds.

There is no major story to tell of pan Kurdism, of effective alliances across the borders. Co-operation remained ‘tenuous and tentative.’

And there is a web of divisions within the Kurds in each state as ethnic loyalty does not always have the last word.

Some of the fighting between the Kurdish groups to do with religion and culture, Islamists versus secularists; Alevis versus Sunnis.

Greatest obstacle to Kurdish development = the influence of the tribal system; whatever the official statements there is the power of the tribal patronage networks. They operate in the cities, as in the mountains.

Independence not considered a serious option; it was autonomy within the state that was sought after.
However Kurdish nationalism, in one form or another, continues to impact Iraq and Turkey. The reason for such opposition to the Kurds is not because the central government things they are a threat, but because a system shaped by dictators demands that loyalty to the state comes first. The irony is that this drives governments to support military solutions that ultimately weaken the state. The best solution is to accommodate the aspirations of the Kurds.

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