By Edmond Y. Azadian
World War I came to an end through the pact of Mudros signed between the British Empire on behalf of the Allies and the representatives of the Ottoman Empire on October 30, 1918. Mudros was an armistice; negotiations towards a treaty took two years and by the end of that period, the Treaty of Sevres (August 10, 1920) was worked out. The intention of the Allies was twofold: to liberate all enslaved nations from six centuries that kept peoples in tyranny and to carve out zones of influence for themselves.
The Treaty of Sevres allocated an additional piece of territory to Armenia almost twice the size of the Republic of Armenia, with access to the sea at the Port of Trabizond (Trabzon).
Articles 62, 63 and 64 of the above treaty created an independent state for the Kurds in the Villayet of Mosul.
Because of the rivalries between the Allies, the defeated army of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was able to defy the terms of the Sevres Treaty, which was later replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, dashing the hopes of the Armenians and the Kurds. The latter, who were used by Sultan Abdul Hamid and later by the Ittihadists to join the Turks in persecuting and murdering the Armenians, eventually became victims themselves of their erstwhile allies, the Turks.
By the time the Lausanne Treaty negotiations had started, the Turks had gained so much confidence that Ismet Inonu, the Turkish representative at Lausanne, who later succeeded Ataturk as Turkey’s second president, when asked what he was going to do with Armenian refugees by Lord Curzon of Britain, answered, “Settle them in Canada where you have vast territories that are vacant.”
Inonu was also very candid in defining Kemalist ideology when he stated on May 4, 1925: “We are frankly nationalist … and nationalism is our only factor of cohesion. Before the Turkish majority other elements have no kind of influence. At any price, we must Turkify the inhabitants of our land, and we will annihilate those who oppose Turks or Turkism.”
The Kemalists ruthlessly executed that policy at tremendous human cost and the Kurds rebelled against that policy 27 times.
Supposedly, there has been a regime change in Turkey over time, but Erdogan’s policy is no different than that of Ataturk, a century later. One-third of Turkey’s population is Kurdish. And 25 million Kurds are trapped in Turkey out of a total of 40 million who are spread in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Armenia. The latter is the only country where the Kurds enjoy freedom and equal rights.
Now, history is returning to the region with a vengeance. Iraqi Kurdistan is already a reality on one part of the same territory which the Treaty of Sevres had allocated to the Kurds. Also, the Kurdish peshmergas are the fiercest force battling ISIS in the war to liberate Mosul. Erdogan has dispatched a Turkish contingent to the area, against the protest of Iraqi government, claiming that “Mosul belongs to the Turks.”
The Kurdistan Regional Government has taken hold in the majority-Kurdish region with the direct help of Israel, which was looking for a foothold in the Arab world. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has been openly advocating independence for Kurdistan. Washington has no other alternative than to follow Israel’s lead. Turkey, not being able to counter those two forces, has been trying to join them by calling for a separate deal. Iraqi Kurds had been supporting PKK warriors in Turkey, which in turn was bombing Kurdistan. Ankara began bribing the Kurdish Regional Government by buying Iraqi oil, in the face of protest from the Iraqi central government in Bagdad. Turkish officials have been visiting Erbil without Bagdad’s consent and developing economic ties.
On November 23, Kurdistan’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, paid an official visit to Turkey and was received with the highest honors. Although the Kurdish Regional Government does not yet have international recognition, Turkey offered to them the option to open consular offices in Ankara. The agreement between the two parties calls for fighting all guerilla groups, subliminally including the PKK. Ankara is pitting one group of Kurds against another. And the Iraqi Kurds have been holding their end of the bargain to consolidate their existence in that troubled region.
Iraqi Kurdistan, at present, is the most peaceful area in the entire country and people who are fleeing the sectarian war raging in the rest of the country are resettling in that region.
Armenians have also found a safe haven in Kurdistan, where they are welcome and they even have representation in the parliament.
The Armenian government has been developing economic and cultural relations with Iraqi Kurdistan. Recently an official delegation was sent to the city of Suleymani, where the annual cultural festival was dedicated to Armenia. Of importance was that a full day of academic panels were featured dedicated to the Armenian Genocide. The Kurdish representatives have openly confessed to the collusion of their ancestors in the execution of the Genocide. Many individual leaders and political groups have addressed the issue with the same tenor, and they have apologized for the crimes of their ancestors. Pushing the envelope further, one of the Armenian speakers, Adom Mekhitaryan, quoted Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas, who openly called for the Turkish government to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Continuing his logic, he has asked official Kurdish representatives to recognize the Armenian Genocide not only in Kurdistan, but also in the central government of Iraq in Bagdad. Should this plan be achieved, it will be further bolstered by the news that the Egyptian government also has Genocide recognition under consideration. Those dual actions will take the wind out of the Azeri propaganda sail, which claims in Islamic circles that the Karabakh conflict is a religious war.
At this time, we need to move cautiously to see how all these issues work out in the complex world of the Iraqi war and regional instability. When the Kurdish Regional Government is prepared to sell out its PKK brethren to save its own skin, we cannot put too much stock in the possibility of it taking bolder action on the Genocide issue.
Regardless what pragmatic policy the Kurdistan government may adopt at this time, it still remains a beacon of hope for all the Kurds in the region, especially the Kurds in Turkey. No matter how atrocious the Ankara government may be, the Turks eventually will come to terms with the Kurdish issue. At that time, it will be easier for Armenians to make deals with the Kurds than it has ever been able to with the Turks.
The Armenians have to invest in their relations with the Kurds today to be able to deal with them tomorrow.
At this time, Kurdistan is rising in the region.