A Mod­ern His­tory of Kurds

War, Con­flict, and Progress

The Kurdish Globe - - EDITORIAL - By Ra­soul Khal­i­fani

Many atroc­i­ties have been com­mit­ted against Kur­dish peo­ple, but few doc­u­mented. In “A Mod­ern his­tory of Kurds,” David McDowall de­scribes Kur­dish peo­ple in a chrono­log­i­cal or­der, start­ing with the ge­og­ra­phy of the re­gion, the sit­u­a­tion of Kurds be­fore the nine­teenth cen­tury and the di­vi­sion of Kur­dis­tan. He pro­vides an in­sight­ful look into a ne­glected re­gion by doc­u­ment­ing the bru­tal­ity Kur­dish peo­ple have faced his­tor­i­cally, and the rise of Kur­dish nationalism.

The maps pro­vided in the book are re­mark­able for those cu­ri­ous about the con­stituents of Kur­dis­tan. In the book, McDowall il­lus­trates that Kur­dish di­alects were di­vided into four parts; Kur­mancî was widely spo­ken in the North, and So­ranî in the South­ern parts of Kur­dis­tan. In North­west of Kur­dis­tan, Zaza was a com­mon Kur­dish di­alect, and in South­ern-west­ern Go­rani was spo­ken.

McDowall ex­plains the di­vi­sion of Kur­dis­tan into two parts as a re­sult of the bat­tle of Chalderan in 1514 be­tween the Ot­toman em­pire and the Safavi em­pire, where the ‘lion’s share’ was taken by the Ot­toman em­pire. The Kurds were un­der Ot­toman rule, and be­tween the Ot­tomans in the West and the Per­sians in the East, the Kur­dish ar­eas be­tween th­ese two Em­pires es­tab­lished in­de­pen­dent tribal King­doms in the moun­tains. They lived peace­fully with­out in­ter­fer­ence, and this is be­cause they sent their sol­diers to join the Ot­toman army, help­ing the Ot­toman em­pire de­fend its bor­ders.

Kurds have al­ways been a multi-faith com­mu­nity, with Mus­lims, Chris­tians, Yaze­dian, Jewish, Zar­dashte, Assyr­ian, Ar­me­nian, and other re­li­gious mi­nori­ties in the re­gion.

parts Kurds lived in vil­lages, and each tribe was led by their Chief, known as Agha in Kur­dish, and the Chief ex­erted power over most mem­bers of his or her tribe.

Kur­dis­tan be­came the scene of in­ter­na­tional con­flict res­o­lu­tion be­tween 1800-1850. Dur­ing this time the Ot­toman em­pire was highly cen­tral­ized, and had lost con­trol of its hin­ter­land. For nearly 600 years, a Sul­tan ex­erted power over ter­ri­to­ries on three con­ti­nents: Europe, Asia and Africa. The 19th cen­tury found the Ot­toman bor­ders in the process of con­tract­ing as the Euro­pean pow­ers de­feated the Ot­toman em­pire by war.

Rus­sia and Bri­tain had fi­nan­cial in­ter­est in Kur­dis­tan dur­ing the nine­teenth cen­tury. The lat­ter wanted to use it as a road/route to reach In­dia be­cause dur­ing that time Bri­tain was pow­er­ful, and had many colonies abroad, “The Bri­tish did not want to lose the sight of the sun”.

Rus­sia tried to reach the warm wa­ters of the Black Sea and the Mediter­ranean White Sea for this pur­pose. It at­tempted to re­gain most of the Cau­ca­sus re­gion lost in war. The Ot­toman em­pire gave up most of its land in the re­gion, ac­cord­ing to an agree­ment called “Kuchuk Kainarji” in 1774. Rus­sia con­tacted with the en­e­mies of the Ot­tomans, which were the Ar­me­nian and Kur­dish tribes at the time. McDowall notes that the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Kur­dish Mus­lim tribes and Rus­sia were made in the be­gin­ning of the 19th cen­tury. McDowall ex­plains, “Mus­lim Kur­dish tribes had also pro­vided a reg­i­ment against the sul­tan. It was the first time the Rus­sian had made use of the Kurds, hav­ing first come into con­tact with them dur­ing hos­til­i­ties in 1804-5”.

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