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nemat | 12.03.2005 15:50 | Anti-militarism

HALABJA: The Martyred City

Nemat Sharif
March 2003

Off Hiroshima
The Smoke ascended
And the earth quacked
Homes smashed and domes cracked
Temperature rose into thousands
Cadavers scattered
Humans burned, things blackened

It was said:
Radiation causes cancer …
But in years, from the rubbles
Will rise a healthy Japanese
Who will hoist the flag!

* * *

On Halabja
A colorful smoke descended
Dazzling the eyes
Dazing the mind
And slowly
It seeped inside
A tormenting curse, it descending
On all living beings …
On animals,
On plants,
On humans …

* * *

Spring was breezy fresh
When on Halabja
The smoke descended
The earth didn't quake
Domes didn't crack,
And homes didn't smash
Temperature didn't rise
And flesh didn't fly
But by the thousands
Corpses scattered
--Some bleeding here,
--Others frozen there.

"What is it?" the world asked
"Surprised!", a Kurd replied:
"Hitler is born again."

* * *

Hitler is calling for revenge
Deep the feelings ran
It was said, again:
It isn't carcinogen
But in years …
In a generation or two
There will be born
A deformed Kurd
Who will bear the signs

On his right, will be
--A sterile plant

And on his left,
-- A wingless bird

In years, in Halabja
There shall rise,
-- A deformed Kurd
-- Who will ring the bell!
-- Who will call to return …

And for Kurdistan,
--He shall hoist a flag.

Of Nagasaki, they told:
Of fire, and destruction
A long history, and a little
Of mercy and care, they said.

Of Hiroshima, they said:
The fear of defeat,
The drive to win,
And of Halabja, they said:
Revenge ….
May be revenge!

* * *

Of the Kurds, he said:
"People without land" and it is
"Our exact calculations …
Did we err when we set
To change the balance of power
In the north"
And solve the equation of reality

A land without people,
A land infertile
A land scorched
A land saturated with toxins
Where life is bleak
And plants unlike plants
A land driven insane
With mustard, with Sarin
With nerve gas!

* * *

He said it years ago:
"A land without people
Or people without land?"

But history proclaimed:
He has lied
His equation isn't true!!
One day, from the ashes and gas
A deformed Kurd shall rise
He will spit on the world
Form a burnt lung
A spit half chemicals
And the other half is blood

He shall write
On his scorched land
Kurdistan shall be
Kurdistan will live
Kurdistan is My Home
Kurdistan is My Home …

The Kurdish problem in the Middle East: Kurdistan & International Colonialism

28 April 2004 - By Dr Kamal Mirawdeli
The Kurdish people are a homogenous ethnic group descended from the ancient Gutis, Carduchis and Medes. They have lived in the Middle East in the traditional land of KURDISTAN – which means the land of the Kurd – since time immemorial. This ‘land of the Kurd’ was cradle to the first human civilization and it is believed that the first agrarian revolution in the history of mankind took place in this area.*

The Kurdish people are known to be deeply loyal to their country; they have strong family, social and cultural ties and are reluctant to leave their homeland even for short periods, however strong the temptation. But unfortunately the reality of international power politics have brought about drastic changes creating a Kurdish diaspora unprecedented in the long turbulent history of the Kurds. There are now about 250,000 Iraqi Kurds living in exile in Iran, Turkey, Europe, Pakistan, Scandinavian countries, Australia and Canada.

Until the First World War, Kurdistan was a part of Persia and the Ottoman Empire with autonomous dynasties, self-sufficient economies, free peasant-pastoral communities and a rich cultural heritage. The Kurdish movement for a united independent Kurdistan began during the nineteenth century along with other national movement within the Ottoman Empire.

After the War, Britain and France divided the possessions of the Ottoman Empire creating new national states to suit their long-term interests and strategies. Kurdistan was denied political entity it had been promised by the Allied Powers in Sevres treaty in 1920 and by Britain in 1922 and ‘the densely populated areas of Kurdistan came under foreign rule and the Kurdish nation became divided by frontiers which are neither ethnical nor historical’. From 1919 to 1946 Britain participated directly and effectively in suppressing all Kurdish uprisings against the Arab majority and forcibly annexed southern Kurdistan to a newly – made Iraqi Arab state. Another part of Kurdistan went to Syria and two parts remained occupied by Turkey and Iran. Thus, the Kurds became a divided nation controlled by 4 hostile states in the Middle East.

Despite this, and despite being deprived of all opportunities for development that their oil – rich country provided, the Kurds remained relatively autonomous in their traditional mountainous homeland, resisting the coercive policies to subjugate, assimilate and colonize by the occupying powers. The Kurds’ distinctive historical cultural identity, their mountain strongholds, and their very long historical tradition of resistance to foreign authority, endowed them with an extraordinary subjective power enabling them to survive as a culturally coherent nation despite the waves of colonial invasions and aggressions by both surrounding and remote powers throughout history.

But the historical cultural strength and military prowess of the Kurds are no match against modern destructive weapons and the combined strength of four national states – Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey – which in their turn are allied though diplomatic channels and vested interests to world powers both in the East and West. Thus, the Kurds have been transformed from being a strong industrious and independent nation – known for its ancient identity and unique hospitality – into a divided and oppressed people – underdeveloped, defenceless and friendless. And the history of the Kurds has been destined to become a series of uninterrupted struggles, massacres and tragedies.

Through the division of Kurdish people after the First World War was a critical turning point in the fate of the Kurds in the Middle East, placing them in a position of disadvantage geopolotically, it neither stopped nor suppressed the Kurdish national liberation movement which continued gaining ground at a different times in Turkey, Iraq and Iran. But it is in Iraq, where the Kurds constitute 25% of the population and Kurdish territory has the second large oil reserves in the Middle East, that the Kurdish struggle for independence has been the fiercest. The Kurdish movement in this part of Kurdistan gained strength and momentum and came near to achieving its political objectives in 1975 after 14 years of bloodshed. The reality of this possibility horrified both Iran and Turkey and there have been repeated patent or covert coordinated actions and conspiracies between these two governments and Iraq for the suppression of the Kurdish movement using every available means including the most up-to-date sophisticated weapons at their disposal – regardless of human cost and in flagrant violation of the international law and human rights.

In 1975 Iraq and Iran signed the Algiers Treaty which solved their long-standing border dispute with the giving up of Shattul – Arab by Iraq to Iran in return to Iran’s cooperation with Iraq against the triumphant Kurdish movement in Iraqi Kurdistan. This hypocritical agreement has been at the root of the subsequent devastating Iraq – Iran war. In 1978 Iraq also signed a special security agreement with Turkey which was further updated and developed in 1983 to allow each party to invade the others’ Kurdish territory in ‘hot pursuit’ of the Kurds.

Following the setback of the Kurdish movement in Iraq in 1975 as a result of the Algiers agreement, Iraq embarked on a comprehensive policy of Arabization in Kurdistan. The trust of this policy was to depopulate a large part of Kurdistan and force the population to live in concentration camps and collective settlements. From 1979 onwards, Iraq used the excuse of Iraq – Iran war to intensify this policy turning it into a campaign of genocide which has led to the destruction of more than 4000 villages and towns with all their schools, mosques, churches and historical buildings, and the use of internationally outlawed chemical weapons for the extermination of the civilian population. This has led to the exodus of tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians.

It is generally recognised now that Iraq’s campaign against the Kurds amounts to an act of genocide. Yet, concern for selfish short term interests, and the strength of the Arab lobby have led to the failure of the Western countries and the international community to take even preliminary sanctions against Iraq which remained a ‘respectable’ member of the ‘sovereign states’ of the world.

The imperialist division of Kurdistan

The inevitable starting point for even beginning to understand the Kurdish problem in its historical context and geopolitical dimensions is the ‘division’ of Kurdistan after the First World War. It was this partition which created the Kurdish problem in the Middle East and the tragedy of the Kurdish people which, with chronic regularity, remains an unresolved and worsening problem. Over the last few years we have witnessed yet another tragic dimension to the Kurdish question: the genocide of the Kurds and the problem of the Kurdish refugees. What must be firmly emphasised is the fact that the problem of the Kurdish refugees cannot be separated from the Kurdish question itself. The reactions of the countries involved, the United Nations Organisations and the International Community can only be understood in terms of the geopolitics of Kurdistan created by the imperialists’ dividing up of the area as already referred to.

Geopolitics of international colonialism

It is not my purpose here to enter into any historical detail. What I wish to emphasise and clarify is the terribly geopolitical disadvantage to which the Kurdish nation was put as a result of the imperialist partition of Kurdistan between Iran and the newly created states of Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Had it not been for the formidable topography of Kurdistan it would have been impossible for the Kurds to have survived the shattering effects of this dismemberment – both physically and culturally. The disadvantages which the Kurdish people suffered as a result of this act, after 1923, are still having effect and are responsible for the increasingly aggressive struggle of the Kurds for independence and for the continuing saga of tragedy and suffering of their people. I shall attempt to isolate these disadvantages and show how they have been affecting the Kurdish nation:

1. The Kurdish people were denied their own national state and their right to self determination was repressed and silenced.

2. The geographical unity of Kurdistan was disrupted, unnaturally and illogically: artificial frontiers were imposed and the growth of one Kurdish national market was stifled and obstructed. The natural course of socio-economic and cultural development was repressed and positively discouraged.

3. The Kurdish people were forcibly divided and made to become a ‘minority group’ in four countries governed by hostile dominant majorities. Therefore, even in terms of non – Kurdish politics the opportunity the Kurds had to actively participate in the broader political process of their respective countries was seriously limited. This limitation of Kurdish political role was enhanced by deliberate racist ideology and practice implemented by the ruling majorities vis-à-vis Kurdish nationalism.

4. The formation and/or the stabilisation and consolidation of these majority governments was achieved through Western imperialist strategies, and the geo-strategic conditions for preserving the alliance between the ruling majorities and the Western countries were thus generated. Various treaties were signed re-affirming and strengthening these alliances and inevitably, they were detrimental to Kurdish nationalism.

5.With the growth of a parasitical and chauvinist national bourgeoisies in these countries, through alliance with and reliance on Western capitalism, the ruling majorities resorted to increasingly aggressive colonialist and racialist policies towards Kurdistan and the Kurdish people. The wealth of Kurdistan and especially the rich resources of oil were exploited to this end. Strong armies were created from the oil revenues and as a result of military aid from the West. Armed with the most sophisticated weapons their main internal responsibility was the suppression of Kurdish nationalism. Racialist policies of internal assimilation and the transformation of the ethnic demography by depopulation, deportation and resettlement were pursued relentlessly.

6. The transformation of the image of the Kurds into a dangerous internal enemy to be eliminated, or backward tribes to be assimilated, have become the most important ideological expediency used by the ruling dictatorships in operating their divide and rule strategy. The ruling powers have succeeded largely in creating the mentality of the superiority of the majority of the existence of another national group in the midst – by prohibiting all mention of the role of the Kurdish people in the history of Islam and the Middle East, by suppressing Kurdish language and culture and by preventing the Kurds themselves from studying in their own language, or from expressing their cultural identity, historical traditions and national aspirations.

Even the Marxists and leftwing groups have failed to recognise the Kurds’ right to liberation from the yoke of colonial regimes. Ego-centrism and patronising bigotry have been typical of the attitude of the ‘left’ towards the Kurdish question. All these factors have worked towards the maintenance and the strengthening of the rule and role of the chauvinistic national bourgeoisie and the entrenchment of its ideas and values within the society as a whole. Therefore, democratic struggle based on class alliances – without taking into consideration the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination, have tragically failed to those people who have become the instrument of the ruling bourgeoisie in repressing the Kurds have themselves often fallen victim to their inherent historical short – sightedness and ideological immaturity.

7. As the suppression of the Kurdish people was a principal policy common to the power strategies of all the ruling bourgeoisie of the majority states, and as they have all shared the partition of Kurdistan and the subjugation of its people, it has become logical – in this context- for a strategy of cooperation and conspiracy to develop and to be put into effect between these regimes against the Kurdish people. Historically speaking, Britain has played a vital role in bringing about anti-Kurd alliances between these colonial regimes.

8. The dividing up of Kurdistan left the Kurds a divided nation with hostile regimes in all directions on the one hand, and without access to the sea on the other. Thus, it became very difficult for the Kurdish national movement to survive or progress without attempting to ‘neutralise’ at least one of the colonial regimes in order to ensure access to the outside world for military and humanitarian aid in a time of crisis. This has led to the leaders of the Kurdish movement attempting a strategy based on exploiting the contradictions between the regimes occupying Kurdistan. This has shown itself over the past two decades in the Iraqi Kurdish movement’s reliance on Iran, and more recently – some Iranian Kurds receiving support from the Iraqi government. But this strategy in the first instance proved to be disastrous and, in the second, to be totally wrong and unacceptable.

9. Simultaneous with the colonizing regimes use of the revenues from the Kurdish economy to strengthening their armies and promote their colonial institutions and projects, they denied Kurdistan any opportunity for social and cultural development and kept it in a state of underdevelopment. The cumulative effect of this has been to keep rural Kurdistan in a primitive, feudal state closer to primitive communism than to true feudalism. This can be described as “popular feudalism”. Thus, underdevelopment has hindered the growth of a genuine Kurdish middle class. Where some elements of this class do exist, they are, to a large extent, parasitical prone to assimilation or to compromise and this had serious repercussions for the Kurdish movement as the leadership has not been able to play the role of vanguard for the peasant masses but has tended to follow the masses instead. Thus, the Kurdish movement has not been capable of reviewing its methods, or of modernising itself- or of producing an intellectual elite capable presenting a convincing image of it to the outside world. Iraq’s use of chemical weapons and the destruction of the Kurdish countryside have deprived the movement in Southern Kurdistan ‘overnight’ of its rural structure and placed it historically at cross-roads.

10. In the face of increasingly aggressive colonialism, the topography of Kurdistan has remained the one formidable factor in the Kurdish resistance to colonial subjugation and cultural assimilation. But the use of even more modern and sophisticated weapons of mass destruction along with the shift of focus by Iraq to chemical weapons has left the Kurds without the protection even of their historical ally: their mountains.

11. The most frustrating and incomprehensible result of the fragmentation of Kurdistan has been the lack of genuine support or even sympathy for the Kurdish people – from world governments, the United Nations, International Humanitarian Organisations, the world media or world public opinion. Whereas the division of Kurdistan created sovereign states of the majority nations allied to other world sovereign states, it deprived the Kurdish people of any sort of national or local power, thus, depriving Kurdistan and the Kurdish question of the ‘oxygen’ of international publicity.

Iraq is, for example, one Arab state among 22 other Arab states. The Arab lobby alone with its petrodollar power and diplomatic muscle, can easily isolate the Kurds (and effectively did so after the international outrage about Iraq’s chemical genocide of the Kurdish town of Halabja) and use any publicity about the human rights of the Kurdish people as just another bargaining chip in the world market of vested interests .It is for this is reason that the West has failed to press for an independent inquiry into Iraq’s use of chemical warfare against the Kurdish people and this is why the Paris Conference, whish was originally convened in response to Iraq’s chemical war fare crimes, failed to either criticise or condemn, let alone punish Iraq. At the same time the so-called Islamic world and the Third World were silent on Iraq’s crimes against humanity in Halabja and subsequently. The Soviet Union and the socialist countries- long regarded as the true friends of the Kurdish people!- have been shockingly silent about Iraq’s actions. In fact Pravda sanctioned Iraq’s crime against the Kurds by publishing a comment from its correspondent in Washington defending Iraq’s stance and describing accusations of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons as ‘imperialist lies and propaganda’!!

Thus, the geopolitics of divided Kurdistan has generated a tragic context for the Kurdish people to the extent that even the genocide of the Kurds is denied or ignored..

Democracy and Middle East

12. My final point concentrates on the question of democracy in the countries where the Kurds are a minority nation. The meaning of democracy must be understood in the first place: democracy is not a slogan, nor some formal arrangement between some political parties. It is not putting signatures to statements, alliances, or so-called popular fronts. Democracy cannot be imposed from above: it is a particular way of thinking and behaviour developed over many hundreds of years and embracing free and independent ( to extent that this independence can be economically possible) social, cultural, political and educational organisations. Democracy first and foremost requires tolerance and the recognition of diverse institutions and organisations. But is this a possibility in Kurdistan?

Unfortunately, the regimes, cultures and institutions colonizing Kurdistan are themselves among the most backward and repressive in the world. Turkey, Iraq and Iran continue to be the historical residue of Oriental despotism. Centuries of repression, corruption and cultural retardation under the Ottoman Empire and the Persian Empire did not subsequently give way to a new historical era, a new society. The advent and intervention of Western imperialism in the nineteenth century stifled and distorted the emerging national liberation movements of the Arabs, the Kurds, the Azerbaijanis, the Armenians and the Turks.

Instead of witnessing long-term national liberation movements bringing about radical social, cultural and ideological transformations in the structures of society, the Middle East witnessed the creations of artificial frontiers and pro-imperialist states. Thus, unlike Europe, Africa and Latin America, China and India, there have been no reformation and modernisation (industrialisation) movements, no genuine national liberation movements, no cultural revolutions and no peaceful democratic political transformations.

Although, Turkey has had some limited exercise in parliamentary democracy and ‘Europeanization’, the military has always been closely watching the progress, and intervening to trample upon it whenever the culture of barbarism started to crack and crumble. And the Kurdish people, whose human rights constitute the main pillar of democracy in Turkey, have been excluded from participating in any democratic process. In Iraq, nearly 60 years after becoming a ‘sovereign’ state and 30 years after becoming a republic, this country still does not have a permanent constitution. There are no democratic institutions and organisations at all. The Bedouin culture of tribalism and the idea of God-King shape the mentality of the people. The most elementary human rights of the individuals are constantly violated and trivialised.

Iraq is a country ruled by tribe and terror. The spectre of death, imprisonment and torture haunts every family and every individual.

In Iran, a medieval version of Islamic secretarial culture has been revived and adopted as the law of the life and the state, turning the whole nation into two groups: martyrs and traitors. Whatever category one finds oneself in, one is a victim of a despotic culture and a ruthless tyranny?

In the context of such dominant cultures and systems, how can a fragmented friendless nation such as the Kurds, with a sharply distinct culture and way of life, vie for participation in democracy and progress and hope for a just solution to their historical cause and ongoing tragedy?

The Kurdish people have been left with no option but to reluctantly defend their right to freedom and humanity through armed struggle despite all risks and disasters involved in this option. What makes the matter worse, is the constant direct and indirect support the dictatorial regimes of the Middle East receive from the superpowers and the industrialised nations, whose only concern is profit and gain through the sale of arrangements and consumer goods.

We can summarise the whole thrust of the above theses in one sentence:” The Kurds have no national state; therefore, they have no human rights.”

The equation is cruel, inhumane immoral. But it, sadly, is true. It is a reality and it operates at all levels and at all times. The philosophical equation in this age of the triumph of market values is no longer “I think, therefore I am”. It is:” I have power, therefore I am”.” I have money, therefore I am”.” I can kill, therefore I am”. That is why Saddam Hussein of Iraq exists-but his victims do not. That is why no state risks its selfish interests to speak out for the Kurds’ human and civil rights. And that is why even as refugees the Kurds have no human rights. The United Nations Organisations that exist to help refugees worldwide are indifferent to the plight of Kurdish refugees. Why? Because organisations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) and the international red cross, are also controlled by those states which have power and money and can thus decide whether these organisations should exist or not, whether they should be funded or starved of funds and dictate to them which issues are ‘human rights’ issues to be supported and publicised and which ones to be marginalized, ignored, subdued and forgotten.

Also these international organisations deal only with sovereign states. As the Kurds are not a sovereign state, these organisations, in case they want to actually help the Kurds, have to apply to the regimes that oppress and persecute the Kurds and have caused their misery and exile in the first place, to give them permission to intervene to help their victims. But do wolves allow any succour for their preys?

Thus, one and a half million Kurds in assembly villages and concentration camps inside Iraq, over 200,00 Kurdish refugees in Iran, over40,000 in Turkey and one thousand in Pakistan have been abandoned without help, hope and future.

The situation is extremely depressing and frustrating.

It is difficult to be a Kurd and not lose faith in humanity.

Yet, we must not let pessimism paralyse our passionate desire for life and liberty.

There is a wind of change blowing slowly but surely all over the world, although the nature, dimensions and outcome of this change is not clear yet. However, the Third World cannot agonise under the debt burden forever. Peoples of the world can no more cope with pollution and moral corruption. Dialogue, negotiation, democratisation and peaceful solutions to national and regional problems must become the norm if humankind has to survive as a civilized race.

The winds of change

The ‘winds of change’ are blowing all over the world. And the ‘winds of death’ blowing over Kurdistan must stop sooner or later. The Kurdish people have survived many despotic empires and dictatorial regimes. Iraq’s chemical atrocities will not be forgotten or forgiven. The Middle East will not experience peace, stability and democratisation without a just solution of the Kurdish problem.

Turkey cannot continue in its slow and reluctant process of democratisation and hope for the membership of the European Community without improving her notorious human rights record and paving the way for full participation of the Kurdish people and the recognition of their national identity.

The Iraqi dictator cannot sit on a throne of blood and skulls forever. He must go before long.

And Iran cannot continue in her madness. She must stabilise, rationalise and democratise her chaotic society and system.

And the industrialised countries cannot follow the principles of greed and profit without risking the destruction of physical and moral environment of human existence.

To take advantage of all these potentials, the Kurdish people must be very alert, aware and well organised. They must not lose any opportunity to push their case to the fore.

Needless to say, the world powers, especially the USSR, the US and the European countries can play a major role in this respect. They can follow their own short term egoistic interests and prolong the misery and suffering of the Kurds, Arabs, the Iranians, the Armenians and the Turks, or they can play a positive and progressive historical role for the benefit of human civilization as a whole by heeding the principles of human rights and the right of the nations to self determination.

In this way they will contribute to the prospects of democratisation, peace and prosperity in the Middle East and the World!

*NOTE: This article is the text of a lecture delivered by the author at the Kurdish Cultural Centre on 14th March 1989 and it was published in Kurdish Culture Bulletin issue 2, London October 1989. I saw it last week while looking at the magazine and thought it would be useful to republish it as it is without any changes in it apart from adding subtitles to show the continuity of the international context of Kurdish question and the importance of understanding this to understand the tragedy of the Kurdish people and the theoretical issues of democracy, human rights, etc.

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