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.

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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