When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

A Kurdish People, The Kurdish Questions

The killing of three Kurdish activists in Paris shines new light on a longstanding fact of a millions of people spread across large swaths of terrritory, but with no nation of their own.

Kurdish flag flies bright
Kurdish flag flies bright
Dietrich Alexander

BERLIN - The Kurdish question urgently requires a solution. With around 30 million people, the Kurds are the largest of the world’s peoples without their own state. About half of the Kurds live in Turkey, the rest in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

None of these countries show much interest – either on the part of the majority of the population or the government – in Kurdish independence, autonomy or a federative solution. An independent Kurdistan in Turkey, Iraq or even Syria would not only draw Kurds from surrounding states but also spur separatist efforts in those states.

Though the motive and culprits remain unknown, Thursday's killing in central Paris of three Kurdish women activists highlights the need for the international community to address the issue.

The Kurds who have come furthest in the quest for autonomy are those of northern Iraq who even under dictator Saddam Hussein have since 1990 enjoyed relative freedom, having been allowed by the central government in Baghdad to develop their own structures and authorities.

Having control of significant amounts of oil and investment in their area of influence has furthered their economic independence and gives them leverage in their relations with Baghdad.

Twenty-two years of peace is a long time for a people who have seen the persecution, betrayal and mass murder the northern Iraqi Kurds have. Meanwhile Iraqi Kurdistan, whose leadership is dominated by Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, has gained de facto independence from Baghdad. It has its own flag, army and police force, a complex media landscape, and a regional parliament.

Talabani is the current President of Iraq, and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party in Iraq. Barzani is the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and the leader of the other large Kurdish party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Constant confrontations with their powerful neighbor Turkey because of the Turkish-Kurdish rebels from the forbidden Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq created a bond between arch-rivals Talabani and Barzani that is part of a history of changing alliances, as indeed is the history of the entire Kurdish people.

Tragic past

Saddam Hussein’s poison gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabaja in 1988, in which up to 5,000 men, women and children died, highlighted this tragic history in a particularly dramatic way.

Although Kurds living in other countries comprise a minority and have fewer rights, a sense of Kurdish identity has remained – in fact, the diaspora appears to have strengthened it. The identity manifests most in use of the Kurdish language, in music, religion (most Kurds are Muslims although some are Christians) but also in the areas Kurds have chosen to settle in.

The first reference we have to the name "Kurd" dates back to the Seventh century. It was used to connote tribes in the mountains along Turkish, Iraqi and Iranian borders. Through diplomacy and military might, most Kurdish dynasties and clans became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.

After the Balkan Wars (1910 to 1913), World War I, and then the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds hoped that the Peace Treaty of Sevres in 1920 would lead to the fulfillment of their dream for an independent Kurdistan.

But the treaty was never implemented, and the following Treaty of Lausanne (1923) didn’t mention Kurdistan. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of modern Turkey, rejected ideas of partial autonomy or full integration, which has remained official Turkish policy to this day.

Secret negociations

Yet recently, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shown signs of wanting to contain or even solve the conflict over the issue that has burned for decades in Turkey and beyond.

That is probably also due to the fact that the fight for Kurdish independence in Turkey has been marked by particular brutality on both sides. Negotiations are now taking place between the Turkish secret service, the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), and Turkish separatist leader Abdullah Öcalan who is serving a life sentence and for the past 14 years has been imprisoned on the Turkish island of Imrali. According to Ankara, Öcalan is still influential within the PKK.

More talks with Öcalan are set to take place on Imrali this Sunday, and according to Turkish media reports Ankara has promised constitutional reforms that would change the definition of citizenship from “Turkish citizen” to “citizens of Turkey” – and the ethnically neutral definition would indeed make a big legal difference.

Thousands of prisoners jailed for alleged ties to the PKK would be released. There is also talk of amnesty or exile for PKK commanders and disarmament of PKK fighters to take place as early as March.

Öcalan founded the PKK on Nov. 27, 1978, but six years later the organization changed its tactics from peaceful resistance to armed violence. The ongoing civil war between the Turkish army and Kurdish rebels in southeast Anatolia has so far killed more 40,000 people on both sides.

The 10,000 PKK guerillas are fighting for political autonomy inside existing Turkish national borders and their own "non-governmental organization." More pragmatic PKK leaders have said that they would be satisfied with official recognition of Kurdish identity by Turkey, for example via relevant constitutional amendment.

Meanwhile, the PKK has taken the fight outside Turkey, and maintains sister organizations in all countries with large numbers of Kurds: in Syria, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), in Iraq the Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party (PCDK), in Iran the Party For A Free Life In Kurdistan (PJAK).

The Syrian opposition claims that the Syrian Kurdish fraction has been cooperating since the revolt against the Assad regime started with the wobbling dictatorship’s forces.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

BDS And Us: Gaza's Toll Multiplies Boycotts Of Israel And Its Allies — Seinfeld Included

In Egypt and elsewhere in the region and the world, families and movements are mobilizing against companies that support Israel's war on Gaza. The power of the people lies in their control as consumers — and the list of companies and brands to boycott grows longer.

A campaign poster with the photo of a burger with blood coming out of it with text reading "You Kill" and the Burger King logo

A campaign poster to boycott Burger King in Bangkok, Malü

Matt Hunt/ZUMA
Mohammed Hamama

CAIRO — Ali Al-Din’s logic is simple and straightforward: “If you buy a can (of soda), you'll get the bullet too...”

Those bullets are the ones killing the children of Gaza every day, and the can he refuses to buy is “kanzaya” – the popular Egyptian soft drink. It is just one of a long list of products he had the habit of consuming. Ali is nine years old.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

The clarity and simplicity of this logic has pushed Ali Al-Din to boycott all the products on the lists people are circulating of companies that have supported Israel since the attacks on Gaza began in October. His mother, Heba, points out that her son took responsibility for overseeing the boycott in their home.

A few days ago, he saw a can of “Pyrosol” insecticide, but he thought it was one of the products of the “Raid” company that was on the boycott’s lists. He warned his mother that this product was on the boycott list, but she explained that the two products were different. Ali al-Din and his younger brother also abstained from eating any food from McDonald's. “They love McDonald’s very much,” his mother says. “But they refuse.”

Keep reading...Show less

The latest