Asia-Pacific, Iraq, Politics

Who Are the Kurds and What are They Doing?

The Kurds have dominated the Middle-Eastern news in the last weeks and months by having an independence referendum. But who are they really, where did they come from and what is Kurdistan?

If we go back to biblical times, one will find that the Kurds were already a thing back then, or at least ethnic groups that they claim to have descended from. Since those early scriptures, the Kurdish people have been a significant ethnic group in the region. They can be described as a nomadic tribe that primarily lived in the mountain ranges of the area.

Dreams of an Independent Kurdistan

During the past centuries, the Kurds were at no point recognized as an independent nation. They have been conquered and frequently divided by several forces, being it Alexander the Great, Mongols or the Ottomans. However, when the first World War came to an end, and the Ottoman Empire crumbled, the Kurds were finally promised their sovereign nation. The idea of a united country, Kurdistan, was ultimately achievable. Unfortunately, it never happened.

Instead of an independent Nation, Kurdistan (with approximately 20 million Kurds in the region) became a metaphorical region divided by four countries: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The Kurds are, to this day, separated by several borders but have been able to gain autonomous rights in some parts, like in both north Syria (Rojava) and Iraq.

Kurds are a different ethnic group than anyone else in the Middle-East, though they share the same Islamic religion. While extremist groups are found in almost every religion, it has to be noted that the Kurds, in past and present, seemed to be very open about other practiced faiths in their region. Except for minor incidents, they have been comparably peaceful and did not try to conquer a land for themselves in the past.

Kurds and their Relationship with other Nations

Kurdish people are especially at odds with Turkey. Several Kurdish insurgent groups, including the well known Kurdish women fighters, have been in conflict with the Turkish government, which continues to label and fight them as terrorists to this day. The base of those conflicts is the idea of a separation of Turkey to create a sovereign Kurdish state. Turkey has not only been going against the Kurds living in their own country. Erdogan previously attacked them at the Turkish-Syrian border and has built an alliance with long-time nemesis Iran to prevent the referendum and, consequently, a sovereign state for the Kurdish people in northern Iraq.

The US supported the Kurds on different occasions, most recently with arms in northern Syria to fight against ISIS and in 2003 when the Kurd’s army in Iraq (Peshmerga) helped overthrow the Iraqi government, seizing the city of Kirkuk in the process. The Kurds in northern Iraq gained more ground when the central government of the country was pushed further south by ISIS earlier this year, which was the point when Masoud Barzani announced that his Kurdish Regional Government would hold an independence referendum. He publicly announced there were no plans to declare an independent state if the referendum was a success, but instead put it on the map and to talk about it. 80 percent of all Kurds participated in the vote, voting in favor of the idea with an overwhelming 92 percent.

What’s to Come for Kurds

The region will hold elections at the beginning of November, which could give Barzani’s party an edge over the opposition, coming from a new found nationalist drive through the won referendum.

While the Kurds have seen both support and deceit from the US, they still count themselves as allies. In this case, however, the US government has voiced their opposition towards the referendum, as it may cause additional instability, backing the Central Iraqi Government in Baghdad. Turkey and Iran fear that an independent nation might cause an uprising of Kurdish people in their countries as well. The tension is continually rising, but it may take some time to truly see the full extent and the consequences this vote may have for the region.

About Andreas Salmen

Born and raised in Germany, learned a job in IT and Business and ultimately decided that this wasn't exactly where my life was going to end. Left everything behind to become a writing backpacker instead. The world's crumbling away anyway so why not write about it and get a few good Instagram pics on the way, am I right?

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