The Kurdish Quiet Spring

By Ofra Bengio

With the tectonic changes taking place in the heart of the Middle East little attention is given to developments in the periphery, one of the most important of which is the quiet revolution taking place in Greater Kurdistan, namely among the Kurds of Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria.

The best illustration of the new Kurdish dynamism was the congress held on February 19, 2012, in Irbil, Iraq, to commemorate the 66th anniversary of Kurdistan Republic, better known as the Mahabad Republic. This short-lived Republic was established in northwest Iran on January, 22, 1946, with Soviet support but it crumbled 11 months later on December 10, 1946, and its president, Qazi Muhammad, was hanged on March 30, 1947.

Kurdistan Republic was unique because it was the first time in Kurdish history that the Kurds had established a republic of their own; because it was an attempt to change the territorial map of the region at the end of World War II; and because there was a certain level of cooperation and unity of purpose between the Kurds of Iran and Iraq.

Thus, Qazi Muhammad, the president of the republic and the Iranian Kurds, provided the territorial and political basis for the republic, while Mulla Mustafa Barzani and the 10,000 people (3,000 of whom were fighters) who came with him from Iraq provided the military backbone.

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The commemoration of the event this February in Irbil reflected the changes that have been taking place in the past decade, especially in Iraq and Turkey. The event which brought together Kurdish representatives from the four parts of Kurdistan under the watchful eyes of the governments of these states was unimaginable only five years ago.

Among the many Kurdish personalities participating in the commemoration were Mas'ud Barzani (son of Mulla Mustafa), president of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, Selahattin Demirta, co-chair of the Kurdish Peace and Democracy party (BDP) in Turkey, ‘Abd al-Hakim Bashar, head of Kurdistan Democratic Party in Syria and Hussein Yazdanpana of Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) in Iran. There were also many Kurdish representatives from the diaspora who have been active in disseminating the idea of Kurdish nationalism in the world at large.

The speakers sought to send a few assertive messages to the world and especially to their governments. Barzani stressed that the Kurds, like any other nation, had the natural right of self-determination, that the governments were required to acknowledge this right but were not in a position to accord it to the Kurds, that the Kurds were striving to act in unity even though they had been separated into four parts, and that they were bent on achieving their goal through peaceful and democratic means.

Most of the speakers highlighted the quick and sweeping changes taking place in the Middle East as a result of "the Arab spring" and the Kurds' need to take advantage of this window of opportunity to achieve their own goals. Signaling a desire to resurrect the Mahabad experience, the speakers sought to impress upon the world the idea of continuity between 1946 and the present. A symbol of this continuity, it was emphasized, was the fact that after the collapse of the Republic, Qazi Muhammad handed over the Kurdish flag to Mulla Mustafa Barzani, stating that the flag was in "safe hands, and a day will come when the flag would be raised [again]."

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The writer is senior research associate at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University. She is the author of the forthcoming The Kurds of Iraq: Building a State within a State and editor of the monthly newsletter Tzomet Hamizrah Hatichon.

© The Jerusalem Post 1995 - 2012

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