November 12, 2016


The man who would be king of Kurdistan : Decades after warrior-king Sheikh Mahmud's overthrow, Kurds keep on fighting for a homeland. (Tanya Goudsouzian, 9/29/15, Al Jazeera)

By the time Sheikh Mahmud Barzinji declared himself king of Kurdistan in 1922, over an area that included the city of Sulaimania and its environs, he had already fought dozens of battles; some alongside the British against the Ottomans, others against the British alongside the Arabs, and then several more against the Arabs.

From March 1923 to mid-1924, the British retaliated against Sheikh Mahmud's perceived insolence with aerial bombardment, and thus ended the Kurds' first attempt at full-fledged sovereignty.

In 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne had dealt a definitive blow to Kurdish aspirations for self-determination in the aftermath of the Ottoman Empire's disintegration. Three years earlier, the Treaty of Sevres stipulated that the oil-rich Mosul Vilayet be given to the Kurds. But at Lausanne, the British and the French changed their minds and drew up a very different map, which gave rise to the modern state of Iraq.

The man who would be king of Kurdistan lived the rest of his years in relative obscurity, in a village near the city of Sulaimania, and died in 1956. Despite the errors committed by the valiant warrior - by most accounts, he was not a shrewd politician - Sheikh Mahmud remains an idolised figure and a source of inspiration for Kurdish leaders. An enormous mural-portrait of him lies at the entrance of the Sulaimania bazaar.

"They say Sheikh Mahmud didn't like the British, but that is not true. They promised him a state, but then they changed their minds and gave the Mosul Vilayet to the Arabs," says Sheikh Salar al-Hafeed, a lawyer and relative of Sheikh Mahmud.

Today, as the Kurds of Iraq, Syria and Turkey play a critical role in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as the only fighting force on the ground, Middle East watchers talk of a new Sykes-Picot in the making.

Some 150,000 Kurdish Peshmerga are on active dutyacross northern Iraq today. They are an integral part of the US-led coalition against ISIL, just as their forefathers were supportive of British forces at the end of World War I, spurred on by disingenuous promises of an independent Kurdish state carved out of an ailing Ottoman Empire.

They say Sheikh Mahmud didn't like the British, but that is not true. They promised him a state, but then they changed their minds and gave the Mosul Vilayet to the Arabs.

Sheikh Salar al-Hafeed, lawyer and relative of Sheikh Mahmud
No official source will confirm whether or not Iraqi Kurdish leaders have been promised an independent state in the event of ISIL's defeat - rumours of an independence deal actually gained momentum around the time of the Arab Spring, some say to appease the Kurdish public - but parallels abound with the conditions on the ground at the turn of the last century.

The line between insurgent and freedom fighter has always been blurry. Revered today as a Kurdish nationalist hero, Sheikh Mahmud was seen as an "insurgent" by the British authorities back in the day.

Posted by at November 12, 2016 12:00 AM


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