The Kurds are an ethnic group of about 22 million people in the Middle East, who share a common language and culture. They live amongst many different countries, largely in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.
This past week, the Kurdish people of northern Iraq voted 92% in favor of independence from Iraq.
The recent vote does not mean that the Kurdish people will get an independent country of their own. The ballot simply asked if they wished to become an independent state. Still, this simple yes-or-no vote is making waves around the world.
History Of The Kurdish People
The end of World War I in 1918 led to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, which had previously extended over most of the Middle East. The region broke apart into several smaller nations, united by culture and ethnicity. The Kurds, naturally, wanted to form a nation of their own, but their plans for a would-be “Kurdistan” failed. The new borders of Turkey, Iran, and Iraq divided their population and suddenly, the Kurds were a minority in each new country.
The mostly non-Kurdish people of the newly formed Middle Eastern countries, and of Iraq in particular, did not take kindly to the Kurds’ cultural differences. Kurds often faced discrimination from citizens and the government alike.
During the late 1970s, the Iraqi government burned Kurdish villages and forcibly removed around 200,000 Kurds, in an attempt to create a unified Arab society. When civil war broke out and the Kurds fought back, Iraq responded by using chemical weapons to kill thousands.
As Iraq fell under the control of dictator Saddam Hussein, an estimated 100,000 Kurds were killed in the resulting genocide (the mass killing of a particular race or ethnic group). The United States eventually intervened to put an end to the bloodshed. Kurdish fighters helped America to overthrow the Iraqi government that had long oppressed them. Around this time, the hopes for an independent Kurdish nation began to grow.
The Kurds Today
Today, the Iraqi Kurds continue to fight for their rights: for control of land within Iraq, for economic equality, and for access to the oil market which is essential in the Middle Eastern region. They also face a new enemy--ISIS. In recent years, Kurdish fighters, or Peshmerga, have been working with the United States to combat ISIS and to restore peace where they can.
The Iraqi government has stated that it has no intention of allowing an independent Kurdish nation to form. Many world leaders, including those of the US, oppose a separate Kurdistani state as it could ignite a new conflict between the Kurds and the Iraqis and make the region even more unstable and chaotic. They are concerned that Kurdish independence could threaten peace-keeping efforts.
This vote is a Kurdish plea to the world to take notice of them and understand the many long years of oppression and injustice they have endured. How the situation is resolved will have a lasting impact on the future of the Middle East and on the Kurdish people for generations.