Kurds cry betrayal as Trump withdraws support
Should Kurdistan be an independent country? Donald Trump’s abrupt cave-in yesterday, pulling support from the USA’s old allies in the fight against ISIS, has left 45 million people at risk.
“We have been waiting 100 years for this day,” said one of the millions of Kurds who voted in a historic independence referendum in 2017. Almost 93 per cent of those who took part voted in favour of having their own country.
The Kurds are the world’s largest ethnic group without a homeland. Most of the population is split between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Since 1991, they have governed an autonomous region in Iraq, where that referendum was held, and where an independent Kurdistan might arise.
Many support the Kurds, who have been crucial in the brutal fight against ISIS. Diplomat Ron Prosor argues that Kurdish independence would be a “victory for democratic values”.
When Donald Trump withdrew US support yesterday after a telephone call with the Turkish president, there was an immediate barrage of opposition from his own party. “The president’s decision to abandon our Kurd allies in the face of an assault by Turkey is a betrayal,” said one leading Republican, reflecting the views of many.
For the Kurds, the decision to permit Turkey to invade marked the latest in a long history of betrayals of Kurdish aspirations by the international community. (The betrayal goes back to when they were denied their own state in the Kurdish areas of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran in the wake of World War One.)
“Our brave men and women with the Syrian Democratic Forces have just won a historic victory over the ISIS ‘caliphate’, a victory announced by President Trump and celebrated across the world. To abandon us now would be tragic,” they said in a statement.
There are 45 million Kurds in the world: if they were a nation, they would have bigger a population than many other countries. Tuvalu is a UN member despite having a population below 12,000. Across the globe, 95% of people live in fewer than 90 countries, yet the UN has 193 member states.
This inequality is down to history. After World War One, the Kurds were promised independence. But in 1923, Western powers drew the borders of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria straight through Kurdish lands. In these new states, Kurds immediately became second-class citizens.
Should the Kurds have their own country?
Divide and rule
“Independence is the solution,” argue some. The old imperial masters, who cheated the Kurds out of a homeland, are no more. Justice will only come if their historic wrong is righted, and Kurdistan becomes independent.
“This is a dangerous idea,” others respond. The Middle East is in chaos, and Kurdish nationalism will make the whole region more unstable. “Iraqi Kurdistan lacks critical circumstances to enable a successful move towards full independence. Its oil revenue is inadequate to finance statehood,” said an editorial in The Washington Post.
- Should Kurdistan be an independent country?
- Imagine the world in 50 years’ time. Do you think there will be more borders, or fewer?
- If you had the power to invent a new country, where in the world would it be located? What laws would it have? What would its flag look like?
- Do some historical research and find a country that used to exist, but does not exist any more. You could look at world maps at different points in history. Pick one country that interests you. Why does that nation no longer exist?
Some People Say...
“Nothing is more precious than independence and liberty.”Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969), Vietnamese revolutionary
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- The 2017 referendum was open to those who currently live in the three states which comprise Southern Kurdistan. This means that around 5.2m Kurds were eligible to vote. The vote was non-binding and did not guarantee independence from Iraq, which branded it illegal.
- What do we not know?
- We do not know if Kurdistan will ever become independent, or how many Kurds would return to Kurdistan if it does.
- Autonomous region
- South Kurdistan has its own military and parliament. Whilst its government has control over domestic issues in the region, Iraq remains in charge of international policy.
- A small island nation in the Pacific Ocean, located approximately midway between Hawaii and Australia. It became a member state of the UN in 2000.
- The borders were agreed as part of the Treaty of Lausanne, signed by France, Britain, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania and Turkey. It established the borders of modern-day Turkey.