Are the Kurds a Steam Valve?

Kurd MapThings may be heating up on the border between — or among — Turkey, Iran, and northern Iraq.

There are several interpretations of Turkey’s massing of troops on the border and reports of Iran firing into northern Iraq and even crossing the border.

The heart of the problem is the Kurds…they never give up, they never go away. The Kurds are Sunni Muslims living in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Their distinct culture has persisted through millenia, and through years of active cultural suppression or the occasional attempt at genocide. In Turkey, till very recently, they weren’t permitted to speak their own language in public. In Syria, where they make up ten percent of the population, they are denied citizenship.

Way back when, in his Fourteen Points, Woodrow Wilson promised the Kurds their own country. In the Treaty of Sèvres, in 1920, they were granted sovereignty. However, Ataturk threw out that agreement in 1923 and the Kurds and Turks have been at it ever since.

As for Iraq, Saddam Hussein began in 1975 to eliminate the Kurds and for the next fifteen years he went about it very efficiently, as the Iraqi army bombed, poisoned, and destroyed five thousand Kurdish villages.

Iran has similarly persecuted the Kurds within their borders and there have been crackdowns on Kurdish areas. In July, 2005, there was a six week battle between the Kurdish and Iranians throughout the Kurdistan area. Kurdish newspapers were banned as a result.

Operation Iraqi Freedom has been beneficial to the Kurds. In contradistinction to the anarchy in many areas, the Kurd-controlled areas in the north quickly began re-establishing their territory and gearing up to a working economy.

Essentially, the Kurds are secessionists, however. It is they who have pushed for a federation in Iraq, and they make no secret of their desire to establish Kurdistan as a sovereign state once and for all.

It is this part of the Kurdish character which makes Iraq, Iran, and Turkey very nervous. Now there are reports of Turkish troops massing at the border with Iraq and of Iranian shelling and incursions into Kurdish territory in Iraq. The Iraqi government has called Turkey on this, which no doubt stays their hand to some extent.

We may see things heat up in this fractured area. Since Arabs operate always on the scarcity principle — perhaps their character follows their harsh geography — threatening the Kurds may serve as a pressure valve for some of the other conflicts among these three states.

As always, Kurds make the perfect scapegoat: sturdy, stubborn, indefatigable, and ineradicable. In fact, it should come as no surprise that there is a strong genetic link between the Kurds and the Jews. From Wikipedia:

In 2001, a team of Israeli, German, and Indian scientists discovered that the majority of Jews around the world, belonging to various different Jewish ethnic divisions, are closely related to the Kurdish people, more closely than they are to the Semitic-speaking Arabs or any other population that was tested. Most of the 95 Kurdish Muslim test subjects came from northern Iraq. Moreover, according to another study, the CMH (Cohen modal haplotype) is a genetic marker from the northern Middle East which is not unique to Jews. However, its existence among many Kurds and Armenians, as well as some Italians and Hungarians, would seem to support the overall contention that Kurds and Armenians are the close relatives of modern Jews and that the majority of today’s Jews have paternal ancestry from the northeastern Mediterranean region.[15]

In another study, Kurdish Jews were found to be close to Muslim Kurds, but so were Ashkenazim and Sephardim, suggesting that much if not most of the genetic similarity between Jewish and Muslim Kurds is from ancient times.

Here’s a news round-up from The Financial Times, The Middle East Newsline, BBC, Regnum(a Russian news report), Strategy Page, and Zaman, a Turkish paper. In fact, Zaman has a “man-in-the-street” (or, in this case, truck), who claims everything is normal:

Mehmet Gunes, a truck driver, said something interesting while on routine transit through the Border Gate Habur. “We are well accustomed to seeing such things. It’s the media that magnifies what we consider normal, I think.” Gunes also said that the truck drivers are not having any problem transiting border gates for the moment.

There is not any unusual military activity going on here against North Iraq, said Gunes, and some residents here are still unaware of the recent developments.

Nope, nothing to see here, especially if you’re reporting from Istanbul.

If anyone finds more, please let me know.

Hat tip: Mark Rudkin

13 thoughts on “Are the Kurds a Steam Valve?

  1. Perhaps we are using the Kurds as a cover for destabilization efforts in Iran.

    Maybe GW has more going on than he is willing to openly avow before the world.

    Something must be going on, because the Iranians are beginning to seriously respond.

    Perhaps GW is trying to initiate a situation that will inexorably escalate, allowing him the diplomatic cover to take action against the Iranians, when that diplomatic cover cannot be gained from the UN.

    It’s all speculative of course, conjecture.

  2. Couple of thoughts..

    1) Can’t say uniformly Kurds are Sunni. Large numbers are Shii (I would guess upwards of 20% in Iraq, not sure), same in Iran, and a quite large number in Turkey are Alevi–a sect that is basically Shii. Wouldn’t couch this in terms of Sunni v Shii.

    2) Not sure what the point was about the genetics, but the Cohen haplotype is, to say the least, a complicated issue. From one of my favorite blogs, John Hawks’ anthropology blog: blog post + link to a Slate article, also a link to a blog I got from John Hawks’, Dienekes’ anthro blog on the Cohen haplotype: blog post. Interesting stuff.

    3) Turkey for a long time tried to claim Kurds didn’t even exist–that they were actually “Mountain Turks.” Everyone knows people who live in the mountains are weird (right?), so naturally these Turks went up to live in the highlands, and just randomly started speaking an Iranian language. Strange that. I would have said that Iran is probably the place where the Kurds are best off (well, after their basically autonomous areas in Iraq).

    Still though, they’ve definitely been screwed over.

    I’m looking over the Zaman Turkish site to see if I can find anything else interesting, I’ll try to check some other sites too.

  3. Additional thing–Zaman is one of the big papers in Turkey, and one of the most religious. That it, it’s pro-religion, and largely backed by those with religious agendas. AFAIK it’s not the most popular paper, but it’s top 5 for sure. (there are tons of papers in Turkey)

    Haven’t found much interesting in Zaman, though there seem to be claims that there was an incursion 5 km into Iraq to hit a PKK base (basically same info, though first reference of 5km inside the border I’ve seen). I’ve also been unable to find a Turkish article mentioning Mehmet Güneş, so not sure what’s up with that.

    The whole border area between Iran / Turkey / Iraq IS very crazy and has been very lawless..and porous. There’s a pretty famous Iranian movie called “A Time for Drunken Horses” that portrays the blackmarket trade across the borders. So, I’m not at all surprised at Mehmet’s claims of border instability. I’ll post more if I actually find anything interesting.

    Also just wanted to mention that the post says that Ataturk threw out the Treaty of Sevres (as if primarily to get at the Kurds) when in reality the reason the treaty of Sevras was never implemented was that the treaty had been signed under great duress to say the least–it would have left Turkey with probably less than 1/2 the territory it has today, and ultimately, the Turks (under Ataturk) beat back the Greek armies.

  4. This story is breaking right now – its worth searching Google News for “Turkey Kurds” to get updates.

    We should be using the Kurds in Iran, if we are finally serious about destabilizing that regime. Of course, we’ve been “using” and then discarding the Kurds for many years, tantalizing them with independence and then standing back while they get absorbed and massacred (My dad gave me a fiberglass crossbow back in the 60’s that the CIA manufactured in quantity for the Kurds – God knows why then). There seem to be a lot of echoes of the theory expressed in the Russian news source that the Baron linked – that is that the present attacks and threats against the Iraqi Kurds are being made with at least tacit US approval as “anti-terrorist” operations. If true, this is geopolitics gone crazy – Henry K redux. Is Turkey so important to us, that we would abandon the Kurds to their tender mercies (they would gladly classify every Kurd as PKK) – and who is going to fight the mullahs for us in Iran? college students? Some hope. The only way this would remotely make sense is if Turky has agreed to act militarily against Iran. We’d give a lot for that, but I find it hard to imagine. Al-jazeera thinks that’s the deal. (Of course Al Jazeera also thinks that Mossad flew the planes on 9-11, so have your grain of salt handy).

    If the US wants to defend and preseve the fledgling Iraqi government that so much US blood and treasure has gone into the making of, they need to positively condemn these incursions. Apparently they have not done so yet. They are “urging restraint”. The PKK does indeed have a bloody and terrorist past, but the Kurds need self-defense, too – the past is ample proof of that. I haven’t seen any Turkish news source point to an increase in PKK terroristic activity in Turkey that has led to this attack.

    State department briefing, May 2 (note – the spokesman is Sean McCormack)

    QUESTION: The Turkish Army said today that they reserve the right to get into northern Iraq to pursue any PKK militant who would try to seek refuge there. It is exactly what the Secretary asked them not to do last week. Do you have any comment on that?

    MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is a topic on which we have a continuing dialogue with the Turkish government. We would call upon all of Iraq’s neighbors to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and to work with the Government of Iraq on any issues that they may have regarding borders and that anything that is done is done in a transparent manner and through mutual agreement.

    The issue of the PKK and going after safe havens for the PKK or areas of operation of the PKK
    I know is a very sensitive one for the Turkish government, rightly so, because the PKK is a terrorist organization. It is responsible for the deaths of many, many innocent civilians. And it is a topic that Secretary Rice spoke with, the leadership of the Turkish government about, on her recent trip and that we are hopeful that in the wake of the formation of an Iraqi government that we can reactivate in a trilateral mechanism that we have with the Turkish government, the U.S., and the Iraqi government to work on the issue of how to go after these terrorist elements.

    QUESTION: But you are not sure they will respect that?

    MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we’ve — you know, I think I made clear where we stand.


    Al Jazeera
    Turkish Weekly

  5. I have to agree with the commenter at Global Guerillas, not the blogger. if this is an operation against Iran, why are Turkey and Iran coordinating their attacks? Looks like Dr Rice’s initiative has failed – I suppose time will tell, but excessively subtle ploys seldom come off.

  6. The problem in Iraq right now is: The Kurds seem to be the only ones who know what they are doing and why. They’re a motivated people with a HISTORY of having, and desiring independence. They have a Western bend to their thinking.

    Again they are motivated:

    Excerpted from the BBC Monitoring Middle East – Political Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring. May 2, 2006 Tuesday

    Umar Fattah] Today’s meeting was fine; we have assessed the proposed cabinet. We are happy about this broad-based cabinet. For the first time the Kurdistan Region government includes all parties and ethnicities. [Passage omitted]. We have decided to set up special committees to work for the unification of the ministries. [Passage omitted]

    So, a unified Kurdish region is a danger to the despots.

  7. Hi Dymphna,
    I posted on this yesterday as a side topic. In actuality, IMO Turkey under Erdogan is aligning itself with Iran and the Islamist bloc:J O S H U A P U N D I T: Turkey aligns with Iran’s Islamist bloc against the West.

    The Kurds are only one of the areas where Turkey and Iran have coordinated security policy and on the link and see what Turkey’s foreign minister had to say about his meeting with Condi Rice! Interesting if he’s telling the truth, to say the least…

    Iran is also using its proxies in Iraq against the Kurds. Look at the confrontation and buildup in Kirkuk between the Iran backed Mahdi Army of al Sadr and the Badr force and the Kurdish Pesh Merga:J O S H U A P U N D I T: Iran stirs the Iraqi pot in Kirkuk

    Oddly enough, an independent Kurdistan would be a staunch US ally, but the Bush Adminsitration appears not to support that..G-d knows why.

  8. Oddly enough, given the long history of the whole area, it might not be so surprising that the kurds and the jews are strongly related when you consider the context of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, both of whom invaded ancient Israel and both of home practiced mass deportation as a means of increasing their control over newly conquered lands. When the Assyrians conwuered the northern kingdom of Israel, they carried most of the population away to the east and brought in a group that later became the samaritans. The precise fate of these ten tribes has been debated, but it’s known that they were spread quite widely; their descendents have since turned up in northern africa, and there’s evidence of a migration north and west from central persia through europe, though that one’s more heavilly debated.

    Anyway, at the tie of the assyrian conquest, northern israel had become “pagan”, worshiping a multiplicity of gods, and most of their temple worship was impossible anyway as the temple was, at that time, in the hands of Judah. It’s highly likely that any israelite contingent taken east by the assyrians wouldn’t have held on to the monotheism of their immediate ancestors, and that the kurds could easilly be their descendents.

  9. Special operations operators have been working with the Peshmerga for years; probably still are. If you have clandestine operations in an area, you want them to remain clandestine. The political expediant is to ignore events in the area.

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