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Sleepless in Kurdistan

By Massoud Mohammed
June 24, 2006

The Kurdish man of letters and politician, Othman Sabri, once said: “If death comes to me
one day and Kurdistan is not liberated, do not put flowers on my grave.”

Avisitor to Kurdistan is astonished at the speed of development. Work is underway to build or rehabilitate roads connecting the main cities, and foreign companies are enthusiastically competing to obtain contracts for electricity, water, and communications.

The nights of Kurdistan have become sleepless. The availability of new hotels such as Erbil Sheraton and Slemani Palace has contributed to this progress.  There is also a president of the region, national defence forces, border guards, local police, traffic police, a prime minister, council of ministers, ministers, speaker of parliament, a parliament, and border check points.

The Kurds today are at the forefront of the Iraqi scene and constitute the most important factor in shaping an independent Iraq. The Kurds possess political experience as a result of their opening to the outside through which they have formed a network of relationships with regional and international governments and organizations.  Still, the picture of the Kurds in the Arab mind remains ambiguous: Who are the Kurds? Do the Kurds have a role in the events of the region? Are the Arab/Kurdish relations a reality or a myth? Is there a boundary for the Kurdish ambition? And what are the possibilities for realizing this ambition?

A Kurdish proverb says: “The basis of victory in all ventures is not giving up until you arrive at the required goal”. The Kurds have never given up in their strive to reach their aim of freedom and liberty.

The Kurdish man of letters and politician, Othman Sabri, once said: “If death comes to me one day and Kurdistan is not liberated, do not put flowers on my grave.”

The Kurds are one of the oldest peoples of the middle and minor east, who have left a remarkable influence on the history of the region. According to estimated statistics, there are 30 million Kurds living in the Middle East. As such, they constitute the largest ethnic people without a state. 

The Kurds have fiercely strived for their right to self-determination but the countries that divide their country have refused to recognize this right. It is the first time that the Kurds in northern Iraq have been able to obtain the West’s support and have for the past 12 years enjoyed the best part of their history. They have received international assistance, economic development opportunities under a sky guarded by western airplanes. But after the demise of Saddam Hussein and the entry of US forces onto the scene, the Iraqi Kurds have lived in a state of suspense. The real fear is loss of their political and social achievements as a result of the chaotic situation prevailing in Iraq. The Kurds have for now given up the dream of full fledged independence, and have adopted the banner of federalism in Iraq as an ideal means for safeguarding their achievements without touching on the obligations of the US for a united Iraq.

  In his book “the Kurdish liberating movement – Barzan Revolution 1943-1945,” Masoud Barzani speaks about the speech that Mula Mustafa Barzani addressed to the Iraqi people : “I never have nor will fight the Iraqi people, this people to which I belong. Our strive is against imperialism and its agents, against those who sucked the blood of our Iraqi people...”

It is related that in the year 1946, an Arab journalist met with Mula Mustafa Barzani and among the questions he asked him: “Is it reasonable for the Kurds to fight the Arabs when they are the grandsons of Salahaddin who fought the enemies of the Arabs?”

The Mula pondered long over his statement and replied: “Yes, we will fight the backward Arab regimes so long as in their chauvinism they take Salahaddin away from his ethnicity.”

The Kurds carried the banner of the Palestinian cause, upheld the banner of Arab brotherhood despite meeting with fierce opposition from the Arabs who refuted the notion of Kurds as a nation.

The experiment of Iraqi Kurdistan is the subject of attention of Kurdish parties in the neighboring countries that dream to realize a similar feat, which is why you find them flocking in from Turkey, Syria and Iran for consultation with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and President of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani.

The Kurdish emirates spread in Kurdistan in broken up periods throughout history, particularly after the spread of Islam and these emirates belonged to the Ottoman empire and Safavid Iran.

At the end of the 18th century, the Kurdish princes were endeared by the attention of the Ottoman Sultans who promised not to interfere in their internal affairs and their self-determination if they stood by the government in its war against the Safavids.

But when the two empires tried to impose their total control over the Kurdish emirates, the Kurds had an uprising and many of the emirates proclaimed their total independence, including, the Baban emirate, led by Abdul Rahman Pasha in 1806, and under Mahmoud Pasha in 1843, the Soran emirate under the leadership of Mohammed Pasha in 1835, the Botan emirate under the leadership of Badrkhan Beg in 1839.

In modern history, Sheikh Mahmoud Al Hafid announced the independent state of Kurdistan state with Slemani as its capital in 1922, and the Mahabad republic in 1946.  Mula Mustafa Barzani joined the republic and was given the rank of a general, responsible for the military forces.

However, as this republic had been formed with the support of the Soviet Union, when the Tehran Agreement was signed by Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill and Shah of Iran for appropriating the benefits of the region, the Soviet Union lifted its support of the new republic and Stalin preferred his interests over those of the international co-operation and the slogan of the right of nations to self-determination, so the republic failed in December 1946.

The Kurds of Iraq are the only group that have emerged in the area with solid achievements.

But will the Kurdish saying come true once again, that the Kurds have no friends except the mountains? Will the coalition betray the Kurds as others have done in the past?

Printed with permission. From Soma

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