Kurds are betrayed by the Zagros Mountains

The mountains effectively exiled the Kurds, and the exile has had immense ramifications

Displaced Kurds stuck at a border after a Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria, wait to try cross to the Iraqi side, at the Semalka crossing, next Derik city, Syria, October 21, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/MUHAMMAD HAMED)
Displaced Kurds stuck at a border after a Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria, wait to try cross to the Iraqi side, at the Semalka crossing, next Derik city, Syria, October 21, 2019
The Sykes-Picot Agreement that has shaped the Middle East and is usually chastised by the Kurds is, in fact, a clear reflection of the Zagros Mountains, which the Kurds consider their homeland and only friend. A glimpse at a map illustrates that the borders are God-given and are made by the so-called only friends, the mountains. Therefore, it was the mountains which betrayed the Kurds and not Mark Sykes and François Picot or the Europeans.
Zagros Mountains are a crossroads between Asia, Europe and Africa. The Kurds had the most encounters with various forces compared to other ethnicities such as the Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Turks and Europeans. The Kurds have never left the mountains and their valleys since much of their history involved war. During war, these mountains were a good shelter that bestowed cheap security and provided enough resources to dwell above the subsistence level. However, that security was only delusional.
The Zagros mountainous plains have emerged as a crescent that cut through the heart of the Middle East, stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, unlocking toward three continents where major civilizations emerged and expanded outward. The Zagros Mountains do not form circular geography where it forms a lush secure inland, like Iran or Switzerland that bestows them with an interior plain with relatively cheap security and resources to utilize in non-security sectors.
The mountains effectively exiled the Kurds and the exile has had immense ramifications for the Kurds. Kurdish geography provides a delusional shelter. Mountains imprisoned and isolated the Kurds. They didn’t keep the threats away, obliging the Kurds to spend the little resources they had on diverting the pending threats.
For instance, Switzerland has been a peaceful and stable country for almost three centuries due to its almost circular geography. It could afford neutrality, isolating itself from the fires of both world wars. Concurrently, the mountains did not completely exile the Kurds into distinctive peoples and geography, like the Japanese or the Swiss, but put them on a historical crossroads that was extremely vulnerable to political shifts.
Since the best valleys could only feed small communities, they resulted in forming different dialectics, traditions and beliefs. In this way, the mountains posed their threats leading to constant strife between various Kurdish tribes. Moreover, they were usually utilized by great powers in their regional and international struggles for preventing one Kurdish entity from gaining more over others, thus locking them into a constant rivalry, leading to economic and political decay.
DUE TO the enclosed nature of their geography, each small community could effectively be independent, which effectively legitimized the conflicts.
Moreover, before the discovery of oil, the mountains did not and still don’t provide enough resources. Today most of the oil-rich Kurdish areas are controlled by foreigners. Even if the Kurds control oil-rich cities such as Kirkuk, its export would be dependent on powers that have subjugated them for centuries. Kurdistan lacks access to international waters, a prominent factor in the emergence of most major powers.
The Kurdistan Regional Government, KRG, has been able to function with the political and economic support of Iran and Turkey. Even most advanced industrialized states face huge difficulties in controlling mountains. The Kurds do not possess any significant wealth and technological know-how to subjugate the mountains. The KRG still lacks a united national road system. It is safer and cheaper to travel from the KRG to Iran or Turkey than to commute between the two major cities of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, despite its flag-geography relating it to other Kurdish parts.
Even if the Kurds do want to help each other, their geography pits them against an ethical double standard. For example, when the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan was established to rebel against Iraq, the Kurds from Iran promised but did not help them and maintained close ties to Baghdad. Currently, the KRG has found itself in an embarrassing position of balancing between the non-Iraqi Kurds and Turkey, and Iran. It has recently assisted Turkey against the Kurds of Syria and Turkey since it increasingly depends on Turkey.
The mountains not only have divided the Kurds economically and politically but also linguistically. Although all dialects spoken by the Zagros dwellers are variations of Kurdish, they have been a factor in Kurdish disunity and not a factor in uniting them.
Even though a united language is of great importance to the Kurds, the KRG has effectively divided the region into two different dialectic regions of Badini, spoken mostly in Duhok and parts of Erbil, and Sorani, spoken in Sulaymaniyah and Halabja governorates. Surprisingly, the KRG prints the official curriculum materials in both Badini and Sorani dialectics.
The Kurds unconsciously chose self-imposed exile in the mountains. Due to their geography, no technology and knowledge ever came to the Zagros Mountains in peace, but through war and conquest.
WEAPONS WERE introduced to the Kurds, another key factor in igniting intra-Kurdish fratricide. Further, the only product of this geography was fearsome though docile warriors who were often used against the Kurds themselves.
All Kurdish revolutions flourished with foreign aid and not because of the mountains. The revolutions collapsed once the aid stopped and the mountains were still there. Most notably, the First Iraqi-Kurdish War (aka the Aylul Revolt) was annihilated when the accord of 1972 was signed.
Even though the mountains were a major military factor in helping the Kurds resist the well-armed and well-funded armies of Iraq, Iran and Turkey, their role has largely diminished in the age of hi-tech weaponry. For instance, Turkish fighter jets and drones can easily target any spot on Mount Qandil and it has forced the PKK fighters to withdraw from the mountains.
Further, the most complex and harsh mountainous terrains are located in Turkish Kurdistan. Nonetheless, the PKK, operating in Turkish Kurdistan, hasn’t achieved any political gains since the 1970s and is labeled as a terrorist group by Turkey and the US. On the contrary, Rojava, with no significant mountains and relatively flat terrains has achieved more than the Kurds in Turkey and Iran, which have more resources, and larger populations. Considering the immense number of human lives and economic assets obliterated in Kurdish revolutions, what role the “only friends” played is vague.
The military and political success of Rojava was largely due to shifts in the regional balance of power and international circumstances, and prudent diplomatic and political calculations by Rojava. Although the Iraqi Kurds made immense sacrifices to establish the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, the role of the US and the West in causing the collapse of the Iraqi regime was a key factor in preventing another Kurdish exodus.
Therefore, Kurds have to abandon their costly, time-consuming, irrational resistance in the vulnerable mountains, break the self-imposed exile and start looking for diplomatic and political diversity.
The mountains have rendered the Kurds the largest prosecuted nation still without a state. The mountains betrayed the Kurds, who had to befriend them because they had no other friends other than their “only friends.”