The Thistle Volume 12, Number 2: July 4, 2000.

The Unknown Oppression of the Kurds

The largest nation on earth lacking any form of self-determination, the Kurds, numbering 30 Million, live in a homeland that was partitioned among four states after World War I. Unrepresented at the U.N. or any international platform, critical issues about the Kurds are discussed in the world capitals, but Kurdish voices are rarely heard. The largest parts of the Kurdish homeland fall within the boundaries of Turkey and Iraq, with Iran and Syria claiming a smaller share. All four states, together with the “super powers”, have participated in systematic repression against the Kurds, while occasionally recruiting “other’s” Kurds into their rivalries.

The United States’ involvement in the region through covert operations dates back to the 1950s. One of the major Kurdish parties of Iraq, the Kurdistan Democratic Party(KDP) was supported by the CIA in its rebellion against the Iraqi regime at the end of the 1960s, only to be left in the lurch later. The leader of the party, who then lived in exile in the U.S. wrote a letter stating his disappointment to President Carter. Henry Kissinger was quick to address his concerns. “Covert action”, he said, “should not be confused with missionary work”.

However, the Kurdish parties of northern Iraq don’t seem to have learned from experience of dealing with the imperialist powers, since they keep playing into the hands of other states. During the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq, they supported Iran, with the reward of being punished by Saddam, the then favored son of the West, towards the end of the war. In 1988, when it was more or less certain that Iraq had won the war against Iran, thanks to all the military assistance from its Western allies, it turned against the Kurds. With all the financial and military aid, they had developed some “new toys”, in the form of chemical weapons, and they wanted to give it a try before the war was over. (They must have learned well from the acts of their big brother at the end of World War II). So, on March 16, 1988, Iraq attacked the Kurdish city of Halabcha with chemical weapons. The city’s residents became victims of the most destructive chemical attack in the history of humankind with some 5,000 fatalities and many more victims who have to live the rest of their lives with painful diseases.

The Western powers, then favoring Saddam, pretended this attack did not exist and did nothing to stop the attack on the Kurdish people. After all, the Kurds had allied with the wrong side, and they could not take away the joy of celebrating the end of the war with his new toy from their beloved ally. However, after Saddam started misbehaving, the Western powers, mainly the United States, suddenly became concerned about the Kurds. Western officials were quick to find an excuse for establishing the “no-fly zones” over northern Iraq, which contains bases for covert CIA operations. The zones were established “in order to prevent Saddam from threatening citizens, particularly the Kurds”, as Al Gore put it.

In Northern Iraq, there is still rivalry between the supporters of two main Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the latter breaking off in the late sixties from the former. The supporters of these two parties are in a constant armed struggle with each other, and value the interests of the party far more than those of the Kurdish people in general. To control the region, it is of utmost importance for the U.S. and its allies to keep the Kurdish people divided. The imperialist powers play their usual trick of “divide and rule”. They introduce an “internal enemy” to keep the people from uniting against the powers exploiting their country.

In Turkey, which has the largest Kurdish population of the four countries, some 12-15 million, the situation is not much different for the Kurds. During the Turkish liberation struggle at the end of World War I, the Kurds fought at the side of the Turks. They were constantly told that the struggle was to establish an independent state for the “Turks and Kurds”. However, once the liberation was achieved, all the promises were forgotten. Turkish statesmen even sarcastically mentioned that there is no such thing as a “Kurd” and called them the “Mountain Turks”. During the first fifty years of the Turkish Republic, the Kurds took up arms 29 times in order to gain basic cultural rights such as education in their own language or being able to give their children Kurdish names. The southeastern part of Turkey, where the majority of the Kurds live, was constantly deprived of economic aid and investments. In the early eighties, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) started armed guerrilla warfare against Turkey which cost the lives of some 35,000 people. The ordinary Kurds were once again the victims of this campaign. More than three thousand villages were burned by the Turkish army for allegedly cooperating with the PKK. The Kurds were forced to leave the lands they had lived on for centuries and immigrate to larger cities where they lived in deprivation. On the one side, they were faced with the brutality of the Turkish state, and on the other with that of the PKK. Those Kurds who sought more peaceful means of obtaining their rights were labeled “traitors” by the PKK.

In the early nineties, the Kurds managed to get their representatives elected to the Turkish parliament. However, the result was disastrous. The members of parliament from the legal Kurdish party were stripped of their constitutional immunity and dragged out of the parliament by the police to be arrested. Four of them are still serving terms in prison, their only crime being to ask for the recognition of cultural rights of the Kurdish people, something which is synonymous with supporting the PKK terrorists for Turkey. Since the eighties, at least two Kurdish parties were declared “illegal” and closed by Turkish courts.

Turkey, which still claims that it has no Kurdish problem and refuses to acknowledge the presence of Kurdish people, has no problem cooperating with the two Kurdish parties of northern Iraq to fight against the PKK. Turkish leaders have even met with the leaders of those parties in the previous years to talk about strategies for uprooting the PKK. Syria, on the other hand, used the PKK for many years, offering it bases on its soil, as leverage in its relations with Turkey. Iran had used the Kurdish parties of northern Iraq during its war with Iraq. So, all these countries benefit from the division of the Kurdish people to implement their interests. And as long as the imperialist powers keep introducing internal enemies for the Kurds, they will keep happily exploiting their land rich in oil and natural resources. And what about the Kurdish people? Well, who really cares about the people in this imperialist game?


The Thistle Volume 12, Number 2: July 4, 2000.