Iraq Kurdistan History Is Tumultuous


Iraqi and Kurdish relations have been tumultuous, at best, throughout their long history. The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres provided the Kurds with their own land which was to become Kurdistan. It was never ratified though, and a new treaty in 1923 stranded the Kurds without a home of their own. As of 2013 there were approximately 25 million Kurds living in the region that was originally theirs, but which now encompasses parts of Turkey, northern Syria, northern Iraq and northwestern Iran. For almost 100 years they have been unable to live autonomously and at peace in their home region.

There were movements in the 1920s and in again 1961 to rebel, but they only helped on paper. In reality it was the Iraqi way of colonizing the Kurds. The Kurdish area was rich in resources such as oil, fertile land and minerals that Iraq felt entitled to. The region created more refugees rather than an autonomous state.

Kurdistan did establish its own region in 1970, but their agreement with Iraq did not solidify until 1991, when Iraqi forces finally left their land in October. The years between filled with bloodshed, beginning in 1974 when the northern part of Iraq became embroiled in fighting between the Iraqi government and the Kurds. The tumultuous relationship between Iraq and Kurdistan only worsened as history repeated itself.

Relations between these two groups got worse in the 1980s when Saddam Hussein’s regime launched genocide against the Kurds. Roughly 4,000 villages were destroyed, and it is estimated that over 100,000 Kurds were killed. Another 80,000 disappeared and have been presumed dead. The destruction of villages left thousands more displaced.

Saddam’s military used chemical weapons along with traditional aerial attacks to destroy the region and its people. Iraqi security forces put civilians in concentration camps, selected men and teenage boys for mass executions and starved woman, children and the elderly. These numbers do not include more than 10,000 wounded and those who are still suffering from the effects of the campaign against their people. Estimates suggest that approximately 700,000 Kurdish refugees were displaced to Western Europe by the early 1990s, with more than half going to Germany.

Unfortunately this was not the last turbulent meeting between the two groups in their long history. During the Gulf War in 1991 there was yet another Kurdish uprising.

There have been some attempts to heal. In 1992, with the help of the United States and Britain, a no-fly zone provided an area for refugees receiving humanitarian aid. Beginning in 2003, an Iraqi Special Tribunal was also created to bring to justice those who had committed these crimes against humanity.

Tensions reached a new high when Kurdish fighters seized two oil fields from Iraq last month. This does not bode well for Iraqi-Kurdish relations, as their history is already a tumultuous affair. Their struggles affect both sides and continue to create unrest throughout the Middle East. Europe is also affected by the continuous fighting between Iraq and Kurdistan, as refugee numbers could increase. Based on the current level of conflict, peace negotiations do not look to be in their near future.

By Sara Kourtsounis

Anti-Defamation League

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