The Kurds are semi-nomadic tribes living in areas that is called Kurdistan which spans Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. They are ethnically related to the Iranian people and speak Kurdish, a language of the western Iranian branch of the Indo-European language. The Kurds have a population of about 26 to 34 million in Kurdistan that live within the territory of other countries: about 55% in Turkey, about 18% each in Iraq and Iran and a bit over 5% in Syria. Kurds represent 18% of the population of Turkey, 7-10% of Iran, 17% of Iraq and 9% of Syria. In addition, there are about 1 to 2 million Kurds who are living in Diaspora. Most of the Kurds are Sunni Muslims, but there are others who profess diverse beliefs such as Christianity, Judaism, Yazidi and Shia Islam.
The rise of Islam and the Arab conquest resulted to the conversion of the majority of the Kurds to the Muslim faith. In the 11th century the Kurds were subjugated by the Seljuk Turks, and Kurdistan was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century. Ethno-linguistic and cultural differences as well as suppression by the Arab and Turkish rulers gave rise to the aspiration of the Kurds to have an independent state of their own.
After the end of WW1 and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds were promised an independent state of Kurdistan in the Treaty of Serves in 1920, but this was not kept. The proposal for independence was dropped from the provision of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.
In Turkey, the desire of the Kurds for an independent state and the government’s effort for the nation’s integrity resulted to the suppression of the Turks and to their rebellion. Out of this conflict the Marxist inspired Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan or PKK has emerged. The PKK and the Turkish army engaged in an open war from 1984 to 1989. The PKK was listed by the United States, Turkey and the European Union as a terrorist organization.
In Iraq, in 1970, the government announced a peace plan that would provide the Kurds autonomy. However, its policy of Arabization was a contradiction to that plan and created an atmosphere of animosity between the Kurds and the Iraqi regime. The Kurds were subjected to harassment such as deportation from their ancestral lands and then having the lands resettled by Arabs. In 1991 Kurdish guerillas captured Erbil and Sulaimaniya from the Iraqi troops. The Iraqi government retaliated by imposing fuel embargo to the Kurds and by stopping salary payment of civil servants in the Kurdistan region. The move of the Iraqis backfired when the Kurds held a parliamentary election in 1992 establishing the Kurdistan Regional Government or KRG. The authority of the KRG and the legalities of its laws were recognized by the new Iraqi constitution that was ratified in 2005. In Syria the Kurds have also experienced persecution and discrimination such as prohibiting them from using Kurdish in naming their children and their business and in speaking their own language.
The Kurds have fared better in Iran than in other countries that include parts of Kurdistan as their territory. This is maybe due to the linguistic, ethnic and other affinities which the Iranians and Kurds share. Kurds in Iran have the least desire for an independent state than those Kurds of other countries.
The Arab Spring which toppled autocratic leaders in the Middle East also sparked the civil war in Syria. ISIS an offshoot of Al Qaeda has come out as the biggest threat not only to President Bahar al-Assad but also to the entire Middle East and the world. The militant Islamic group conquered a large swath of land in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate lead by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The brutalities employed by ISIS such massacres of men including children, mass abduction and rape of women, destruction of historical and religious sites and persecution of people on account of their ethnicity or religion have shocked the world. Some Muslim countries including clerics have denounced the ISIS and called their actions as un-Islamic.
Landlocked Kurdistan which lay on the borders of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran with rich oil fields is a logical ISIS target. And in fact some Kurdish territories are under siege by the militants. This situation will only strengthen the spirit of nationalism and cooperation among the Kurds. Even if majority of them are Muslims, Sunni Kurds came to the rescue of fellow non-Muslim Kurds such as the Yazidis during the conflict. There is also cooperation between the Marxist PKK and Kurds who are adherents of religious belief. Therefore, Kurds fight against the ISIS has unified them.
In the conflict involving the ISIS, it is the Kurdish forces that bear much of the brunt of the battle. In contrast to the Iraqi security forces which ran away from battles leaving behind their weapons to the enemy, the Kurds are a sight of bravery in combat. With the help of the US and European countries which provided them air support, the Kurds are able to slow or halt the ISIS advance.
The courage and determination of the Kurds to defeat a barbaric enemy has won the admiration of the world. Its defeat of the ISIS could only further their resolve to have an independent state of their own. And a victory might make many countries favorable to that aspiration. However it remains to be seen whether Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria would allow an establishment of an independent Kurdistan that is carved out from their respective territories.