The Kurds: A Nation Without a State


Of all the ethnic groups in the world, the Kurds are one of the largest
that has no state to call their own. According to historian William

Westermann, "The Kurds can present a better claim to race purity...than
any people which now inhabits Europe." (Bonner, p. 63, 1992) Over the
past hundred years, the desire for an independent Kurdish state has
created conflicts mainly with the Turkish and Iraqi populations in the
areas where most of the Kurds live. This conflict has important
geographical implications as well. The history of the Kurdish nation,
the causes for these conflicts, and an analysis of the situation will be
discussed in this paper.

History of the Kurds

The Kurds are a Sunni Muslim people living primarily in Turkey, Iraq,
and Iran. The 25 million Kurds have a distinct culture that is not at
all like their Turkish, Persian, and Arabic neighbors (Hitchens, p. 36,

1992). It is this cultural difference between the groups that
automatically creates the potential for conflict. Of the 25 million

Kurds, approximately 10 million live in Turkey, four million in Iraq,
five million in Iran, and a million in Syria, with the rest scattered
throughout the rest of the world (Bonner, p. 46, 1992). The Kurds also
have had a long history of conflict with these other ethnic groups in
the Middle East, which we will now look at.

The history of Kurds in the area actually began during ancient times.

However, the desire for a Kurdish homeland did not begin until the early

1900’s, around the time of World War I. In his Fourteen Points,

President Woodrow Wilson promised the Kurds a sovereign state (Hitchens,
p. 54, 1992). The formation of a Kurdish state was supposed to have
been accomplished through the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 which said that
the Kurds could have an independent state if they wanted one (Bonner, p.

46, 1992). With the formation of Turkey in 1923, Kemal Ataturk, the new

Turkish President, threw out the treaty and denied the Kurds their own
state. This was the beginning of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict.

At about this same time, the Kurds attempted to establish a
semi-independent state, and actually succeeded in forming the Kingdom of

Kurdistan, which lasted from 1922-1924; later, in 1946, some of the

Kurds established the Mahabad Republic, which lasted for only one year
(Prince, p. 17, 1993). In 1924, Turkey even passed a law banning the
use of the Kurdish language in public places.

Another group of people to consider is the Kurds living in Iraq. Major
conflict between the Kurds and Iraqis did not really begin until 1961,
when a war broke out that lasted until 1970. Around this time, Saddam

Hussein came to power in Iraq. In 1975, Hussein adopted a policy of
eradicating the Kurds from his country. Over the next fifteen years,
the Iraqi army bombed Kurdish villages, and poisoned the Kurds with
cyanide and mustard gas (Hitchens, p. 46, 1992). It is estimated that
during the 1980’s, Iraqis destroyed some 5000 Kurdish villages (Prince,
p. 22, 1993). From this point, we move into the recent history and
current state of these conflicts between the Kurds and the Turks, and
the Kurds against the Iraqis.

Causes for Conflict

The reasons for these conflicts have great relevance to geography. The
areas of geography relating to these specific conflicts are a historical
claim to territory on the part of the Kurds, cultural geography,
economic geography, and political geography. These four areas of
geography can best explain the reasons for these Kurdish conflicts.

First, the Kurds have a valid historical claim to territory. They have
lived in the area for over 2000 years. For this reason, they desire the
establishment of a Kurdish homeland. Iraqis and Turks, while living in
the area for a long period of time, cannot make a historical claim to
that same area. The conflict arises, however, because the area happens
to lie within the borders of Iraq and Turkey. Even though the Kurds
claim is valid, the Turks and Iraqis have chosen to ignore it and have
tried to wipe out the Kurds.

Second, and probably most important, is that this conflict involves
cultural geography. The Kurds are ethnically and culturally different
from both the Turks and the Iraqis. They speak a different language,
and while all three groups are Muslim, they all practice different
forms. The Kurds have used this cultural difference as a reason to
establish a homeland. However, the Turks and Iraqis look at the
contrast in ethnicity in a much different sense. The government of

Turkey viewed any religious or ethnic identity that was not their own