The geopolitics of the Kurds since World War I

Between Iraq and other hard places

Authored by: Michael B. Bishku

Routledge Handbook on the Kurds

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  August  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138646643
eBook ISBN: 9781315627427
Adobe ISBN:


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Since World War I, the issue of Kurdish nationalism, autonomy or rights as a minority has affected primarily four Middle Eastern states – Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria – where the vast majority of Kurds reside. At the same time, the Kurdish people have been affected by developments not only in the Middle East but elsewhere in the world. Before World War I, the vast majority of Kurds were under the rule of the Ottoman Empire; they were members of the Muslim millet (nation), the Empire’s largest confessional group, protecting the frontiers of that state, whose greatest adversary was Russia, and living in lands also inhabited by a sizable minority of Armenians, whose loyalty was suspect to Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1876–1909) and later to the Young Turk triumvirate of Enver, Jemal and Talat (1913–1918). During both times (1894–1896 and 1915–1917), massacres (and deportations) of Armenian civilians took place, which the Armenians refer to as a “genocide” and in which Kurdish militias participated; however, many more Kurds refused to take part and even actively protected their neighbors. 1 Nevertheless, a large number of Kurds had no desire to be under the rule of a Christian Armenian state, whether created by Russia or the Western European powers. 2 Indeed, while the Ottomans had suppressed semi-independent Kurdish principalities during the early 19th century, just such a fear led to the unsuccessful Sheikh Ubaydallah rebellion in 1880, during which there was the intention of establishing an independent Kurdistan. 3

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