Ethnic cleansing is not the answer to the Kurdish question

YET FOR the Kurds, this is all too familiar. They have been facing persecution, ethnic cleansing, and genocide since after World War I, when the contours of the modern Middle East took shape.

KURDISH PESHMERGA troops overlooking ISIS-held territory in September. (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
KURDISH PESHMERGA troops overlooking ISIS-held territory in September.
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
The Kurds have been reduced to a pariah people in their ancestral homelands. The very existence of their language and culture threaten to defile the sacred cow of the sovereign nation-states that have annexed their homeland. Numbering some 35 million, the Kurds are divided among the states of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, constituting the largest ethnic minority in the world.
When the Kurds try to be masters of their own house, they draw universal condemnation on the grounds that establishing a Kurdish state will threaten the national security of Middle Eastern states and their territorial integrity. The various authoritarian states where the Kurds live invoke state sovereignty and national security to carry out ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Kurds.
Are the Kurds more destabilizing Iran and Turkey who support Shia militias and Jihadist groups? It is the violent oppression of the Kurds by Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria that has caused instability, not the Kurds. Yet the Kurds’ plight for help in the face of genocidal states is ignored by the international community. Turkey’s unprovoked invasion of northeast Syria is the most salient example of the conspicuous silence of the international community.
Turkey’s naked aggression and ethnic cleansing of the Kurds in northeast Syria is the most salient example of the way the Kurds are treated in the Middle East. Turkey views the existence of any Kurdish political entity, even outside its borders, as a threat to its national security. As a result, Turkey has taken upon itself to wage an unprovoked attack on the Kurds, allegedly to safeguard its national security without providing any evidence of attacks from the Kurds of Syria. Following this logic, Turkey has the right to attack a Kurdish entity wherever it might arise, and Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan has stated as much. For Turkey to feel secure, the Kurds must disappear as a people.
Kurdish genocides – in Halabja and Anfal by Saddam where over 100,000 Kurds perished; the ethnic cleansing in Afrin; and now the atrocities by Turkey and its Jihadist allies in Syria – demonstrate that the Kurds cannot rely on the goodwill of the international community whose institutions have become platforms for advocating of ethnic cleansing of the Kurds.
On September 24, 2019, in a UN speech, Erdogan held up a map showing the area of northeast Syria that he planned to cleanse of Kurds and establish a “safe zone.” After US President Donald Trump’s green light, Turkey waged a full-scale invasion of northeast Syria with Turkish troops and proxy forces with links to al-Qaeda and ISIS. The world watched in disbelief as Turkey and its radical proxies attacked the Kurds, using chemical weapons against civilians.

YET FOR the Kurds, this is all too familiar. They have been facing persecution, ethnic cleansing, and genocide since after World War I, when the contours of the modern Middle East took shape.
Since the establishment of the Turkish republic, the word “Kurdish” has been officially banned from public discourse. In Turkey, the word “Kurdish” is taboo, whose utterance in the media is the quickest way to jail, and speaking it in public will almost guarantee lynching. Neither is this demonization of the Kurds restricted to Turkey; the Kurds have faced ethnic cleansing and oppression in Iraq, Iran and Syria.
Like the Moon’s landscape, the Kurdish collective consciousness bears scars – of generations of betrayal, displacement and genocide. Regardless of where the Kurds live, they carry within them the fears of overbearing genocidal states and the dream of breaking free from them.
Today, in full view of the world, Turkey carries out an ethnic cleansing campaign using the assets of NATO-backed up by jihadist proxies. The Kurds have been shown to be a source of stability in the region. The Kurdistan region of Iraq and the region of northeast Syria the Kurds call Rojava, was a haven of tolerant of ethnic and religious diversity in tumultuous region.
Oppression and denial of the Kurds’ existence have damaged Turkey’s international standing, its economy and its security. Each cycle of aggression and ethnic cleansing against the Kurds will lead to deep grievances and lay the seeds of future wars. Unless Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria intend on linking arms and committing a genocide of the entire 35 million or so Kurdish population, the Kurdish question will continue to shape the Middle East in detrimental ways.
It is in the interest of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria and the wider region to find a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question.
A more efficient and productive way to address the Kurdish question is to grant them full rights of citizenship and the right to speak their language. This will allow the Kurds to integrate into these states and contribute to its economic and cultural diversity. Forceful assimilation and demographic tampering will almost certainly backfire as the Kurdish history in the last 100 years has shown. Turkey, Iran and Syria must grant the Kurds full citizenship and cultural rights. The alternative is continued revolts, destabilization, and war.
The writer is a graduate student in government and politics at Johns Hopkins University.