It was said in the past that the Kurds do not have friends, only the mountains and the wind.
This was the dilemma of a people caused by geography and politics in an unending crisis. They were forced to be scattered in four major states, namely Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria.
There are different estimates of the number of the Kurds. Some estimates put them in the tens of millions.
Despite all the difficulties, politics and geography, the Kurds have acquired many more friends over the years than mountains and wind. They are in a dignified struggle to defend their right to life and freedom.
Although a whole century had passed since the first Cairo Conference, where the founding of a Kurdish state in the Kurdistan region was proposed, yet Kurdish statehood dreams have still not been fulfilled because western colonisers do not want them to be fulfilled. The conference aimed first and foremost to protect the British crown and Iraq’s northern border against Turkish threats. This was why Britain supported Kurdish nationalism against the Islamic current which functioned as a Turkish arm. Turkey used this arm to incite the Kurds against the British administration in Kurdistan Iraq.
British Secretary of State for the Colonies Winston Churchill adopted the idea of establishing a Kurdish state in this region. He believed the presence of this state would hamper the expansion of Bolshevism and the new Russian empire. He also believed that the same state would prevent the expansion of the Turkish state, especially after the failure of the policies of then-British premier David Lloyd George and insistence by the Turks to prevent the British from controlling the Kurdistan region in Iraq.
The new British high commissioner in Iraq, Sir Percy Cox, rejected the establishment of a Kurdish state under the pretext that this state would not serve the geography of the new Iraq. Nobody can defend Iraq, he said, if the Kurdish mountains northern and northeastern Kurdistan were not under the control of this state. Cox and his team believed that Iraq ought to maintain its borders to the lines of the armistice of Mudros of 30 October 1918, otherwise Iraqi territory would be easy to infiltrate to Basra by Turkish troops. Cox also believed that the independence of the Kurdistan region would make it easy for the Turks to lay their hands on Iraqi oil wells.
Arab nationalists also rejected the establishment of a Kurdish state. They considered this state a tool by the British to punish the Iraqi opposition. King Faisal I objected to the presence of this state too, believing it would deprive Iraq of a major chunk of its Sunni population. King Faisal also believed that it would be hard for him to rule a country with a predominantly Shiite population.
King Faisal asked the British high commissioner about the force that would protect Iraq if a foreign power attacked it. He also asked him about whether Britain was ready to prevent unrest in Kurdistan which could turn into a source of danger to the new Iraq.
This caused Churchill to backpedal and drop his plan to support a Kurdish state. The British government, he said, had not planned the establishment of a Kurdish state in the first place, but only wanted to subsume southern Kurdistan under Mosul state within a new federal system. Churchill noted that the British government would not prevent any part of Kurdistan from joining the new Iraq. He said allowing the Kurds to enjoy self autonomy was aimed at enticing them away from the Turks.
History will not forgive Cox who stood against the founding of a Kurdish state. He refused to implement the recommendations of the Cairo Conference for founding this state. He also refused to release Kurdish leaders from jails, including Sheikh Mahmud Hafid Zadeh. Cox used the absence of Zadeh and other Kurdish leaders in subsuming Kurdish areas southern Kurdistan under the Iraqi state. This makes him responsible for the suffering of the Kurds and the massacres that were committed against them later.
The sorry thing is that the Kurds had missed their chance of establishing a state at the beginning of the 20th century under the Treaty of Sèvres of 1920. The treaty gave the Kurds the right to self-determination and for the founding of their own state in Mosul, east of Anatolia.
However, this dream turned to ashes after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk came to power in Turkey, making it necessary for the allies to drop the Treaty of Sèvres and substitute it with the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. This treaty put the Kurdish people under Turkish and Iranian control, in addition to Britain and France, who had mandates in Iraq and Syria.
A century later, the colonial plans are very clear. Colonial powers considered the establishment of a Kurdish state a major threat. The same powers continue to sow the seeds of tension in order to secure their oil and strategic interests.
*Mahmud al-Batakoshi is a Turkish affairs specialist.