Kurds - A People Without a State


Of all the ethnic groups in the world, the Kurds are one of the

largest that has no state to call their own. According to historian

William Westermann, "The Kurds can present a better claim to race

purity...than any people which now inhabits Europe." (Bonner, p. 63,

1992) Over the past hundred years, the desire for an independent

Kurdish state has created conflicts mainly with the Turkish and Iraqi

populations in the areas where most of the Kurds live. This conflict

has important geographical implications as well. The history of the

Kurdish nation, the causes for these conflicts, and an analysis of the

situation will be discussed in this paper.

History of the Kurds

The Kurds are a Sunni Muslim people living primarily in Turkey,

Iraq, and Iran. The 25 million Kurds have a distinct culture that is

not at all like their Turkish, Persian, and Arabic neighbors

(Hitchens, p. 36, 1992). It is this cultural difference between the

groups that automatically creates the potential for conflict. Of the

25 million Kurds, approximately 10 million live in Turkey, four

million in Iraq, five million in Iran, and a million in Syria, with

the rest scattered throughout the rest of the world (Bonner, p. 46,

1992). The Kurds also have had a long history of conflict with these

other ethnic groups in the Middle East, which we will now look at.

The history of Kurds in the area actually began during ancient times.

However, the desire for a Kurdish homeland did not begin until the

early 1900?s, around the time of World War I. In his Fourteen Points,

President Woodrow Wilson promised the Kurds a sovereign state

(Hitchens, p. 54, 1992). The formation of a Kurdish state was supposed

to have been accomplished through the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 which

said that the Kurds could have an independent state if they wanted one

(Bonner, p. 46, 1992). With the formation of Turkey in 1923, Kemal

Ataturk, the new Turkish President, threw out the treaty and denied

the Kurds their own state. This was the beginning of the

Turkish-Kurdish conflict. At about this same time, the Kurds attempted

to establish a semi-independent state, and actually succeeded in

forming the Kingdom of Kurdiez, which lasted from 1922-1924; later,

in 1946, some of the Kurds established the Mahabad Republic, which

lasted for only one year (Prince, p. 17, 1993). In 1924, Turkey even

passed a law banning the use of the Kurdish language in public places.

Another group of people to consider is the Kurds living in Iraq. Major

conflict between the Kurds and Iraqis did not really begin until 1961,

when a war broke out that lasted until 1970. Around this time, Saddam

Hussein came to power in Iraq. In 1975, Hussein adopted a policy of

eradicating the Kurds from his country. Over the next fifteen years,

the Iraqi army bombed Kurdish villages, and poisoned the Kurds with

cyanide and mustard gas (Hitchens, p. 46, 1992). It is estimated that

during the 1980?s, Iraqis destroyed some 5000 Kurdish villages

(Prince, p. 22, 1993). From this point, we move into the recent

history and current state of these conflicts between the Kurds and the

Turks, and the Kurds against the Iraqis.

Causes for Conflict

The reasons for these conflicts have great relevance to

geography. The areas of geography relating to these specific conflicts

are a historical claim to territory on the part of the Kurds, cultural

geography, economic geography, and political geography. These four

areas of geography can best explain the reasons for these Kurdish

conflicts. First, the Kurds have a valid historical claim to

territory. They have lived in the area for over 2000 years. For this

reason, they desire the establishment of a Kurdish homeland. Iraqis

and Turks, while living in the area for a long period of time, cannot

make a historical claim to that same area. The conflict arises,

however, because the area happens to lie within the borders of Iraq

and Turkey. Even though the Kurds claim is valid, the Turks and Iraqis

have chosen to ignore it and have tried to wipe out the Kurds.

Second, and probably most important, is that this conflict involves

cultural geography. The Kurds are ethnically and culturally different

from both the Turks and the Iraqis. They speak a different language,

and while all three groups are Muslim, they all practice different

forms. The Kurds have used this cultural difference as a