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