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A People without a Country

Éditeur : Zed Books Date & Lieu : 1993, London
Préface : David McDowall Pages : 260
Traduction : Michael Pallis ISBN : 1856491943
Langue : AnglaisFormat : 150x225 mm
Code FIKP : Liv. Ang. 3581Thème : Histoire

Présentation Table des Matières Introduction Identité PDF
A People without a Country



The 16 million Kurds are the largest nation in the world with no state of their own. Their history is one of constant revolts and bloody repression, massacres, deportations and renewed insurrection.

This classic collection of writings from Kurdish intellectuals and other internationally respected experts discusses the origins of Kurdish nationalism and analyzes their contemporary demand for autonomy in the aftermath of the Gulf crisis and the setting up of safe havens.

It combines historical analysis of the Kurds under the Ottoman Empire with a thorough study of Kurdish life in all areas of Kurdistan—Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the former Soviet Union. Later sections cover recent Kurdish history with emphasis on the Iraqi Kurds, and the Kurdish movement in Turkey. Also included is an assessment of "Operation Provide Comfort" and the failure of the U.S. and international law to develop an adequate response to the Kurdish crisis following the Gulf War


Towards the end of March 1991 over one and a half million Kurds fled across the snow-clad mountains of Kurdistan in search of safety from the forces of Saddam Hussein. Had it not been for television, these fugitives would probably now be either dead or refugees bereft ofhope outside Iraq. For it was television news bulletins which brought the horrific ordeal of the Kurds into homes across Europe and America. And it was the outrage of ordinary people at Saddam Hussein's onslaught and at the Allies' passivity, which finally compelled Western governments to provide protection to the Kurds inside Iraq.

Television created a powerful image of Kurdistan in the popular imagination of the West, in a way that a succession of uprisings in Iraq, Turkey and Iran had previously failed to do. When Iraq repeatedly used gas against the Kurds in 1987-88, there was insufficient television coverage to mobilize public opinion. Even after Halabja in March 1988, where at least 5,000 perished, and after the final Iraqi offensive the following August, Security Council members and other states avoided offending Iraq and its Arab allies for fear of damaging their economic and political interests in the region. When Kurds reported in 1989 that over 3,000 villages and towns had been razed by Saddam Hussein, they were treated with skepticism, as if Western governments could not easily have verified such assertions by satellite photography. When it was possible for journalists to travel through Kurdistan in spring 1991, the truth of Kurdish claims was belatedly confirmed. Since then, credence has also been given to Kurdish claims that 200,000 or more men, women and children were liquidated in the infamous anfal operations, 1987-88.

Although they currently enjoy Allied protection, the Kurds of Iraq lack any guarantees for the future. If Turkey refuses to renew the six monthly agreement whereby the Allied aircraft use Incirlik airbase, the Kurds will lose their protection and Saddam Hussein will be tempted to attack them again.

As time passes and the public begins to forget about them, the Kurds feel more vulnerable. For without public interest, Western governments may feel able quietly to withdraw from what may seem like a political quagmire. It should be remembered that Western governments have only involved themselves in the tragedy of Kurdistan with reluctance. They do not wish to see the integrity of either Turkey or Iraq (not to mention other countries where Kurdish minorities exist) compromised by Kurdish separatism.

There are a number of reasons why it is crucial that public opinion should remain well-informed and vigilant about the Kurdish situation. At the humanitarian level a clear moral responsibility rests upon the electorates of parliamentary democracies to ensure that their governments are responsive to the humanitarian dimension of international affairs. It is public silence which permits reluctant governments to disregard international responsibilities, and informed and articulate public opinion which goads them into action.

Then there is the question of international law and norms of behavior. The West allowed Iraq to violate with impunity the 1925 Geneva Protocol on Chemical Weapons, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and (arguably) the 1948 Geneva Convention on Genocide with regard to its Kurds. When agreed international standards and conventions are not upheld they are inevitably weakened. Governments should not be allowed to collude with violators in the erosion of these standards. Once again, when governments fail to act, it is the public which must persuade them to take law observance seriously. The story of Kurdistan, like that of Palestine, demonstrates all too clearly the tragic consequences of inertia.

Finally, there is the political dimension. The Kurds claim the right to self- determination. Whether one supports the idea of an independent Kurdish state or of guaranteed autonomy arrangements for areas where the Kurds form a clear majority, it is vital that the international community helps the parties concerned find a peaceful and productive formula whereby approximately 23 million Kurds can play a full part in the development of the Middle East.

At the time of the 1991 Peace Conference, one senior British official forecast with great prescience that "failure to deal adequately with the Kurdish question will leave a permanent sore threatening forever the peace of the Middle East." His warning was not heeded at the time, and has subsequently been tragically fulfilled Can this running sore now be healed? In Turkey the growing disaffection of over 10 million Kurds threatens a destructive inter-communal conflict unless a process of reconciliation and political rearrangement can be embarked upon. External encouragement in that process remains crucial. In Iraq, the failure to bring the government and its Kurds into peaceful coexistence may lead to even greater humanitarian tragedies than those already experienced. It is too easy to assume that once Saddam Hussein is removed, the Kurds will be able to resolve their problems with a successor government. This is open to question.

The problems which exist between governments and the Kurds, be it in Turkey, Iraq, Iran or elsewhere, cannot be lightly dismissed in simplistic denunciations. The bases of mutual distrust are longstanding and complex. If these problems are to be resolved, as they must be for any process of peaceful conciliation, it is likely that this will be partly because the Kurdish question is better and more widely understood. It is for this reason that this new edition of A People without a Country is vitally important.

David McDowall

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