In the present turmoil in the Middle East—characterized by massive political upheaval, renewed genocidal military operations, threat of nuclear proliferation, and massive population shifts—the Kurdish Cause occupies a central position of concern to the governments of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and of course us, the Armenians.
The issue is not new; the Kurdish struggle to be accepted as an ethnic group having some kind of self-rule started around 1843 when their leader in Bohtan, Prince Badrkhan, mobilized a 40,000 man-strong army consisting of Armenians and Kurds, and waged a war against the Ottoman oppressor. Armenians participated eagerly and enthusiastically, for in it they saw their salvation from Turkish tyranny.
This alliance was also a blessing for the Armenians since the Kurdish tribes, who had been their enemies in the past, became their allies against Turkish rule. The new situation dissolved the alliance that had existed between Armenians and the Turks against the Kurdish tribes.
In their separate ways, Kurds and Armenians have long struggled for their national rights and, in the case of the Kurds, also for ethnic identity. The uprisings led by Sheikh Oubaidullah and Sheikh Sa’eed at the beginning of the first quarter of the last century are good examples.
The Armeno-Kurdish relationship has been sporadic and untrustworthy, although there have been periods of cooperation.
In the chaos of shifting alliances, personal and ethnic interests and ambitions, political dynamics changed yet again. This time with German engineering and premeditated planning by Ittihad ve Terakki (Young Turks), the Kurds, in conjunction with the government and some Turkish people, carried out the great genocide of 1915. They slaughtered and looted, raped our women, and kidnapped our children. For them, implementing the genocide was not a patriotic act serving the Kurdish Cause.
In the aftermath of the genocide, nursing profound hatred, Armenians had no significant contact with the Kurds. Some felt that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who had come to power in 1921, avenged their tragedy by beheading more than 700 prominent Kurdish personalities and mullahs, though in reality the beheadings had different motivations.
Ataturk committed a genocide of sorts against the Kurdish people by denying them their ethnicity, and depriving them from speaking their language and practicing their culture. Furthermore the state engaged in ethnic cleansing by abducting Kurdish children and placing them in remote schools, giving them Turkish names, brainwashing them, and giving them an ethnic Turkish identity.
Ataturk could kill people, but he could not kill the Kurds’ national aspirations.
In the late 1920’s, the Kurds waged an armed struggle against the central government. It was organized by the “Xoybun (Khoyboon) Party, founded by Kurds and Armenians who succeeded in establishing the Republic of Ararat and declaring independence on Oct. 28, 1927.” The ARF had played a pivotal role in ushering the uprising to victory.
Turkish authorities crushed the newborn republic in September 1930, but the idea of the Kurdish Cause not only survived, it propelled one step forward. The revolutionary fervor peaked when Seyid Riza, an Alevi leader of Zaza tribes, led a rebellion; Ataturk’s forces responded by launching a brutal massacre of the Dersimlies and the Zaza, details of which are seeping out just now. The year was 1937.
The Kurds never gave up. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, circumstances were right for the Kurds of Iran to create yet another republic, this time in the province of Mahabad. The Soviets, pursuing their own interests, facilitated the creation of this republic, which declared its independence from the central government in Tehran on Jan. 22, 1946. It was headed by Qazi Muhammad. Mala Mustafa Barzani was the defense minister. Tehran, with the help of the British and the Soviets, crushed the Mahabad Republic 11 months after its founding. Qazi Muhammad went to the gallows, while Mala Mustafa escaped to his base in Barzan in Iraqi Kurdistan.
On Feb. 3, this year, and under the auspices of Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani, the feuding Kurdish parties of Iran, together with Kurdish leaders from all over greater Kurdistan, celebrated the 66th anniversary of the Republic of Mahabad. The event was unusual in that it was the first celebration in 66 years. What prompted this gathering?
Stemming from their revolutionary history and in his speech to the celebrants, Barzani vowed to work to unite the Kurds of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria to realize their dream of a Greater Kurdistan. A Kurdish statesman of Barzani’s stature had never before made such an overt statement so loudly. The statement had far-reaching implications, the most obvious of which was reconciling different Kurdish tribes and political groups in preparation for re-committing to a Mahabad-type Kurdish republic.
In fact, the plan was initiated and driven by the U.S. to fight the Islamic Republic of Iran from within, and free the world from its nuclear threat. Barzani owed one to the U.S. He tried but the effort was fruitless; enmity between the Iranian Kurdish political parties prevented any kind of reconciliation.
Leaving details and further analysis for another time, what concerns us most is what has been known for a long time, but not through the mouth of a Kurdish-elected official like Barzani—and that is commitment to create a unified Kurdistan combining Iraqi Kurdistan with that of Iran, Syria, and Turkey. The formulators of such a union must take into account the fact that part of what they call Kurdistan is Western Armenia. We are the sole owners of the six villayets, which are now conveniently and arbitrarily cartographed into Kurdish maps. This is unacceptable, and if it remains as is, the Armeno-Kurdish rapprochement is dead on arrival.
The rights of Armenians and Kurds to land and water in Anatolia was delineated by President Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations. It is a fair and just solution to our mutual concerns. Neither the Lausanne Treaty nor any other unjust treaty can erase its provisions. Gestures to renovate and return churches, which should not have been confiscated and destroyed in the first place, are welcome, but the pending issues are more complicated than celebrating Mass in the Akhtamar and Sourp Giragos churches.
The first manifesto of the Kurdish Parliament in Exile—issued in Brussels, and apologizing in the name of the Kurdish nation for the atrocities committed by the Kurdish tribes—though honest and noble in and of itself, does not materially change the situation on the ground. We, collectively, have overcome most of the psychological trauma from the murder of our parents and grandparents. Real politics rejects emotions.
History, geography, national interests, and commonality have coined an inevitable common destiny for us, from which it is impossible to divorce, unless we relinquish our rights to Western Armenia, our motherland.
Looking forward, the question begging answers is: Could there be another Xoybun?