Jurisprudence and Society in Our Time
The Kurdish or Kurdistan question is the most important issue that Turkey faces today. What shapes Turkey’s foreign, domestic and economic policies is the Kurdish question.
President Abdullah Gul in the summer of 2009 emphasized that the Kurdish question is Turkey’s most pressing question and that before properly focusing on other issues, a solutionto the Kurdish question needs to be developed.
It is evident that today the ruling AK Party is looking at the Kurdish question more closely, and more seriously than previous governments. It is attempting to develop a new policy under the rubric of Kurdish opening or democratic opening. The government is making an effort to solve the Kurdish question.
It is important to look at the history of what we call Kurdish or Kurdistan question. The following may be said: Kurdish Attempts to Determine Their own Future Are Suppressed by Force
The victorious powers at the end of WW I, that is, England, France and Italy, made serious efforts to divide the colonies of the defeated powers, that is, Germany and the Ottoman Empire. This was one of the important topics that was dwelled upon during the Paris Peace Conference started in January 1919 and the League of Nations which was created in line with its decisions. The establishment of mandates over the lands relinquished by the Ottoman and the German empires was a significant resolution of the League of Nations. Although a mandate is a particular type of administration, it can be viewed as a form of colonialism.
Type A mandates were established over the lands relinquished by the Ottoman empire. Type B mandates aimed at dividing the German empire’s former southwest African colonies were
formed. Type C mandates came into existence over the division of the German empire’s southwest Asian colonies.
Within the framework of Type A mandates, under the control of Great Brittain the mandated states of Iraq, Jordan and Palestine were created. The mandated states of Syria and Lebanon were created under French control. Thus, the lands relinquished by the Ottoman Empire were shared by the victorious Great Brittain and France.
In this process the principal question that concerns us is this: Why weren’t the Kurdish demands [for statehood] met at the time when under the auspices of the League of Nations significant efforts were being expended to establish peace and form new international relations? At that time in south Kurdistan, Sheikh Mahmud Barzanji was fighting for the establishment of a Kingdom of Kurdistan. He was asking Great Britain to recognize him as King of Kurdistan. Far from agreeing to an independent Kingdom of Kurdistan, the imperial powers of the day, Great Britain and France did not even accept a colony (mandated state) of Kurdistan. No serious thought was given to the creation of a mandated state of Kurdistan under the control of Great Britain and France. Instead, Kurds and Kurdistan were divided, partitioned and parcelled out. This was effected by force and undoubtedly against the will of the Kurds. Because the Kurds were fighting Great Britain in order to establish an independent Kingdom of Kurdistan. There was an ongoing war between the Kurds and Great Britain which was refusing to accept Kurdish demands.
The biggest operation which the League of Nations undertook in the Middle East in the 1920’s was the division, partitioning and parcelling out of the Kurds and Kurdistan. The
division, partitioning and parcelling out of the Kurds and Kurdistan in the centre of the Middle East is the imperial powers’ biggest, most comprehensive and most enduring legacy.
The imperial powers effected this operation in collaboration with the region’s people, the Turks, the Persians and the Arabs.
This division, partitioning and parcelling out has impacted the Kurds in very harsh ways. This event is akin to breaking up a human being’s skeleton or smashing one’s brain.
Then, these should be the principal questions. What are the reasons behind this policy that was systematically applied to the Kurds? What stages did making of this policy pass through?
How was this policy applied and how was it operationalized? In this web of relations, during this operations who were the protagonists? It is necessary to seek answers to these questions with understanding of objective facts, politics and diplomacy.
In the aftermath of WW I, the Arabs were also divided, but they were shuffled into notionally independent or mandated states. The Kurds, however, were divided, partitioned and allocated to the mandated states of Iraq and Syria under Great Britain and France, respectively, Republic of Turkey as the continuation of the Ottoman empire and the Shah’s empire of Iran.
In the 1920’s, the Kurds were one of the protagonists. Opposing them were Great Britain controlling Iraq, France controlling Syria, Republic of Turkey and the Shah’s Iran. These four powers, that is, the imperial powers of Great Britain and France, and the Middle East’s two powerful states Turkey and Iran, despite their differences, were united against the Kurds.
They acted in unison against the Kurds. In these relations, it is necessary to look at the Soviet Union’s stand as well. The Soviet Union in the 1920’s during the League of Nations was the most vociferous state in talking about the right of nations to determine their own future. Nevertheless, it remained silent in the face of the division, partitioning and sharing of Kurdistan against the will of the Kurds.
Moscow, jut like London and Paris followed an anti-Kurd policy. It is important to emphasize this point as well. It is necessary also to study why the Soviet Union did not act in line with the universal principles.
Whenever the question “Why wasn’t a Kurdistan like Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon created?” is posed, it is said that “the Kurds had feudal institutions like tribes and Sheiks with their followers. How can one form a government with such institutions?”
However, this answer is neither meaningful nor satisfactory. Let’s think of the 1920’s.
Weren’t there feudal tribes, Sheikhs with their follower and princes among the Arabs? They still exist among the Arabs today. From the Persian Gulf to Morocco, there are 22
independent Arab states today. The Arab League has 22 member states. This will increase to 23 when a Palestinian state is proclaimed. The anti-Kurdish views of the imperial powers of the day, Great Britain and France, and the demands of the Turks, Arabs and Persians proved effective in carving up of Kurdistan. The nature of anti-Kurdish views and the demands of the Turks, Arabs and Persians are subjects that need to be studied.
US President W Wilson, too, spoke of the right of nations to determine their own future. Of the 14 points advanced by president Wilson, 12 are about the right of people living on the Ottoman empire’s former lands to become independent. In spite of these principles, Kurdistan and the Kurds were divided, partitioned and parcelled out in the 1920’s. It is very important to emphasize that the Kurds and Kurdistan have no political status. Every colony has a recognized status. Expressions like Great Britain’s colony India, French colony Algeria, Portugal’s colony Mozambique were used to identify these countries. The colony has an identity. It has recognized borders. In fact, the colony has an administration. The imperial power, the colonialist recognizes the borders of its colony. Its status is also recognized internationally. For example, in the aftermath of WW II, in the 1960’s, the African colonies gained their independence in accordance with the borders drawn up in 1885. It was accepted by the colonialists and local administrations that the people who were not English, French or Portuguese lived in these colonies. In Kurdistan, however, none of these aspects exists. There are no recognized borders. Kurdish identity and the name Kurdistan are not recognized.
Kurdistan is not even a colony. This is quite obvious. There is nothing quite like it in the
whole world.
Following the collapse of the Ottoman empire, the only people who did not get the right to determine their own future are the Kurds. From the beginning of the 19th century, people living within the empire started fighting for the right to determine their own future. In the first quarter of the 19th century, the Greeks, then Romanians, Croats, Serbs, and Bulgarians separated from the empire and established their own independent states. As soon as WW I started, the Arabs and Albanians engaged in struggles for their independence. The only people who have been living on their ancestral homeland and have not been able to determine their own future are the Kurds.
It is known that in 1915 and before, for example, in 1894-1895 and in 1909, the Armenians in west Armenia were subjected to genocides. It may be said that in 1921, when east Armenia
became Bolshevik , the Armenians, too, got the opportunity to determined their own future. The fact that east Armenia became Bolshevik prevented the Ottomans from destroying it.
Kurdistan: A sub-colony Today in Turkey, the Kurdish question is discussed in terms of finding a “solution”. However, it is necessary to study the Kurdish question independent of a “solution” and with
the understanding of objective facts, politics and diplomacy. How the politics of the division, partitioning and parcelling out was brought about, the way it was applied, who were the
parties to the development and application of this policy and the consequences of its application need to be critiqued in a proper context along with rich supporting evidence. In
this process, the weaknesses the Kurds have exhibited should also be a very important topic of the study. If you have become the target of a policy of “divide, rule & eliminate” in
international dealings, then it points out to your significant weaknesses. It means the powers of enmity against you have taken advantage of your weaknesses in bringing about and
applying such a policy. Then, these Kurdish weaknesses need to be explained in terms of the science of anthropology.
The division, partitioning and parcelling out of the Kurds and Kurdistan in the 20th century shows us the following. When a country or a society at some point in its history becomes the
target of a policy of division, partitioning and parcelling out then it can no longer stand up and achieve unity. The division goes on with increasing depth, intensity and prevalence. The
process goes on to the division of tribes and families. Even brothers within the same family may end up joining rival groups. The Armenians also have a similar problem, but it is far more intensely experienced by the
Kurds. The Armenians who were divided between the Ottoman and the Persian empires in the 17th century, then fell into the Ottoman and Russian empires’ spheres of influence, failed
to establish a central authority. Czarist Russia and the Ottoman administration tried everything in order to use the Armenians against each other.
The first effective division of Kurdistan happened between the Ottoman and Iranian empires around 1514. At the end of a war between the Ottoman Sultan Selim the Grim and Iran’s
Shah Ismail, the Kurds and Kurdistan were divided. The fact that both sides pushed more Kurds to the battlefield is another very significant dimension of the war. This division and
sharing formally documented in the first half of the 17th century in line with the 1639 treaty of Qasr-I Shirin.
In the first quarter of the 19th century, at the conclusion of the 1828-1829 Russo-Iranian war, that part of Kurdistan under the Iranian control was split into two. The northern part of the
region fell into the control of the Russian empire. From 11th century onwards, even earlier, there were Kurds and Kurdistan in the Caucasus. For example, the Shaddadi and the Ravadi
governments formed sovereign states from time to time. These lands fel to the Czarist Russia in the second quarter of the 19th century.
However, the process that brought about today’s situation occurred with the collapse of the Ottoman empire at the end of WW I. The 16 May 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement signed by
Great Britain and France and the inclusion of Italy via the 21 April 1917 St Jeanne de Maurienne agreement show how the division, partitioning and parcelling out was effected.
The Treaty of Sevr signed on 10 August 1920 is a more comprehensive agreement. But, it wasn’t completed and never came into effect. That it mentions the Kurds and Kurdistan is a
noteworthy aspect of the Treaty of Sevr.
The latest was the Treaty of Lausanne signed on 24 July 1923. This is the treaty that formalized and documented the division, partitioning and parcelling out the Kurds and
Today the Kurds number over 40 million in the Middle East and it is a fact that they have been continuously living on their homeland since at least 4000BC. It is also a fact that the
Turks arrived in the Middle East [from Central Asia] in 10th and 11th century AD. Despite their huge numbers and vast homeland, the Kurds do not have an even minor political status
on the international stage. When I say this, I believe the status of south Kurdistan region in Iraq that has come to life and is gaining strength should be considered separately.
The Kurds, despite their huge number do not have an even minor political status in the United Nations, Council of Europe, European Union or the Conference of Islamic States. The
Kurds are mentioned only in association with the word “terror” in sayings like “ We will uproot terrorism, we will crush the terrorists, we will eliminate terrorism.”…… Whenever
the word “terror” is mentioned it is in reference to the Kurds. For example, a Sunni militant with an explosive belt enters a Shii mosque and blows himself up in the midst of the
worshippers and kills 60-70 people and wounds another 150-160 ….. a few days later a Shii militant repeats the same crime in a Sunni mosque. International media, Turkish media refer
to them as insurgents. Similar events take place in Pakistan as well. The perpetrators are dubbed insurgents. The Islamic world from Indonesia to Morocco that rose up in protest of
some cartoons about prophet Mohammad evidently views such violent acts as all too normal. Comparisons Today there are 207 independent states. 204 countries participated in the 2004 Olympic
games in Athens. 206 took part in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Of the 207 sovereign states, 192 are members of the United Nations…..
There are tens of states with populations less than one million. For example, European Union member states with populations less than one million include Luxembourg, Cyprus and
Malta. Slovenia, Estonia and Lithuania are independent states with populations numbering around 2 -3 million. The fact that despite their huge number, the Kurds do not have an even
minor political status shows how unjustly the world order brought about through the League of Nations in the 1920’s treated the Kurds and marginalized them.
Andorra, San Marino, Monaco and Liechtenstein are members of the 53 member strong Council of Europe. The respective populations of these four states number 40-50 thousands.
That these countries with such low populations are independent states when in the Middle East 40 million Kurds do not have an even minor political status should be an important
aspect of the international world order. Of the European Union member countries only Germany, France, Italy, England and Spain have larger populations than the Kurds in the
Middle East. Perhaps Poland has the same population as the Kurds in the Middle East. The population of the rest of the member states range from 5-10 to 15-20 million. It is a similar
situation with the membership of the European Council.
There were around 160 thousand Turks in Cyprus before the so-called 1974 “Peace Initiative” [ie invasion of the island by Turkish forces]. Since the “Peace Initiative”, Turkey
has been continually sending settlers there. Now there are close to 200 thousand Turks on the island. In its dealings with the United Nations, Council of Europe, European Union,
Conference of Islamic States as well is in its bi-lateral relations with various governments, Turkey wants the recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as an independent
sovereign state. The fact that Turkey advocates independence for Cypriot Turks and follows policies of denial and forced assimilation in respect of the Kurds is a very important factor
which adversely affects Turkish foreign policy.
The Moral Dimension of International Relations It is said that in international relations the interests of the state comes first. Every government advocates its own interests above all else, it is alleged. It is claimed that self-interest is what
pushes states into foreign affairs. This is understandable. Nevertheless, some moral issues need to be preserved.
Moreover, the Kurds have been struggling and making sacrifices over the past 200 years for their freedom and to have their own independent state. The above-mentioned states have
made no such sacrifices. It is important to point out that there is no opposition to the abovementioned countries’ right to form independent sovereign states. The world order is opposed
only to the Kurds in their quest to form an independent state.
It is important to emphasize that no moral rules are respected when it comes to the question of Kurds and Kurdistan. Is the world’s silence in the face of the genocide experienced in
south Kurdistan moral? Is it moral for the various governments to provide Saddam Hussein the raw materials and the technology to produce poison gas? Is it a sign of morality that many
governments acted as advisers and consultants in the production and use of chemical weapons? Moreover, the Conference of Islamic States was holding a meeting in Kuwait at the
time. Is the silence of the Conference of Islamic States in the face of the genocide against the Kurds moral when it condemned oppressive measures against the Turkish minority in Greece
and change of Turkish names in Bulgaria? There is no respect for morality in ruling the Kurds either. In a place when morality is so forsaken, it is, of course, not possible to speak of
the rule of law and justice. Under such circumstances, resisting oppression and injustices manifests itself as a fundamental right.
Both the European Union and the Council of Europe have adopted certain resolutions in respect of the Kurds. These resolutions state that, “The Kurds should enjoy some individual
rights within the borders of the states in which they live. The respective states should establish safeguards for these rights.” Their views are expressed in their second sentences.
The first sentences, in effect, say: “We are against the establishment of a Kurdish state in the Middle East. We are opposed to change of the borders in the Middle East.” There are many
such resolutions by both the European Union and the Council of Europe. It is significant to note that even when they advocate some basic rights and fundamental liberties for the Kurds,
the European Union and the Council of Europe always give priority to the rights and interests of the states which jointly keep Kurdistan under their oppressive rules. On the other hand
when they use the expression “the Middle East”, it is self evident that they mean only the Kurds. At the same time both the European Union and the Council of Europe are advocating
the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and even encouraging it. There is benefit in critiquing these relations. Countries such as Luxembourg, Cyprus, Malta,
Andorra, San Marino, Monaco and Liechtenstein are also signatories to the aforementioned resolutions. Then it begs the obvious question: Where do the states with populations around
40-50 thousand get the authority, the power to decide on whether the more than 40-million strong Kurds have the right to determine their own future? The size of these countries is
probably less than the size of a county in Kurdistan. Is there any morality in these relations? Shouldn’t one expect a minimum standard of political morality in international affairs? All
these show just how much against the Kurds the new world order was fashioned in the 1920’s during the League of Nations.
It failed to establish peace and stability in the world. The League of Nations failed to prevent WW II. In 1945, in the aftermath of WW II, the United Nations Organization was
established. But, nothing changed for the Kurds. The status quo created in the 1920’s against the expressed will and demands of the Kurds was preserved intact. In the 1920’s, Sheikh
Mahmud Barzanji’s war of liberation marked the process. When the United nations Organization was formed, the proclamation and the demise of the Kurdish Republic of
Mahabad in western Iran marked the process. _ationalism-Racism In the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, South Africa was said to be “the most racist state in the
world”. USA was also being accused of racism. The white administration in South Africa was telling the natives the following: “Your color is black. Do not mix with us. Your
neighborhoods, your schools, your buses, your hotels, your theatres, your parks, your beaches etc must be separate from ours.” To bring this separation about, widespread homelands
called “Bantustan” surrounded by barbed wires were established. In any event, “Bantustan” means areas where the black people live collectively. The natives would live in these areas
without contacts with the whites. The infrastructure and services such as roads, sewer, water, electricity and transport to these areas was very inadequate. From this point of view the
natives were very much victimized. Nevertheless, they were able to protect and preserve their own values and internal autonomy. The natives were governing themselves.
In the US, too, similar policies were being implemented against the blacks. They had separate schools, buses, hotels etc. Specific policies to keep them apart were being crafted.
In Turkey, the Kurds are told the following: “You will live with the Turks, but you will live looking like a Turk. In this process, saying, ‘I have my own language, my own culture’ is not
acceptable. You have no chance of living except like a Turk. If you insist on saying ‘I have my own language and my own culture’ you will suffer greatly….”
This, too, is racism, a different manifestation of racism. I am trying to say that the kind of racism characterized by “You will live with me, you will live with the Turks looking like a
Turk” is a worse form of racism than the one which says, “Do not mix with me, live in separate neighborhoods”. For example, the leader of the ANC Nelson Mandela was released
from prison in 1990 and was elected president in the 1994 election. The leader of the white regime that kept Mandela in prison for 27 years De Clerk became vice president. This is a
significant indicator which shows that the official ideology in South Africa was flexible. On the other hand, it is well known just how inflexible, how draconian and unyielding the
Turkish state ideology is. Attempts are being made to keep the rapidly changing social and political relations under strict control of the unyielding ideology. Therefore, the Turkish
political system is of course not democratic.
It is alleged that there is no racism or discrimination in Turkey, that anyone including the Kurds can join any profession and work in the public service. “The Kurds become governors,
members of parliament, professors, prime ministers , presidents etc….” This claim is demagogy. It is rhetoric.
It is an open secret that a Kurd can only get ahead by adopting a Turkish identity, by becoming a Turk. With a Kurdish identity, the Kurd can go nowhere. Even right at birth the
Kurd is registered as a Turk, as a Turkish citizen. With a Turkish identity, only as a Turk, can the Kurd participate in elections. After being elected as a member of the parliament, if the
Kurd insists on advocating basic righst and fundamental liberties for the Kurds he or she will face serious consequences. Parliamentary members of the Democracy Party were able to vote
and be elected to the parliament because their ID’s said they were Turks. Their immunity from prosecution was lifted and they were imprisoned (March 1994) once they said they were
Kurds after the election (Oct 1991) and insisted on basic rights for the Kurds. The lifting of the immunity from prosecution for 15 elected members of the parliament was realized in one
go within this framework and only in relation to the Kurdish question.
Today the Kurds are engaged in a life and death struggle as a divided, partitioned and parcelled out people in the centre of the Middle East. The rights that are taken for granted for
all other people, the basic rights for being human are denied to the Kurds. The collective communal rights for constituting the Kurdish society are also forbidden for the Kurds. Syria,
Iran and Turkey are ruling the Kurds very oppressively through cruelty and suppression.
During the reign of Saddam Hussein the Kurds were treated badly as well. In Syria, close 300 thousand Kurds have no nationality. Without an identity these Kurds cannot buy and sell
things, cannot go to schools and hospitals. It is known that genocide through chemical weapons were committed against the Kurds when Saddam Hussein was in power. More of
the ones being executed in Iran are known to be Kurdish young men and women. Today, Qandil mountains where PKK guerrillas have taken refuge is bombarded by Turkey one day
and Iran the next day. The following day they are bombarded by both. Iraqi government is silent in the face of these bombardments, and they are condemned and protested by the
Kurdistan Regional government. The people in the region are victims of these systematic bombardments. There may be disagreements on other issues between the governments of
Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria for a variety of reasons. But, when it comes to the Kurdish question they all act in unison against the Kurds.
Let’s think of the meetings between “Countries neighboring Iraq ”. What is the meaning of this gatherings brought about in late 1990’s and early 2000? Where in the world is there such
an institution? Is there an institution for the meetings of “ Countries neighboring Afghanistan”? Is there one for the neighbors of Hungary? Of course not. It is unlikely that the
agenda for the meetings of countries neighboring Iraq is how to be kind to the Kurds.
Forgetting-Making Kurds Forget We can speak of intense efforts to forget and make the Kurds forget. It appears that the Kurds were caught unaware of the draconian and marginalizing measures in the 1920’s. I believe
the official state ideology is the most effective instrument in forgetting and making others oblivious. It may be necessary to recall that the official state ideology is not an ordinary one
bandied around. It is strictly preserved and protected through heavy-handed judicial and administrative penalties. There is a good measure of amnesia with respect to having been
divided, partitioned and parcelled out to the neighboring states. The slogan of “fraternal ties” aims at hiding this amnesia, increasing its depth and making it more widespread. The
communal amnesia is not limited to the ordinary people, it manifests itself in the minds of Kurdish researchers and Kurdish intellectuals as well. This amnesia extends to western
researchers, media and universities, too. Western scholars and academicians tend to be meticulously careful about not dealing with the subject of the division, partitioning and
parcelling out the Kurds and Kurdistan. Without drawing attention to the subject of the division, partitioning and parcelling out and without discussing it they use the expressions,
“Iraq’s Kurdistan”, “Iran’s Kurdistan”, “Syrian’s Kurdistan” and “Turkey’s Kurdistan”.
There is much benefit in critiquing this subject through the concepts of objective evidence, politics and diplomacy. This ought to be an important duty for the Kurdish intellectuals,
Kurdish press, Kurdish diplomacy and Kurdish politics.
First and foremost, the Kurdish question or the Kurdistan question is a question of conscience. All these ought to be the duty of Turkish, Arab and Persian intellectuals,
European intelligentsia, universities and members of the press.
Jurisprudence and Liberation struggles and the Kurds
The division, partitioning and parcelling out Kurds and Kurdistan has created administrations that has no regard for any moral code. Whatever their differences on other issues, the
governments that are collectively suppressing the Kurds have always managed to use their political, ideological, military and diplomatic prowess in unison against the Kurds. The
existence of such a block against the Kurds tend to facilitate suppression of the Kurds. And it undoubtedly makes the Kurds’ quest for freedom so much more difficult.
Up until the end of WW II, these powers against the Kurds were Great Britain, France, Republic of Turkey, Iran (Persians) and the Arabs. Since the 1960’s, the powers opposing
the Kurdish struggle have been Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran and the governments with economic, political, diplomatic and military ties to these countries, that is, England, France, USA and
Soviet Union. There may be disagreements and disputes among these governments for all sorts of reasons. But, when the Kurdish question is raised they all form a block against the
Kurds. Today whenever an incident occurs in any part of Kurdistan, it tends to have a positive or negative impact on the other parts and the powers that are collectively ruling and
controlling Kurds and Kurdistan promptly organize meetings to take counter measures.
It is evident that this collective control does not lead to justice and the rule of law, on the contrary, it violates one’s sense of justice and fairness. It is therefore the legitimate right of
the Kurdish people to engage in struggles for freedom from these oppressive and cruel measures. Under these circumstances, resisting oppression and injustices manifests itself as a
legitimate right.
Ismail Besikci