Kurdistan flag and map, flags of Turkey , Syria, Iraq, Iran and Armenia all courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Kurdistan Is Closer Than Ever To Independence

Update 8/12/2014: US assists Kurds as ISIS threatens recent gains

Taking advantage of the chaos that followed the Islamic State blitz across northern Iraq, Kurdish forces seized the city of Kirkuk and its surrounding oil fields.

Iraqi Kurds are currently in control of the following areas:

Kurdistan is a semi-autonomous province in Northern Iraq.
Map courtesy of Wikipedia. Modified by Curiousmatic.

However, Islamic State militants are now opening up a new front, targeting the Kurdish-controlled areas in Iraq. This includes persecuting the Yazidi religious minority, 40,000 of which were besieged on a mountain near Sinjar.

The U.S. responded with air strikes and airlifted aid, and most of the Yazidis have been evacuated. But the IS campaign against the Kurds continues, which has prompted the US to send them weapons in support.

The Kurd people, spread between Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, and Armenia have never had their own nation – but have long fought for it, causing regional conflicts.

An ethnic group speaking an Iranian language similar to Persian and Pashto, Kurds have been known to occupy a mountainous region of the Middle East since at least the 7th century C.E., and had likely been there much earlier as well, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

There are roughly 30 million Kurds globally, according to the CIA World Factbook, most of which live in Southwest Asia.

In Turkey, they make up about 15% of the population, or 14-15 million, while Iraq has about 6 million, Iran 6 million, and Syria around 2 million. Approximately one million have also fled to other countries due to unrest or persecution.

The map below shows the region inhabited by a majority of Kurdish people, overlapping five national borders:

Image courtesy of the CIA via Wikipedia.

Why is there no Kurdish nation?

During the Middle Ages, Kurdistan was a collection of autonomous emirates. However, in the 1500s, the area was split between the Safavid and the Ottoman empires, according to the Kurdish Institute of Paris, and in 1800s the area was placed under direct Ottoman rule which lasted until the end of WWI.

Peace negotiations almost granted Kurds their own territory in present-day Turkey, however, that treaty was scrapped and they remained part of other nation states, which actively worked to suppress their culture.

The area has seen a series of conflicts since then, according to a timeline by the BBC, starting with Kurdish rebellions in the ‘20s and continuing to the present day, including armed conflict in Iraq in the ‘70s and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party’s (PKK) terrorist campaigns in Turkey from the ‘80s.

During the ‘80s, Kurds were also violently suppressed in Iraq by Saddam Hussein, who ordered chemical weapons attacks that killed thousands.

What could happen?

In northern Iraq, the province of Kurdistan has enjoyed considerable autonomy since the Gulf War in 1991, according to National Geographic, where Kurdish militia provides their own security (the Iraqi army is not allowed within its territory).

In 2013, the PKK started negotiating a ceasefire with Turkey, withdrawing many fighters to Iraqi Kurdistan, NPR reported.

Syrian refugees have also fled into the region, which has consistently been one of the safest regions of Iraq since the end of the American invasion of 2003 and the establishment of Kurdistan as a federal Iraqi province in 2005.

However, as the region pushes for further autonomy from the Iraqi government, tension increases with the central government.

For instance, in January 2014, the Iraqi government threatened to cut billions of dollars in federal funding if Kurdistan continued to export oil to Turkey on its own, according to Reuters.

The Iraqi government is concerned that Kurdish autonomy will break apart the Iraqi federal state.

While Kurdish leaders have stated that they are seeking to remain within the current system, rather than secede, an increasingly autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan is still the most likely prospect for a Kurdish-controlled territory.

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