January 27, 2008
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How is the success of a nation’s struggle for freedom measured? - By Delovan Barwari

Objective of the Kurdish liberation movements has been a noble struggle of a nation in search of statehood.  Comparing the rebellions following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire after its defeat in World War I, and the movements in the past two decades in Iraqi-Kurdistan (Southern-Kurdistan) and Kurdistan of Turkey (Northern-Kurdistan), virtually, the intention of all the Kurdish revolts involved a nation’s aspiration to attain full independence. However, the aim of the movement has gone through variations based on the political reality and geopolitical situation throughout time; from total independence, to autonomy in a form of federalism in Southern-Kurdistan, and most recently, to limited autonomy with cultural rights in Northern Kurdistan. The struggle has certainly gone through many milestones, peaks, and downfalls, but how does one measure progress and success?

In Southern Kurdistan, the movement has been a continuous resistant since the establishment of Republic of Iraq by the British in 1920; starting from Sheikh Mahmud’s rebellion against the British rule from 1922 to 1924, to Mustfa Barzani’s quest for an independent Kurdistan (1942 to 1975) and continued by his political party, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) ( under the leadership of his son Massud Barzani) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)(under the leadership of Jalal Talabani) and various other smaller Kurdish parties.

The climax of the movement was following the first U.S. – Iraq war (Desert Storm) in 1991. The Kurds were encouraged by the Americans to revolt against Saddam’s regime; as a result, the Kurdish peshmergas and civilian population rebelled and managed to defeat the Iraqi army units in Kurdistan. However, the glory did not last as the Americans allowed the Iraqi army to restore control of Iraq and kept a blind eye on the Iraqi army advancing north to the Kurdistan region and brutally massacring thousands of Kurdish citizens; resulting in a massive exodus (over a million Kurdish refugees escaping to Turkey and Iran). The world witnessed one of the biggest refugee crises in modern times; as a result, the United States and Britain were obligated to establish a safe haven by imposing a no-fly zone in Southern Kurdistan, which eventually led to the establishment of a defacto state by the main political parties in Southern-Kurdistan (KDP and PUK). 

It was the first time in the modern history of Southern-Kurdistan for Kurds to be able to govern themselves.  In the early years, KDP and PUK engaged a bloody civil war as the leadership of both parties had become disillusioned and obsessed with power and greed.  Fortunately, in the past decade, there has been relative peace and progress in many sectors in Southern-Kurdistan as they understood that only through unity they will prevail.  In March of 2003, as the U.S. declared its second war with Saddam Hussein and removed him from power, Kurds were given yet another golden opportunity to grow their influence, expand their borders, and further control their destiny. As United States began to establish a new democratic, broad, and inclusive government in Baghdad, Kurds took advantage of the opportunity by becoming an integral part of the newly established government and strongly influencing the creation of the new governmental institutions, constitution, and military.

Despite the fact that one cannot remember the last free elections held in Southern-Kurdistan, and having a government with a high rate of corruptions, lack of economic transparency, and nepotism;  Kurdistan region has gone through a positive form of transformation; from having two Kurdistan Regional Governments, to a single unified government with a parliament that represents various political parties, ethnic groups, women, and religious groups; from a single university, to  over eight universities, two of which are western (American and British),and constructing schools in the most remote villages.  In addition, successfully planning and implementing massive infrastructure development projects, and major investments in petroleum, electric plants, and agriculture.

North of the border, in Kurdistan of Turkey, since the defeat of Sheikh Saied’s rebellion which lasted from 1924 to 1927, Ihsan Nuri Pasha from 1927 to 1930, and Saied Reza from 1936 to 1939, the Kurdish movement had been brutally silenced for decades.  For so many years even speaking Kurdish in public was punishable by law. The Turkish government did not recognize Kurds as an ethnic group and referred to them as “Mountain Turks” with virtually no rights, simply second class citizens.  In 1984 a new Kurdish nationalist movement was initiated, dominated by the ideology of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).  However, through-out the movement, the motto of the struggle has gone through variations; from full independence of a greater Kurdistan, to the most recent aim of winning limited autonomy with cultural rights.  Ocalan’s movement certainly has woken a nation which had been silenced by an oppressive ultra-nationalist military and a government that ruled by the racist ideology of Kamal Ata-Turk (founding father of Republic of Turkey). 

PKK’s fight for an independent Kurdish state has indeed transformed the Kurdish society in Northern Kurdistan. From nearly been assimilated and dissolved, to a new revived, sophisticated, and energized movement in the heart of Turkish parliament and institutions. One can certainly agree that the foundation of Kurdish political parties in Turkey, such as DEP, HADEP, and DTP (the most recent Kurdish party which won seats in the Turkish parliament) is the result of years of PKK’s struggle in Turkey. It can also be argued that other factors may have positively contributed in the revival and evolution of the Kurdish movement in Turkey; for example, the desire of Turkey wanting to join the European Union and the reality in Southern- Kurdistan. Perhaps, a combination of these factors have placed enormous pressure and changed the atmosphere and mentality in the political circles and society in Turkey. 

Recently, the Turkish government allowed the operation of the first 24 hour Kurdish television station, and the head of Turkish Department of Higher Education Board announced that they are considering establishing a Kurdish Studies department in university of Istanbul and Ankara. Some have argued that these are empty ploys by the ruling AKP party to win votes, it may be true. On the other hand, it can also be viewed as the result of so many years of tenacious struggle which enforced a major concession by the Turks, whether direct or in-direct, and it may serve as a catalyst to awaken the sense of Kurdish identity and reverse so many years of assimilation.

Analyzing the history of Kurdistan in the past 100 years to present day, a number of questions come to mind: How does one measures success? What strategies should the Kurdish leadership generate as they look into the future?



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