The history of Southern Kurdistan (1958-1982) Part 1
Ideas in the Making of a Troubled History
Kurdish Aspect - By Dr. Showan Khurshid
No doubt, political history is the outcome
of the actions and interactions of people
who are motivated by thoughts and
ambitions as well as their perception of
themselves and others and their
environments. Although, individual
leaders have had significant impact on
history, their power stems usually from
acquiring ability to command a political
power structure. The Evolutionary
Political Theory (EPT) suggests that the
primary condition for political power is the
availability of a unified set of moral rules
(USMR) upon which a group of people
For a peaceful and prosperous political
life, we need liberal democracy to
provide and maintain USMRs. However,
humanity, only until about one century ago was failing to evolve liberal democracy, regardless of whether this failure was due to lack of knowledge or capacity to establish liberal democracy. The absence of liberal democracy brought about conditions that favoured ideologies, including religions, which are the primeval ideologies (see Knowledge Processing, Creativity and Politics, KPCP). Ideologies need violence to maintain USMR. According to this evolutionary political theory we should be able to observe two distinguishable historical processes, one associated with ideological systems and the other with liberal democracy. Obviously not sufficient time has passed yet, since the inception of liberal democracy, to support this hypothesis emphatically, however, there are many evidences (KPCP).
Iraq had a good head start represented in the political system built upon the British model, which itself was influenced by liberalism, particularly the system of rights. That advantage had put Iraq on the right course for development and prosperity. Alas, most Iraqi people did not appreciate that blessing, and majorities do not still, now that they are given a second chance. Instead they either participated in undermining or watched it being undermined and destroyed by thuggish Arab nationalists and communists – nowadays it is the Islamic thugs as well as Arab nationalists who are squandering this second opportunity.
Of course, Kurdish people in Iraq were unfortunate that they were partitioned and attached to Iraq, without their approval. Their fate would not have been tied to Iraq, to suffer at the hands of Arab nationalists, had the initial injustice not been committed against them by Britain in the first place. However, the greatest atrocities against Kurds and many Arabs happened in the aftermath of the change from the monarchism to republicanism at the hand of Arab nationalists.
Here in this article I argue that what precipitated the atrocities more than anything else is the change of governance style from initial liberal democracy, be it inchoate, to the ideological system which happened to be exclusive against non-Arabs, including Kurds. However, what happened in Iraq was not inevitable, so beside that main point I will also discuss other factors that facilitated the ascendance of Arab nationalists to power.
1. The Puzzle
I believe that anyone, who considers writing the history of the South Kurdistan liberation movement, will take a long break, perhaps even an indefinite one, when this following question, or puzzle, arises: Why were the few Kurdish armed movements in South Kurdistan all short lived and confined to small areas, before 1958, yet since 1961 once the armed movement started it did not only never, in effect, ended but also spread to almost all regions of S. Kurdistan? This question arose because, since sixties, judging the movement, in regard to whether it was justifiable or not, depended on the answer to this question. Most communists, Arab fascists and nationalists were eager to say that Kurds were puppets in the hands of imperialists and Zionists. They questioned: Why should the Kurdish revolt erupts so violently against the new government which even recognised the Kurdish right and later granted them autonomy, during the era of Baaths? They would also remind their audience that ‘Mustafa Barzani was brought back home after the Patriotic Revolution of 1958.
A Kurdish advocate could of course reply that the reason was the dictatorship of Abdul Karim Qasim and the subsequent governments of Iraq. This is a standard answer of many Kurdish commentators. However, the ramifications of this counterargument were not fully examined. A detractor would ask: Were the previous governments democratic? You rarely hear an Arab or even a Kurd saying that the monarchic government was democratic. Yet, if you deny the democracy of monarchy then the duration and scope of the armed movements in the republican era become a mystery.
The monarchy was relatively democratic, but still did not recognise the Kurdish rights adequately. So, was that monarchic democracy, as limited and inadequate as it was what explains the puzzle? When I first considered this proposition, I was not inclined to affirm the democracy of a monarchic regime. Not only because this was not compatible with the Marxist beliefs, which I definitely supported at the time, but also because Iran, Turkey and Syria were not democratic either. So if the lack of democracy was the factor that led to the uprising in the undemocratic republic of Iraq, why should this factor not have had the same consequence in the undemocratic elsewheres, Turkey, Iran and Syria?
One could enlist additional factors to plug the holes in the explanatory scheme. One could, for instance, suggest that the absence of a leadership like that of the late Barzani and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) can explain the difference in the political histories of S. Kurdistan and other parts of Kurdistan. However, both Barzani and KDP were around since mid 40s. Perhaps, it can be retorted that his legendary position was not confirmed until his feat in the course of the Republic of Mahabad . But from the fall of Mahabad until 1961 there were 15 years and he might have made it back to Southern Kurdistan . So why should than happen only after 19961? Furthermore, the Barzani factor cannot explain the whole story. In 1975 Barzani himself ordered the cessation and dismantlement of the armed movement. Yet, in less one than one year, under the most unprecedentedly extreme situations, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was formed and resumed the armed movement. Soon after, KDP leadership joined in again, under young and less experienced leaderships.
Perhaps, PDK leadership was more concerned with their own position within the liberation movement than with any other goals. PUK leadership did not welcome their comeback and a long excruciating episode of bloodshed between these two sides started right afterwards (however, this is not the concern of our topic here). This means that the legendarity thesis cannot undertake the remainder of the explanation convincingly, unless one assigns even greater legendarity on the PUK and Jalal Talabani, Idris and Masud and many other much less known leaders who survived and carried on under far more extreme of circumstances, that were made even harder as a consequence of the vicious infighting as well as unending betrayals.
Some Kurds might suggest that the explanation of the ‘puzzle’ lies in the aspiration for autonomy, which is characteristic of our age. But this is not a response to the questions about timing, duration location and scope. In other words, why did it happen in 1961, and not before? Why did it last so long? Why should it happen specifically in South Kurdistan and involve so many people?
One might also cite the magnitude of oppression at the hand of primitive Arab fascism as a reason. However, this thesis, though true in some ways, used to bring about a kind of chicken and egg arguments. Arab nationalists would say that the Kurdish leadership started all that in the interests of their imperialists and Zionists pay-masters, disregarding the interests of Kurds and Arabs.
2. The Failing of the Marxist Explanations
In early 198s, my hunch was that the magnitude and latitude of the Kurdish movement had to do with that primitive Arab nationalism represented in the likes of Saddam, and the lorry-boarded Arab tribesmen who came chantingly to pillage Kurdish villages in the early 1960s. I thought of myself then as a committed Marxist. Yet, most Marxists were suspecting the background of the Kurdish armed movement and this was not out of character for Marxist theory.
The armed movement of 1961 was considered as a reactionary rebellion led by feudal lords. They would go further to say that it was even ordered by imperialists and oil cartels because the government of the time was embarking on a program of nationalisation and land reforms. Even when communists were subjected to campaigns of massive elimination and would seek refuge within Kurdish guerrilla controlled areas, they would hardly apologise or change their stance in assigning the Kurdish movement the labels of reactionary and stooges of imperialism.
This is not to say that it is not possible to embellish the image of the Kurdish armed movement to be acceptable within the Marxist framework. For instance, a Kurdish Marxist could argue ‘that the successive Iraqi governments were chauvinists and that despite the fact that the Kurdish leadership had some tribal characteristics, it had, nonetheless, a progressive role in the struggle for democratisation. Such a more-favourable-redefinition of the nature and role of Kurdish armed movement could satisfy a Kurdish Marxist’s own need for justification. However, the problem was that this pro-Kurdish Marxist view was not obliging the majority of Marxist groups or communist governments so that they submit to it.
At the root of dissonance, between some Kurdish Marxists and some other non-Kurdish Marxists, were certain conceptual defects in Marxism. From the 1970s onwards the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) was adopting the same slogan as KDP, ‘democracy for Iraq and autonomy for Kurdistan’. Non-Marxists, would, in general, associate democracy with what characterised Western countries like holding regular election, parliamentarianism, freedom of expression and beliefs, and a host of other personal individual freedom. However, as a communist party and a satellite of Soviet communism, ICP could not have meant the same definition. Democracy for communists means economic democracy and this implies socialism. In effect, this is analogous to having two people mentioning the same entry but referring to two different things, like two roads with the same name but in two different towns. This approach allowed ICP’s leadership to satisfy their Marxist theoretical commitments while in the meantime giving the false impression to the non-Marxists by raising the same banners.
For Marxists committed to “economic democracy”, “petty bourgeoisie” ruling in Baghdad, be it chauvinist and bloody at times, would have still looked more likely to embrace socialism than “the feudal lords of the Kurdish movement”. Baath party was openly advocating socialism. In fact, any Western observer could have mistaken most of Baathists' economic policies to be those of socialism from communist countries. All major industries were nationalised. There were also some limited land reforms, but still could have similar effect to what happened in communist countries – basically achieving what the communist agriculture achieves, that is, crippling food production and wasting lands and environment. Iraq also had an excellent relationship with the Soviet block. It even had a common defence pact with USSR .
So it must have been totally perplexing for the communists to be denounced, humiliated, battered, eliminated and subjected to a campaign Baathification. Perhaps, some communists were stoically taking the pain, most likely at the start, out of an assumption that taking this abuse silently is the price they need to pay for the sake of making their partners feel secure so that they, together, forge ahead towards socialist paradise of the future. Perhaps, thinking along the line of the saying ‘no pain no gain’.
Unfortunately only the innocent and sincere members of ICP were bearing the brunt, the leadership were enjoying themselves in the resorts of their big brother socialist countries. Of course, there could have been more sinister reasons for the communist leadership’ silence over the slaughter and forced conversion to Baathism of their members. Communist countries with their struggling economies were involved in trade deals, mainly weapons, worth billions of dollars, and for them, such deals must have looked as a sign of excellent relations. So the numerous scholarships and offers to stay at resorts of socialist countries may have come at a very high price.
The flaw in the communist ideology is not something that can be overlooked easily as exceptional aberration. Throughout communist countries, top leaders could get away with the murdering hundreds, thousands or even millions of people. The victims were not just non-communists, Pol Pot and Mao Zedong and Stalin, for instance, were able to kill the majority of the members of successive sets of their party leadership and thousands or millions of the members of communist party as well as millions of ordinary people. Many of those who were killed by Stalin had crucial roles in carrying out the October revolution along side Lenin, and all these killings were under the pretext of betrayal of the communist principles. Someone, able to accuse Trotsky of treason or of falsehood, could have as easily executed Lenin or Marx, had they been resurrected under different names. These bloodsheds do not only reflect the degree of criminal tendency of some communist leaders in their struggle for power, but also the utter inadequacy of communism as a theory of politics to ensure a civilised conduct in the course of power struggle.
At a deeper level, this mistake reflected a failure to understand science and morality by Marx and Marxists. Marx was right to assume that a scientists whether natural and social scientists can be biased. But he was wrong to assume that his own work should be precluded from the same charge. The sources of bias in the realm of ideas are not only social class interest which was the main focus of the Marxists, but also the personal gain in terms of social status or personal glory. The scientific enterprise does not guarantee that a purportedly scientific opinion will necessarily be unbiased, but nothing in science is accepted at face value. Even most established theories are being challenged and re-examined. The logical trick of Marxism consists of starting justifiably with underlining the likelihood of partisanship and corruption but then making unjustifiably too a quick jump to the conclusion that Marxism then is correct and should be committed for guiding social actions (more on this will follow).