June 7, 2015

FIRST THEY HAVE TO DECIDE THEY ARE A NATION:

The Time of the Kurds (A CFR InfoGuide Presentation)

The Kurds are one of the world's largest peoples without a state, making up sizable minorities in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Their history is marked by marginalization and persecution. Yet some Kurds may be on the verge of achieving their century-old quest for independence in a Middle East undergoing the convulsions of Syria's civil war, Iraq's destabilization, and conflict with the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

The Kurds are one of the indigenous peoples of the Middle East and the region's fourth-largest ethnic group. They speak Kurdish, an Indo-European language, and are predominantly Sunni Muslims. Kurds have a distinct culture, traditional dress, and holidays, including Nowruz, the springtime New Year festival that is also celebrated by Iranians and others who use the Persian calendar. Kurdish nationalism emerged during the twentieth century following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the formation of new nation-states across the Middle East.

The estimated thirty million Kurds reside primarily in mountainous regions of present-day Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey and remain one of the world's largest peoples without a sovereign state. The Kurds are not monolithic, however, and tribal identities and political interests often supersede a unifying national allegiance. Some Kurds, particularly those who have migrated to urban centers, such as Istanbul, Damascus, and Tehran, have integrated and assimilated, while many who remain in their ancestral lands maintain a strong sense of a distinctly Kurdish identity. A Kurdish diaspora of an estimated two million is concentrated primarily in Europe. [...]

The quest for independence is intrinsic to Kurdish identity. However, not all Kurds envision a unified Kurdistan that would span the Kurdish regions of all four countries. Most Kurdish movements and political parties are focused on the concerns and the autonomy or independence of Kurds in their specific countries. Within each country, there are also Kurds who have assimilated, and whose aspirations may be limited to greater cultural freedoms and political recognition.

Kurds throughout the region have vigorously pursued their goals through a multitude of groups. While some Kurds established legitimate political parties and organizations in efforts to promote Kurdish rights and freedom, others have waged armed struggles. Some, like the Turkish PKK, employed guerrilla tactics as well as terror attacks on civilians, including fellow Kurds.

The wide array of Kurdish political parties and groups reflects the internal divisions among Kurds, which often follow tribal, linguistic, and national fault lines, in addition to political disagreements and rivalries. Tensions between the two dominant Iraqi Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), escalated to a civil war that killed more than two thousand Kurds in the mid-1990s.

Political disunity stretches across borders as well, with Kurdish parties and organizations forming offshoots or forging alliances in neighboring countries. Today, disagreement over the prospects for Kurdish autonomy in Syria or Iraqi Kurds' relations with the Turkish government fosters tensions that have pitted the Iraqi KDP and its Syrian sister organization, the KDP-S, against the PKK and its Syrian offshoot, the PYD. Still, adversarial Kurdish groups have worked together when it has been expedient. The threat posed by the Islamic State has led KDP-affiliated peshmerga to fight alongside Syrian PYD forces.

Kurdish groups have at times bargained with not only their own governments but also neighboring ones, in some cases at the expense of their relations with their Kurdish brethren. The complex relationships among Kurdish groups and between the Kurds and the region's governments have fluctuated, and alliances have formed and faltered as political conditions have changed. The Kurds' disunity is cited by experts as one of the primary causes for their inability to form a state of their own. Another is that as a landlocked people they are reliant on governments that oppose their independence.

Posted by at June 7, 2015 9:07 AM
  

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