The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 67/No. 13           April 21, 2003  
Turkish, Syrian regimes
suppress Kurdish struggle
(Second of two articles)
This is the second of two articles on the Kurdish struggle for national self-determination. About 25 million Kurds live in Kurdistan, the shaded territory on the map below, which spans the intersection of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Armenia, and Syria. The first article, ¨Kurdish struggle for self-determination has long history,¨ was published in last week´s Militant. It took up the evolution of this struggle through the 20th century, in a Mideast that was carved up by the imperialist powers leading up to and after both world wars. It explained that during the 1990–91 Arab-Persian Gulf War and its aftermath the Kurdish people came to center stage in world politics as never before. Prior to the Gulf War, the Kurdish struggle was largely in retreat, having been dealt repeated defeats over the previous half century by the Iraqi, Turkish, Iranian, and Syrian ruling classes, with the complicity of Washington, London, Paris, and Moscow.

Washington shares a similar, though not identical, aim with its Turkish ally of blocking any initiatives by Kurds in their struggle for national self-determination. This can be seen in recent statements by U.S. government officials that they back the "territorial integrity" of a post-Hussein Iraq, while giving lip service to the national aspirations of the Kurdish people. Some commentators in the U.S. big-business press have floated the idea of a confederated Iraq after Washington wins the war, with an autonomous Kurdish republic in the north, as a way to punish Ankara for its refusal to allow U.S. troops to use its soil to invade Iraq from the north.

Ankara fears that the emergence of a Kurdish republic across the border with any degree of sovereignty would inflame aspirations for independence among Kurds in Turkey, who are a sizable minority.

There is a recent precedent. After the Gulf War, the rebellion by the oppressed Kurdish people in southeastern Turkey gained strength, and Istanbul has not been able to get them back under control to the same degree as before. In April 1993, for example, some 40,000 Turkish troops mounted a largely unsuccessful spring offensive into northern Iraq aimed at Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) insurgents waging guerrilla war into Turkey from cross-border bases. An equally large Turkish cross-border offensive in March 1995 also brought meager results.

In the last 15 years, more than 30,000 people have died in Turkey’s war against the Kurdish people. Though a cease-fire was declared in 1999, the Turkish military has continued to periodically attack Kurds in northern Iraq under the pretext that PKK guerrillas remain based there.

The PKK was formed in the fall of 1978 by a group of young radical intellectuals at the University of Ankara who were attracted to Maoism. The party’s central leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was abducted in Kenya in 1999 by Turkish security forces and was flown to Turkey where he remains in jail. Ocalan had previously fled to Russia, where the PKK had earlier enjoyed good relations with Moscow. He was expelled by the Russian government under pressure from Ankara and Washington.

Successive Turkish governments have never recognized the existence of Kurds, classifying them as "mountain Turks." Until last August, Kurds were prohibited from publishing newspapers and magazines, broadcasting in Kurdish, or from receiving education in their language.

The contempt of the Turkish rulers for Kurdish national rights seeps through even in the wording of the new law. It guarantees the right to teach "languages and accents spoken by Turkish citizens," a reference to the Kurdish language that remains a banned term in official documents. The legislation was passed as part of a package of desperate measures by the Turkish rulers for their failed attempt to be considered for admission to the European Union.  
Discrimination in Syria
About 160,000 Kurds have been denied Syrian citizenship, meaning they cannot vote, own property, go to state-run schools or get government jobs. They carry special red identity cards that identify them as "foreigners." Another 75,000 Kurds are not recognized at all and have no identity cards. They cannot even be treated in state hospitals or get marriage certificates.

Repression of the Syrian Kurds intensified with a census conducted in 1962 by the ruling Baath party that stripped 120,000 Kurds of citizenship overnight. Their offspring were also classified as foreigners or maktoumeen, swelling the population of dispossessed to 250,000 today. The Syrian regime settled thousands of Arabs on land confiscated from Kurds living near the border with Turkey. The settlers were also given better facilities, such as schools and clinics.

The Arab Baath Socialist Party came to power in Syria in a coup in the early 1960s, about the same time the Baathist party took control in Baghdad. The bourgeois nationalist regime used Pan-Arab demagogy and re-established close relations with the Egyptian government of president Gamal Abdel Nasser. In 1958, Syria and Egypt united in a short-lived United Arab Republic that came to an end after a military coup in Syria in 1961.

Damascus also developed close relations with Moscow, and shared opposition to the Kurdish struggle for self-determination with the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union.

The Syrian government even changed the names of Kurdish villages and stores into Arabic. Damascus banned the teaching of Kurdish in schools and made it illegal to publish in that language. Some restrictions were eased in 1970, allowing Kurds to speak their language in public, attend school, and watch Kurdish singers on Syrian television.

In an unusual move, Syrian vice-president Abdul-Halim Khaddam met with an Iraqi Kurdish delegation recently. Kurdish groups also recently held a round-table discussion on their plight with the participation of Syrian intellectuals. The government did not interfere with the event.

Last August, Syria’s president Bashar Assad made the first visit to Kurdish areas by a Syrian leader since the country’s independence in 1946. He spoke of "national unity" and did not even acknowledge the Kurds.

Abdul-Hamid Darwish, head of the Kurdish Progressive and Democratic Party, told Associated Press that Syrian Kurds don´t want separation. "We don´t seek the establishment of a Kurdish area," he said. "We just want to administer our area and to freely practice our cultural, social, and political rights."  
Iranian revolution
The overthrow of the shah in 1979 spurred a resurgence of the Kurdish struggle in Iran. In May and June of that year, revolutionary councils were established in the capitals of several Kurdish regions. The Kurdish-held areas became poles of attraction for other oppressed nationalities, and parties on the left, including the pro-Moscow Tudeh party and the pro-Peking Peykar and Communist Union. Various currents of the Fedayeen also sought to attract followers in the area.

The new government opposed Kurdish demands for any form of autonomy and unleashed a brutal campaign against the mostly peasant Kurds.

During this crackdown, which coincided for a period with Tehran’s mobilization against the assault on Iran by the Iraqi regime beginning in 1981, a number of groups in the workers movement accused Kurdish organizations of carrying out military provocations, justifying Tehran’s brutality. Only one communist organization, the Workers Unity Party (HVK), that functioned in Iran at the time gave unconditional support to the Kurdish struggle. The HVK argued that Tehran’s war against the Kurdish people, far from strengthening resistance to Baghdad’s invasion, was actually weakening it. Since the Kurds had long faced national oppression at the hands of the Iraqi regime as well, they were potentially a powerful ally--on both sides of the border--in the fight against the U.S.-backed Iraqi aggression.

Over the last several years the Iranian government has loosened some restrictions, especially concerning Kurdish culture. The schools in Kurdistan are allowed to teach Kurdish. The history and traditions of the oppressed people, which were not allowed to be published before, are now permitted and have flourished. Last May the Kurdish Cultural Center in Tehran organized the country’s first scientific conference on teaching the Kurdish language.  
Divisions among Iraqi Kurds
Inside Iraq, two Kurdish factions--the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) declared an "autonomous" administration in the region and elected a Kurdish national assembly in 1992. They have hitched the future of the Kurdish struggle to the U.S.-led war to overthrow Saddam Hussein. These bourgeois nationalist parties reject demands for an independent Kurdistan. They have pledged to "maintain the integrity of Iraq" and favor an autonomous Kurdish province in a federal Iraq.

The KDP and PUK have gone to great lengths to assure Washington and Ankara that they have no intentions of declaring a separate Kurdish state in northern Iraq. Ranking officials of the two groups have also made diplomatic visits to give similar assurances to Iran and Syria.

The KDP and PUK fought a bloody war against each other for power in the northern autonomous region from 1994 to 1998. The KDP requested and received military assistance from Baghdad, enabling it to retake a key regional capital from its rival in 1996. Last September the two sides agreed to a cease fire and have maintained a tenuous power-sharing arrangement.

Whatever alliances these groups make with the invading U.S. armies, however, the Kurdish struggle for national self-determination remains a threat to imperialism and to the bourgeois regimes in the region.  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home