Kurdish history and current situation
The area of Kurdistan extends from the northwest mountains of Zagros further to the east to the Taurus Mountains. This region is distinctive geographically and culturally in particular. The Kurds are an ethnic group with rich history, their own language and culture. It’s possible to distinct them by a conflict line, which is going through their whole history and becomes an element of their identity. The line is their fight for their independent state.
Since ancient times, Kurdistan (meaning the area, which is inhabited by majority of Kurds) and its inhabitants faced invasions of different nations, persecution, and gradual islamization. On the Kurdish territory during those times, different self-governing units were established (most famous are Kurdish khalifates from the 14 th century), often under influence of various empires. The key period to understand the current situation is however the time around the Ottoman Empire decline. By the Treaty of Sèvres, the political union of Kurds asserting the independent Kurdistan was given a promise of autonomy. But the treaty was never fulfilled, mostly because of the success of the Turkish nationalist Mustafa Kemal and subsequently by the Treaty of Lausanne signature and thus establishing modern Turkey in the borders as we know it. The rests of Kurdistan, which were not swallowed by Turkey, were divided between French and British empires.
In 1925 we can see the end of Kurdish dream about their own independent state and division of Kurdistan between 4 countries: Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Kurdish minorities thus started their development in the 20 th century separately. These events led to creation of many various Kurdish groups, some of them have become quite a strong ones. Even though Kurdistan has been divided, the main idea of its inhabitants – establishing an independent state – never ceased to exist.
Let us introduce relevant Kurdish groups in Turkey, Syria and Iraq.
PKK in the struggle for Kurdish autonomy on the Turkish area
After the establishment of its own state, Turkey pushed the creation of culturally homogenised country. In practice it meant harsh discrimination of minorities (above all the Greeks, Armenian, and Kurdish). Kurds in Turkey were not able to speak their own language and show their identity. Nonetheless, Kurds opposed the Turkish oppression and there were many uprisings, which were cruelly supressed by Turks.
In the 70s, a group called Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was founded by Kurdish students and led by Abdullah Öcalan. Ideologically, this party claimed allegiance to Kurdish nationalism and revolutionary socialism. Their goal was Kurdish autonomy and founding of Kurdistan. PKK was fighting against Turkey in many bloody conflicts practically from the origin of the party until the year 2013, when a cease of fire was negotiated (that was broken by both parties in recent days). PKK joined the alliance against ISIS, where they succeeded in the defence of the Singal Mountain. The armed unit of PKK is divided to male YPG and female YJASTAR. Because of the long-lasting conflict (while using guerrilla tactics and terrorist attacks) with Turkey, PKK is on a list of terrorist organisations. PKK is considered as terrorist group not only by Turkey, but as well by the NATO and the EU.
YPG in de facto autonomous region of Rojava in Syria
In 2003 the so called Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria uniting Kurds in the northern Syria and protecting their interests. The party claims allegiance to Kurdish nationalism, socialism and democracy. PYD takes (same as PKK) Abdullah Öcalan as their ideological leader and thus is ideologically connected with PKK (however, PKK doesn’t interfere in PYD issues). The armed unit of PYD was established in 2011 under the name “YPG” to protect Kurdish interest in Syria. PYD similarly to PKK has women fighters, here known as YPJ. YPG/YPJ units fight against ISIS and they managed to gain control over bigger part of Syrian/Turkish borders. Through this the quasi autonomous region called Rojava was established in the northern Syria. In YPG there is a lot of foreign volunteers, but as well Arabs. PYD is considered as terrorist organisation by Turkey as well, PYD denies that vehemently. The Rojava Kurds are supported by France.
Iraqi Kurdistan and Peshmergas
Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region in Iraq. Because of their democracy, working government, state administration and foreign diplomatic relation, they are the closest to an independent state from all of the mentioned Kurdish territories. They have support from the West, too. The local executive body is so called Kurdish regional government (KRG). Same as in Turkey, the Iraqi Kurds couldn’t avoid struggles for their autonomy. Clashes of Peshmergas (in the past it was a name for fighters fo Kurdish autonomy, it is still used for today’s army and it means ‘those going to fight to the death’) and baas government, genocide of the Kurds with the deep-rooted name ‘Anfal’ can be examples of their struggle for self-determination.
Iraqi Kurdistan gained autonomy in a step-by-step process as a part of Iraq in the 70s and in 1991 it became autonomous region under the Kurdish administration. From all of the previously mentioned Kurdish units, the Peshmerga is definitely the best trained, equipped, and effective in the combat against ISIS.
We can see that Kurdish movements (except for different location) very similar to each other (groups claiming allegiance to democracy which lies in the leftist spectre, with regards to equality of women) and try to get through mutual interests (form of autonomy). This leads them to mutual cooperation, where the PKK works as a liaison between the PYD and the KRG. From the international players’ point of view they differ a lot, because the PKK is considered a terrorist organisation, the PYD is considered terrorist by Turkey but not by other states of NATO (France) and the KRG has international recognition and also the most stabile position in the region.