Let the Kurds have their way

It is time for the international community to catch up with the Kurds and work with them to establish their own political institutions.

Kurds protesting near Syrian-Turkish border (photo credit: REUTERS)
Kurds protesting near Syrian-Turkish border
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Kurds have been friends of the United States and are deserving of our help to establish their own sovereign nation. The Kurds are spread out over Turkey, Iran and Iraq and since World War I have been deprived of their own territorial boundaries. They have been a force multiplier in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) and quite helpful to the US over the years.
Kurdistan and Israel do not have official diplomatic relations, though there are claims that there are various forms of contact between Israel and the Kurds.
Israel has campaigned for Kurdish interests and there are any number of reports of Israel providing military support and training.
The Kurds are justifiably expecting help from the US and Israel.
In September the Kurds are scheduled to hold a referendum on independence. They are receiving pressure from Iraq and Turkey not to hold such a referendum.
Kurdish moves toward independence have generally met with resistance especially from Turkey.
This makes for a complex political situation because the US and Israel each have their own political considerations with respect to Turkey.
The Kurds for decades have been fighting for rights and recognition even though they are the indigenous people of the area.
After WWI when the Ottomans were defeated there were plans to establish a Kurdish state. But these plans were dashed when treaties ignored the Kurds, and they consequently settled in areas as minorities and were never organized into a political unit but still maintained their cultural particularity.
There is serious hostility between the Turks the Kurds. The Kurds have been persecuted by the Turks for years. In response to pressures for independence, many Kurds were resettled, Kurdish names were changed and cultural expressions were banned. The use of the Kurdish language was restricted and even the existence of a Kurdish ethnic identity was denied, with Kurdish people designated as “Mountain Turks.”
In 1978, Abdullah Ocalan established the PKK, which called for an independent state within Turkey. Six years later, the group began an armed struggle. Since then, more than 40,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. The Kurds have been betrayed for decades.
The US no-fly zone established in 1991 allowed the Kurds to govern themselves in northern Iraq. They now have their own parliament, currency and postage stamps. The Kurdish federal region was established after the US eliminated Saddam Hussein.
The Kurds are a vital cultural force, proud, dignified and democratically inclined. They were forgotten and ignored after WWI. For the longest time the US opposed an independent Kurdistan. That was before the Kurds became a friend to US and so central to the fight against ISIS. Turkey has always wanted to assimilate the Kurds and deny their history and culture. Turkey long feared that any gains by the Kurds would be a loss for Turkey.
Turkey’s fears are now moot, because the Kurds of Turkey have no need for external encouragement.
It is time for the international community to catch up with the Kurds and work with them to establish their own political institutions.
The author is a professor of communication at University of Hartford and is currently a visiting professor and Lady Davis Fellow at Hebrew University.