The Kurds, those gallant Sunni Muslims, and known today as Boots-on-the-Ground, are fighting those gosh-awful Sunni Muslims, known as the Islamic State, who, actually, are not quite as bad as many the Kurds have fought in their past, only this time we have a stake, so we give the Kurds some air support while waving them on from the sidelines. The IS is heavily armed with US equipment abandoned by a crumbling Iraqi Shia-Muslim army and financed by the captured oil they sell to a world where Greed trumps Ethics. Condensing Kurd history is impossible but I will try:
Mostly Indo-European with a sprinkling of Semites, Kurds originated in the mountains south of the Caucasus and NW Persia (Iran) as a federation of a dozen tribal groups and a feeling of “Kurdiness” even though the name did not appear until 1000 BC in Assyrian documents as Kurkhi, but they received little press until 641 AD when Muslim Arabs conquered much of their land resulting in a series of revolts that were put down, often with the mass extermination of survivors and complete destruction of buildings and crops. Other Kurds became moderate Sunni Muslims. Not until they produced Süleyman the Magnificent (Saladin, 1137-1193) and his powerful wife, Roxelana, were they recognized as a powerful entity. In defeating the invading Christian Crusaders they were considerably more merciful to the defeated survivors than Crusaders had been in their victories. They founded the Ayyubid Dynasty (1171-1250) and united all the Muslim areas in Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. Their popularity grew as they were generous, virtuous, devoid of cruelty, but firm rulers. Their sense of jihad was to extend their version of Islam by founding colleges and mosques, based on moral regeneration. Saladin’s military strength grew as he disciplined, united, and reformed unruly groups as far away as Yemen.
Like so many good things this was short lived as waves of Seljuk Turks swept out of the central Asian steppes, conquering Persia and Iraq while annexing Kurdish communities, creating Kurdistan. But then Kurdish communities were evicted to be resettled in distant areas or completely massacred. Ottoman Turks then prevailed but the Kurds suffered horrible persecution in Ottoman-Shia-Safavid wars. Ottomans did massacre Kurdish-speaking Yazidis.
In the War-to-end-all-wars, 1914-18, we good guys, mostly Christians, defeated those bad guys, mostly Sunni Muslims, known as the Ottoman Empire (1300-1922) that was made up of nine major religious/ethnic groups, including the Kurds, and numerous minor groups but counting them is harder than counting the stars in the sky. In this empire there was a rare liking for diversity as everyone that was of the male gender had equal opportunity for employment, advancement, even in government and the mititary, and, like all other countries, the privilege to fight and die for one’s empire. Women ? Well, men were allowed up to 4 wives but 95% found that one was all they could handle. Yes, the 1% did have harems but they could afford separate accommodations for them where they became quite influential in politics, architecture, creating welfare associations, and the like.
But, after 1919, some of us enjoyed believing we brought enlightenment and freedom and changed oppressive ways. We also had economic and political well-being to consider. Victorious nations, except for the Australians and New Zealanders, a valuable but uncontrollable lot, who got out of the way by going home, and, yes, the Canadians also left after leading the RAF squadrons helping the Whites in Crimea. Those of us with the stamina to stay blessed the area by setting up independent countries from Algeria to Syria that, of course, had to be guided through the decades-long process of learning all about the benefits of western-style democracy. The proper handling of natural assets, such as oil, needed our expertise and the guiding hand of capitalism. Britain, France, and Italy were particularly generous in donating administrators and military forces. But were not the Russians also our glorious allies? Well yes, but they were quite busy deciding whether they wanted to be Red or White so we relieved them of their age-old headache of trying to find warm-water ports by creating buffer states. The United States was slow to learn. Failing to declare war on the Ottomans, their commercial interests became involved. In 1858 Canada led in developing and exporting commercial oil expertise so was also capable of involvement.
Like the Jews, the Kurds have retained their culture and longings for a homeland so are seen as a threat where they are now sizable minorities: Turkey (18%), Iraq (17%), Iran (10%), and Syria (10%). When Armenia was part of the USSR, Kurds were a protected minority but lost all privileges when the USSR disintegrated. In Azerbaijan many Kurdish areas were destroyed and 150,000 deported. Kurds are also in Georgia, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon, descendants of those fighting the Crusaders. They still hold high offices in Iran which absorbed 1.5 million Iraqi Kurdish refugees. Both Iran and Turkey have fought each other using their Kurds while assassinating uncooperative Kurdish leaders. Having a superior record in human rights than many of us, the Kurds deserve better, but, like all the rest of us, they have their divisions such as KDP-1, Komalah, PKK, and PJAK.
We have all contributed to an ungodly mess in the Middle East. Can you suggest how I can possibly end this essay on a happy note?