Since the 1878 Berlin Conference, global powers have been formally undermining Kurdistan and its people. With a series of treaties in 1916 and 1917, the winning powers of World War I (British, French, Italian, Russian/Soviet) planned the division of Kurdistan in its current condition.[i] After the war, those powers established new regimes across the Middle East, formalizing them with superimposed ideologies through the Treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923. They didn’t just formalize Kurdistan divisions, but also denied the very existence of Kurds and Kurdistan after thousands of years of existence. The Kurdish language, culture, way of life, and clothing were prohibited, or in the best-case scenario, only degraded.
The new “Turkish government[ii]” in March 4, 1925 passed a new Law called “Plan for Restoration of the East – (a euphemism for Kurdistan) – [“Şark Islahat Plani”]. This law, among other restrictions, included the following:
- Using the Kurdish language in public places is prohibited and punishable by law
- All administrators in Kurdistan must be Turks
- Establishing military rules in Kurdistan
- All legal issues will be administered by military courts
- Settling Turks in Kurdistan
- “Turkish” emigrants from Caucasian and Balkan countries are to be settled in Kurdistan
- Kurds to be deported to Turkish areas
- Having weapons at home or carrying weapons is prohibited for Kurds
- The state will establish boarding schools in the region to assimilate Kurdish children
- It is prohibited for foreigners to visit Kurdistan without government permission[iii]
This policy of Turkey against Kurdistan, although sometimes with less restrictions or in a different format continued to this day, often with additional restrictions. Kurds still officially don’t exist in Turkey. Therefore, Turkey sees any rights for Kurds anywhere a threat to it is “national security.” When international powers state that they understand “Turkey’s legitimate security concerns,” they are basically saying they support the ongoing genocidal policy against Kurdistan.
While in French/Syrian Kurdistan, the existence of Kurds was never recognized until 1926, but there were hope in Southern Kurdistan, what is today called Iraqi Kurdistan; hope that Kurds may at least achieve autonomy.
On August 20, 1925, the League of Nations, the former equivalent of today’s United Nations, made the following recommendation for the Kurdish population in Southern Kurdistan:
“(2) Regard must be paid to the desires expressed by the Kurds the officials of Kurdish race should be appointed for the administration of their country, the dispensation of justice, and teaching in the schools, and the Kurdish should be the official language of all these services.” (P. 89)[iv]
However, the British government as administering power never fulfilled its commitments to Kurds, nor to the League of Nations. The signing of “FRONTIER TREATY: THE UNITED KINGDOM AND IRAQ AND TURKEY, June 5, 1926,”[v] meant that Kurds and Kurdistan were eliminated from maps, as were their basic natural rights after thousands of years.
The British High Commissioner for Iraq Sir Henry Dobbs reported his conversation with Turkish Foreign Minister Tewfik Rushdi on November 24, 1926 to the British government. It states, “…to the effect that the Turkish Government were determined to clear the Kurds out of their valleys the richest part of Turkey to-day, and to settle Turkish peasants there. His Excellency even said that they would be treated as were the Armenian.[vi]” It is important to note in 1915 during the war, the Ottoman Government committed genocide against Armenian people. Mr. Dobbs, after hearing this conversation, happily shares the news with his host about Iraq, a nation created by the British. His government, he said, will not implement the League of Nation recommendation for Kurds in Southern Kurdistan (Iraq) to have autonomy. Mr. Dobbs states, “I knew that in some uneasiness had at one time been felt in Turkish Government circles in regard to the Kurdish policy of the Iraq Administration, and I wished particularly to reassure him on this point… the Iraq Administration was as completely opposed to all forms of autonomy or separatist nationality for the Kurds as could be either Turkey or Persia,... Tewfik said that he was very glad to receive this assurance…[vii]” This British policy became a permanent Iraqi policy against Kurds, even long after “Iraqi independence”. Since then, successive Iraqi governments, with few exceptions, have presented this British policy as an “Arab nationalist policy.” Consequently, this policy has been agitating Arab Iraqis under the guise of nationalism against Kurdistan, all the while carrying on British-designed policies in Southern Kurdistan. All the regimes that were established by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 were very foreign ideologies for these regions. Eventually, they became native.
Since this division of Kurdistan and the ensuing subjugation of Kurds to new states without any legal rights; Kurds have been subject to multiple campaigns of ethnic cleansing, murder, mass deportations, incarcerations, and torture across the region. Since World War I in Europe, at least three times political maps have changed substantially changed, but in the Middle East, it is still the same European-drawn map with nearly all the same regimes with the notable exception of Iran; therefore, the same tragedies continue to this day. Those powers that divided Kurdistan and subjugated Kurds to such racist regimes are morally and legally responsible for all of these tragedies.
In these difficult days, Kurdistan needs the wisdom and guidance of his Excellency Masoud Barzani to safeguard our survival.
Amed Demirhan is internationally recognized with multiple awards in librarianship. Multilingual, he holds a Master of Arts in Dispute Resolution from Wayne State University (Detroit, MI), a Master of Arts degree in Library and Information Science (MLIS) from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), and a BA in International Studies with a minor in Spanish (USM).
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.
Editing by John J. Catherine
[i] Hurewitz, J. C. (1956). Tripartite (saint –Jean de Maurienne) Agreement for the Partition of the Ottoman Empire: Britannia, France, and Italy. 19 April – 26 September 1917 ” Diplomacy in the Near and Middle East: a documentary record. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand. PP 23 -25 Russia signed earlier and was part of this treaty
[ii] Probably one in one thousands Turks would never agreed with new government policy against Kurds as well against Turks
[iii] Bayrak, Mehmet (2013). Kürttler’e Vurulan Kelepçe Şark Islahat Plani [Handcaf of the Kurds Plan of Restoration of East (Kurdistan)] Ankara/Turkey 2nd edition
[iv] LN Recommendation Article 2
C. 4 0 0 . M. 147. 1925. VII. ERRATA. “LEAGUE OF NATIONS. Geneva, August 20th, 1925. QUESTION OF THE FRONTIER BETWEEN TURKEY AND IRAQ.
Report submitted to the Council by the Commission instituted by the Council Resolution of September 30th, 1924.” C. 4 0 0 . M. 147. 1925. VII. ERRATA.
Retrieved September 21, 2019 from https://biblio-archive.unog.ch/Dateien/CouncilMSD/C-400-M-147-1925-VII_BI.pdf
[v] Holt, P. (1958). J.C. Hurewitz (ed.): Diplomacy in the Near and Middle East: A documentary record. 2 vols.: Vol. I, 1535–1914, xviii, 291 pp.; Vol. II, 1914–56, xviii, 427 pp. Princeton, N.J., New York.: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., . (P. 144)
[vi] Burdett, A. L. P. (2015). Records of the Kurds: territory, revolt and nationalism, 1831-1979: British documentary sources. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge Archive Editions (P. 668)
[vii] I.e. (P. 668)