“No Friends but the Mountains”

Jews, Kurds, Arabs, and Turks have all had their share of persecution, but only the Kurdish peoples have gone without a nation-state to call their own, despite their impressive size(Glavin). The Kurdish community exists today in Turkey (14.5m people), Iran (6m people), Iraq (5-6m people), and in Syria (2m people) to make up what has been coined the “Kurdistan” region. The term “Kurd” was first observed in seventh century texts and refers to the Iranian nomadic peoples who occupied modern day Turkey. During this era of clan disputes and territory-based power struggles, the Kurdish peoples have been either a prize to be obtained through slavery or a group of people to be slaughtered. It was this pattern that set the stage for the modern day persecution of the Kurds. Even worse, this tragic demonization of the Kurdish peoples still exists today, despite the progressivism of modern society. Not only do they not have a home, but the Kurds are politically viewed as obstructions or speed bumps on many of the middle-eastern political agendas, representing only problems or inconveniences. In fact, it was not until the 2000s that the Kurdish people began to successfully represent themselves in politics. In addition to the rise of Kurdish political revolutionaries, such as Leyla Zana, militant activist groups have grown as well. Kurdish nationalism (as it is chiefly called) has not been wellreceived by any of the states that make up Kurdistan. In Turkey, the government has been known to jail political speakers. In Iran, the government has dismissed entirely the idea of Kurdish independence/separatism. In Iraq, the government has resorted to military campaigns against Kurdish populations and the deporting of Kurdish peoples. Syria has enforced bans on Kurdish language, has refused to register children with Kurdish names, and even denied Kurds of Syrian nationality, barring nearly 300,000 Kurds from access to basic social needs. With the stage now set, I hope to explore the plight of the Kurdish people and discern a potential cause for their terrible treatment and furthermore explore how the Middle Ages, and the workings of Christendom (crusades, inquisitions, etc.), perfected the method of persecution by which the Kurds were—and are, so ravaged by today.

Human societies (particularly medieval societies) have relied upon the persecution of social minorities for the betterment of the majority. For example, the persecution of the Jewish and Muslim peoples were basically tools used to improve business for Christian merchants and further increase popularity/superiority of the Christian faith. A few of these methods include tactics such as mass slaughter (Crusades), torture (Inquisitions), and various methods of public humiliations. It is through these tactics that societies attempt to create an extremely obvious distinction between the persecutors and ones being persecuted. Similarly, In the case of the Turkish Kurds, they have been persecuted as a result of an on-going attempt to create an

“indivisible nation,” which meant eliminating any non-Turkish aspect within the Turkish Republic (Dominique). In 1924, 1928, and 1930, Kurdish revolts broke out. As a sort of twisted punishment, and in a poor attempt to remove the Kurdish thorn from their sides, the Turkish government ratified the martial law to make it illegal to use the Kurdish language, to wear Kurdish attire, to use Kurdish names, and to even speak about Kurdish folklore. To add on to their misfortune, between the years of 1925 and 1939, roughly 1.5 million Turkish Kurds, i.e. 1/3 of the population, were exiled and then massacred (Association France-Kurdistan). Further proving Turkey’s intended use for the Kurds, the Turkish Minister of Justice in 1930 made the following comment: “I won’t hide my feelings. The Turk is the only lord, the only master of this country. Those who are not of pure Turkish origin will have only one right in Turkey: the right to be servants and slaves.” (Dominque). In the period following World War II, Turkish persecution of the Kurds grew ever more specific. Kurdish providences began to become purposefully less developed. In the span of years from 1968 to 1975, only 2.4% of national investment was spent on Kurdish-dominated East Anatolia whereas 97.6% of the remainder was invested in nonKurdish sections of the state. This staggering statistic is all too reminiscent of the forced migration of Jews into housing ghettos during the Holocaust. During the 1980s, thousands of peaceful Turkish Kurds were reportedly terrorized, tortured, and killed. In an excerpt from

Cultural Survival’s article on the Kurdish Repression, author Dominique reports that:

“Since 1980 the Eastern and Southeastern provinces have reportedly been subjected to at least five military maneuvers aimed at terrorizing Kurds. The New York Times has reported that in the nine months that followed the military takeover 122,609 people were allegedly taken into custody. Of 40,386 formally charged, the death penalty was sought for 900. Of 70,000 current political detainees, more than 20,000 are reportedly Kurdish, and

90 percent of these are reputed to have been peaceful protestors for Kurdish cultural rights. To date, arrests in Kurdish provinces have totaled 81,634. Of these, 378 have allegedly been tortured to death, and 374 have been killed in night-time attacks” (Cultural Survival).

This instance is almost an exact replica of what happened to the heretics of the Middle Ages during the Inquisitions and Crusades. Here we see a group of innocent people that have been targeted, tortured, abused, and killed simply because of a difference in beliefs or in cultural background.

In Iraq, various Kurdish societies have suffered similar fates to the ones that the Turkish Kurds suffered. Under the rule of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Kurdish communities during an even titled “Anfal,” have suffered numerous painful “relocations,” have been bombed, and have suffered chemical attacks. The term anfal means simply “spoils of war.” Anfal was in fact a government planned operation carried out against the Kurds in order to gain, as the title suggests, resources. Through the meaning of Anfal, and through the states obvious lack of sympathy towards the Kurds, it is clear that once again the cavalier and inhumane treatment of the Kurdish people is justified by the governing bodies’ quest for resources. During this campaign, the Iraqi Kurdish community suffered losses of up to 2,000 villages and more than 180,000 deaths. One of the most noted incidents of this genocide is the 1988 attack on the village of Halabja. This attack has been coined “Bloody Friday” and is the largest chemical weapons attack directed at a civilian population in history. The event itself wiped out more than 5,000 civilians instantly, and killed even more due to disease and birth defects in the years following the strike. One survivor shares his account in an article on Ekurd.net:

“…I saw people lying on the ground, vomiting a green-colored liquid, while others became hysterical and began laughing loudly before falling motionless onto the ground. Later, I smelled an aroma that reminded me of apples and I lost consciousness. When I awoke, there were hundreds of bodies scattered around me. After that I took shelter again in a nearby basement and the area was engulfed by an ugly smell. It was similar to rotting garbage, but then it changed to a sweet smell similar to that of apples. Then I smelled something that was like eggs. Some time later, I discovered that the Iraqi air force had bombed Halabja with chemical weapons…” (Anonymous, Ekurd.net)

Furthermore, terror-driven acts on the same scale as Halabja were not uncommon during the IraqIran war. Numerous other villages experienced the same amount of trauma. Another example of the pure lack of regard for the Kurds can be observed on a more subtle note. After Kurdish families have been evicted from their land, Iraqi officials have been known to often times encourage Arab families to move onto the properties. “Agricultural land owned by Kurds is said to have been confiscated and redistributed to Iraqi Arabs. Arabs from southern Iraq have been offered incentives to move into the Kirkuk area and, in disputes with their Kurdish neighbours, are always favoured by the authorities” (Lincoln). Tragically, as a result of these evictions, an estimated 20,000 Kurds died due to exhaustion, exposure, lack of food, or disease at Turkish/Iranian borders. As it would appear, the plight of the Kurds never draws to an end. While the Kurdish people are still vastly persecuted against in the 21st century, there has been an increasing amount of hope for their oneday deliverance. The presence of a Syrian Kurdish freedom fighter militia, known as the Peoples Defense Unit[s], or YPG for short, has grown tremendously in the past decade.

Despite the terrible misfortunes they have been through, the Kurdish people still hang on to the hope of having their own state. In the past couple of years from 2005-2010, Kurdish pocket communities have faced increasing threats from Islamic State aggressors. Thankfully, men such as Berxedan Deryan exist purely to defend the Kurdish people and hopefully provide a shred of safety for them. Deryan, co-commander of the YPG, has been fighting with a band of fellow Kurds for the liberation of the city of Hassakeh (Khan). Through the efforts of Deryan, the YPG has made serious progress in allowing for the creation of an independent Kurdish state. Journalist Adnan Khan reports: “For them, Hassakeh represents the next stage in the ongoing Kurdish revolution playing out in northern Syria, led by the YPG and driven by a hope sparked by the onset of the

Syrian civil war in 2011. Since then, Syria’s Kurds have not only taken control of an expanding strip of land stretching from the Iraqi border in the east—nearly to the Turkish border more than 500 km to the west, with a tantalizing prospect of reaching the Mediterranean Sea—but have also begun to set up their vision for an ideal socialist state in it” (Khan, 34). Khan goes so far as to argue that not only are the YPG carving out a home for the Kurds in the so-called “Wild, Wild, East,” they are also “…the most successful fighting force in Syria, emerging as a potent antidote to the spread of Islamic State…” who effectively “…seize[d] towns and villages, withstood sieges and brutal assaults, and stood firm in the face of Islamic State’s relentless advances, while others have cowered and fled in fear” (Khan, 34). Interestingly enough, within the confines of the YPG lies a cohort of Kurdish female only freedom fighters, called the YPJ. The YPJ is a direct slap in the face, if you will, in response to the Middle-Easts persecution of the Kurds. Not only is this group fighting to escape the cycle of persecution that they have been a part of for so long, but they are also made up entirely of women, the single most persecuted group in all of history.

In summation, the Kurdish people, similar to the Jews, heretics, women, and any other persecuted minority of the Middle Ages have undergone innumerous, terrible, and inhumane acts at the hands of a dominant majority, simply so that the said majority can enjoy a more lavish lifestyle. Throughout the ages, persecution has been used as a strategic tool in the attempt to dominate a targeted group of people. Persecution during the Middle Ages has gifted modern societies with adequate methods to achieve their goals, however twisted they may be. For example, mass slaughter, courtesy of the crusades, was one chief tool utilized by Saddam Hussein to persecute the Iraqi Kurds. Torture, courtesy of the inquisitions, was utilized in Turkey’s persecution of their Kurdish society. The Kurdish people’s plight unfortunately was the perfect example to represent modern day persecution because it so closely mirrored methods utilized in the Middle Ages.

Works Cited

The World and the Kurds. Hamburg, Jill. Nation. 8/21/1989,

Vol. 289 Issue 6, p. 205-206


No Friends but the Mountains. Glavin, Terry. World Affairs. Mar/Apr2015,  Vol. 177 Issue 6, p57-66. 10p.


The OTHER Hell. Kelly, Michael. New Republic. 5/13/91,  Vol. 204 Issue 19, p14-16. 3p.


Winning Against All Odds. Khan, Adnan R. Maclean’s. 7/27/2015,  Vol. 128 Issue 29/30, p32-36. 5p. 5 Color Photographs.


A History of Violence: Ethnic Group Identity and the Iraqi Kurds. Albert, Craig Douglas. Iran &

The Caucasus. 2013,

Vol. 17 Issue 2, p215-234. 20p. DOI: 10.1163/1573384X-20130206.


Surprising Ties between Israel and the Kurds. Bengio, Ofra. Middle East Quarterly. Summer2014,

Vol. 21 Issue 3, p1-12. 12p.


Israel and the Kurds. Mamikonian, Sargis. Iran & The Caucasus. 2005,

Vol. 9 Issue 2, p381-399. 19p. DOI: 10.1163/157338405774829377.


Persecution of the Kurds. Lincoln, Lando. Free Republic. Web. 2003, n.a.


Kurdish Repression in Turkey. Dominique. Cultural Survival. Web. 1982, n.a.


Halabja: Survivors talk about horror of attack, continuing ordeal. Ekurd.net. Web. 2008.  n/a.


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