Who Are the Kurds? Explain the genesis of the tussle between Kurds and Turkey?

Kurds are an ethnic minority group without an official state except in Iraq where they have never achieved nation-state status and they have a regional government called Iraqi Kurdistan.

There are about 25-30 million Kurds and the majority are living in a region encompassing across parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Armenia. Kurds are Sunni Muslims but have diverse cultural, social, religious and political traditions as well as a variety of dialects.

Struggle against Discrimination

Kurds who make up roughly 20% of the population are the largest ethnic minority in Turkey. Kurds have struggled to maintain their identity and continue to face discrimination and policies of persecution. For example, they’re often referred to as Mountain Turks and forbidden to wear traditional Kurdish outfits, speak their language or give their children some Kurdish names. They continue to face discrimination and policies of persecution.

Quest for an elusive homeland

The Kurdish people have never had their independent national homeland. At the Versailles peace conference after World War I, the Kurdish Ottoman diplomat Mehmet Sherif Pasha proposed borders of a new Kurdistan that covered parts of modern Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.

The Treaty of Sèvres (1920) which partitioned the old Ottoman dominions marked out a much smaller territory which is entirely in what is now Turkey.

Turkey negotiated with the Allied powers and in 1923 ended the idea of a self-governing Kurdistan with the Treaty of Lausanne which overtook Sèvres.

In the following decades, the Kurds made repeated attempts at establishing a de facto Kurdistan with defined national borders and in the process attracted massive Turkish repression, including bans on the Kurdish language, names, songs, and dress. In Iraq they were attacked them with chemical weapons and in Iran, their uprisings of the 1980s and 1990s were crushed.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party was set up in 1978 with the aim of setting up an independent Kurdistan. They fought guerrillas against the Turkish army. From 1984 until Öcalan’s capture in 1999, some 40,000 Kurdish civilians were killed. Sporadic terrorist attacks continued until 2013 when the PKK declared a ceasefire.

The ceasefire collapsed when Turkey joined the war against the Islamic State in 2015 and started to bomb PKK targets in Iraq.

Assault of Turkey

After the announcement President Trump that the United States would begin withdrawing troops from Syria, Syrian Kurds feared Turkey would use the withdrawal as an opportunity to launch an assault. Turkey’s plan to move forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria is seen as an attempt to curb Kurds.

Return of ISIS

The ISIS does not hold any territory. But still has tens of thousands of ISIS fighters are in hiding in both Iraq and Syria. As Syrian Kurds preparing to fight and few may run in the opposite direction, thousands of terrorists and displaced ISIS members and ISIS survivors could use this opportunity to revive and reestablish itself.


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