Kurdish history is marked with human tragedy. It is no wonder Kurds used to call themselves victims of history and a people who have no friends but their mountains.
Kurds in Turkey and Iran have been no exception. Decades of complete denial of Kurdish identity and total suppression of Kurds in Turkey, including mass killings and the destruction of villages, are well known. While the situation has improved over the last decade it is in the long term interest of Turkey and its peace process to decisively intervene to defend Kurds against the IS terrorist group.
Less known, however, is the suffering and the harsh violations of human rights of the Kurds in Iran.
Kurds in Iran also endured a devastating siege of their cities by the Islamic regime more than three decades ago. In July 1979, only months after the Revolution, Khomeini ordered a massive onslaught against the Kurds. It was a brutal, unprovoked and unjustified attack that included many orchestrated mass killings, summary executions and the rape of women and girls. Khomeini and his Islamic regime were as fanatic and as brutal as the new Islamic State. A Shiite counterpart, if you like.
In Syria the priority should be the destruction of the Islamic State, however, Bashar al Assad should not be regarded as part of the solution. The Assad regime must be dealt with by the United States and the broad coalition. Dealing with his regime must be part of a comprehensive solution. The final goal must be a free and democratic, tolerant and non-sectarian Syria where the rights of all ethnic and religious groups are respected.
Syrian Kurds have lived in limbo for so long, they have suffered so much in the hands of the dictatorship of the Assad dynasty. Thousands of them are not even recognized as citizens. In fact they are regarded as non-existent and are treated as such. The recent developments show how important the role of Kurds in Syria can be. Kurds should enjoy their full national rights in this multi-national and diverse country.
As for the Kurds of Iraq they have proved to be the most reliable partner in a volatile situation. They are at the forefront of war against IS and their peshmarga forces remain the only military force in Iraq that have had tangible gains with the help of the American led coalition air force. The Kurdistan Region, with all of its shortcomings, has proven to be the safest, the most politically stable and the most prosperous part of Iraq.
Maliki’s government pursued a very harmful sectarian policy, trying to side line the Sunni Arabs as well as Kurds and other minorities. His policies paved the way for the hell that the Iraqi people are now living in. If the international community want the new Iraq to work, they should press its new government to abandon Maliki’s policies and adopt more inclusive ones that work with Kurds as well as Sunni Arabs and all other ethnic and religious minorities.
Kurds in Iraq must be supported, armed and trained with greater scope and more urgency and speed. The long overdue constitutional step of resolving the issue of disputed areas, including Kirkuk, should be dealt with by a referendum according to article 140 of the Iraqi constitution through a democratic, internationally-supervised referendum.
But a Kurdish issue that is not at the forefront of international news is the case of the Iranian Kurds. With a population of 8 to 10 million, there are more Iranian Kurds than Iraqi and Syrian Kurds combined. Spreading across four provinces in North and Northwest Iran, Iranian Kurds occupy an area twice the size of Iraqi Kurdistan. Iran’s onslaught against its Kurds has been going on for decades. However, they are often overlooked.
Kurds are a key component of any democratic movement in the country. They can significantly contribute to a new, democratic, multicultural Iran. The democratic movement in the country, in which the Kurds are an indispensible part, are what the West should by relying on.
It is ironic that the Islamic State who are fiercely fighting the Kurds in Iraq and Syria and trying to inflict as big a blow as possible on them, have in fact become the latest element helping to dismantle the status quo set by the colonial Sykes-Picot agreement a hundred years ago.
The colonial agreement made in 1916 seems over and a new regional order is emerging. Kurds, who were the biggest losers of World War 1 in the region, after the Lausanne Treaty, have the potential to now become the winners.
The point I want to make here is that despite their circumstances and the unjust fate they continue to face, Kurds are no longer simply victims of history. They are making their history through sweat, blood and sacrifice and they are already contributing to the reshaping of a new emerging Middle East.
In general, Kurdish people are some of the strongest advocates for democracy and Western values. Kurdish national movements do not resort to fundamentalist ideology or extremist methods – they focus on building a free, democratic society with equal rights for all citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religion, sex or religion.
Kurds should no longer be regarded as a security threat. They are active and responsible political players in the region. The international community is awake to the Islamic State’s attack on Kurds. Gone are the days of Anfal, and chemical attacks by Saddam Hussein against Iraqi Kurds, as the world watched in silence. The world is finally listening and must now support Kurds in their fights for legitimate rights, whether in Iraq, Turkey, Syria, or in Iran.