Thu, Nov 02, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Like Palestinians, Kurds deserve a state of their own

Denying statehood to the Kurds on grounds that it would destabilize Iraq is nothing more than an alibi for ethnic oppression

By Shlomo Avineri

Nowadays, almost everyone agrees that the Palestinian people deserve a state and that they should not live under Israeli rule. Most Israelis share this view, including even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has reluctantly stated his own commitment to a two-state solution. In many Western democracies, a strong left-wing constituency regularly organizes demonstrations in favor of Palestinian independence.

The argument for Palestinian statehood is anchored in a fundamentally moral claim for national self-determination. Yet, when it comes to securing the same right for the Kurdish people, the West has been shamefully and strangely silent.

Western democracies offered no support for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) independence referendum in late September, and they have not spoken out against the Iraqi and Turkish governments’ threats to crush the KRG’s bid for statehood by force.

When officials in the EU or the US give a reason for opposing Kurdish independence, it always comes down to realpolitik.

Iraq’s territorial integrity must be preserved, they say, and independence for the KRG could destabilize Turkey and Iran, owing to those countries’ sizeable Kurdish minorities.

However, these arguments merely underscore a double standard. Moral claims for self-determination are justly raised in the case of the Palestinians, but they are entirely absent from the international discourse about Kurdistan. Worse still, the brutal oppression of the Kurds over many generations has been totally overlooked.

In Iraq under then-president Saddam Hussein, the Kurds were subjected to genocidal chemical weapons attacks. In Turkey, the military has razed hundreds of Kurdish villages.

Among the arguments used to deny the Kurds their right to self-determination, the defense of Iraq’s territorial integrity is the most spurious and hypocritical of all.

When British statesmen established Iraq as a distinct political entity after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, they did so in accordance with their own imperialist interests. Accordingly, they disregarded the territory’s history, geography, demography, and ethnic and religious diversity.

The residents of this newly conjured state were never actually asked if they wanted to live in a country with an overwhelming Shiite majority and large Kurdish and Christian minorities. They certainly were never asked if they wanted to be ruled by a Sunni dynasty that the British had implanted from the Hejaz, now a part of Saudi Arabia.

Initially, under the Treaty of Sevres, which the defeated Ottoman Empire signed in August 1920, the Kurds, like the Armenians, were promised an independent state.

However, the victorious Allied powers later abandoned this promise and the Kurdish people have lived under constant oppression ever since.

In what became northern Iraq, the Kurds, like the country’s Assyrian Christians, were for decades denied recognition of their distinct language and culture by hegemonic Arab rulers in Baghdad. In this context, “territorial integrity” is nothing more than an alibi for ethnic or religious oppression.

Similarly, the tens of millions of Kurds living in Turkey and Iran have also long been denied basic human and cultural rights. It is thus understandable that the Turkish and Iranian governments would object to the KRG’s independence bid: They fear the emergence, if it succeeds, of similar movements among their own oppressed Kurdish populations.

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