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Kurds, Ottomans and Persians

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When I came across the article in the journal KURDISH LIFE that criticized my article on-line at KURDISH ASPECT I was concerned at the possibility that I had undermined the legitimacy of the Kurdish national movement. The historical inaccuracy that was singled out was in a reference to the regional division of nations after World War One. My first reaction was to review the entire article that the writer (who was not listed anywhere) was referencing.  

I was able to verify the accuracy of the quote attributed to me by going back and searching the archives of KURDISH ASPECT. The criticism was: “Another advocate whose writings make their way to Kurdish web sites is Martin Zehr. In a polemic arguing for Kurdish independence, he went so far as to insert this fiction: after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, "the nations of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran had boundaries established by the British that divided the Kurds in those newly created states and prevented them from their right to national sovereignty." (Kurdish aspect 2.10.08) Truth be told, Iran was not a "newly created" state. Iran was an existing country well beyond the power of the British to alter its borders. Sadly, more than a few engaged in political polemics count on a distracted readership with only a desultory knowledge of history. And they get away with it.” (no author cited) 

Prior to World War I, the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 split Persia apart and delineated spheres of influence for each in which the British and the Russians dominated them economically. During World War I, Great Britain occupied northern Persia. The current government of Iran describes the period thusly: “During World War I the country was occupied by British and Russian forces but was essentially neutral. In 1919, Britain attempted to establish a protectorate in Iran, aided by the Soviet Union's withdrawal in 1921. In that year a military coup established Reza Khan, a Persian officer of the Persian Cossack Brigade, as dictator and then hereditary Shah of the new Pahlavi dynasty (1925). Reza Shah Pahlavi ruled for almost 16 years, at the beginning mostly secretly aided by the British, installed the new Pahlavi dynasty, thwarted the British attempt at control, and pushed to have the country developed.” 

I decided to do some research on the particulars that are raised in this particular criticism in KURDISH LIFE. I found a post from the Grandson of Winston S. Churchill that I had not previously been aware of. The grandson of Winston Churchill declared: “After the creation of Iraq, Iran and Palestine, he [Winston Churchill] wanted to create a fourth political entity in the region, Kurdistan. Against his better judgment, he allowed himself to be overruled by the officials of the colonial office, a tragic decision which, to this day, has deprived the Kurds of a nation of their own and caused them to be split up under Iran, Iraq and Turkey, each of which has persecuted them for their aspiration to self-determination -- none more so than Saddam.” (March 2003)  

The accuracy of this quote itself is challenged by scholars. Others point out that: “The final treaty, known as the Delimitation Commission Agreement, established Iran's current border in 1914 [the same year World War I started- MZ] with the Ottoman Empire. This predates Churchill's involvement and is prior to 1921.” 

In regards to the Kurdish role in the region and its relation to the Persian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, Robert Olsen, a Professor of Middle East Politics at the University of Kentucky and an expert in Kurdish history and the rise of Kurdish nationalism, traces Kurdish allegiances back further than the twentieth century. He says: “ And since the Ottoman Empire became the empire which was much stronger than the Safavid empire, and of course the Kurds were able to benefit from this, and many Kurds then became instrumental officials within the Ottoman Empire, and they also as a result of that, received a good deal of autonomy from the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire for their faithful service to the empire in these great battles with the Safavid which was of course the Persian Empire.”

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From the same exchange of views on Australian Broadcasting Corporation Kendal Nazan, President of the Kurdish Institute in Paris proceeded to characterize the successive historical period : “So that was a sort of Kurdish-Turkish peace which lasted more than 3 centuries, and in the middle of the 19th century the Ottoman Empire which was having a lot of troubles in Eastern Europe, so they started to centralise the Empire, and they started to abrogate their privileges and the freedoms of the Kurdish kingdom, so they started to invade them, and this war for occupation or conquest of Kurdistan started in 1806 and lasted until 1881 so it was a very long and very bloody war and at end the Kurdish kingdoms were all annexed to the Ottoman Empire for some time.”

It should also be noted that the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War One  did leave the issues of boundaries and the establishment of new states determined by the British and the French at the expense of the Kurdish nation. And, if truth be told, the nation of Iran did not exist until 1935, when Persia became Iran. The case for a historically contiguous Persia or Iran appears as controversial as. . . maybe, the case for a historically contiguous nation of Turkey.

If the issue is accuracy, I would just correct the record by re-writing the sentence in question taking out the two words “newly created”. If it is a challenge about whether or not I am a “real friend of Kurdistan” or not, I would not concede anything. Neither will I accept the characterization of my article by  KURDISH LIFE  as  a “polemic”.  In any event, it is not my intention to create unnecessarily divisive debates when it comes to the legitimacy of the Kurdistan national movement. THAT remains the unaddressed issue that the world must confront.

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I am a Green Party member who lives in San Francisco. I have been active in water planning in the Middle Rio Grande region of New Mexico. I write political articles on the need for third parties, the contemporary failures of public education, the (more...)

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...your Article, i shall presume, apologies if inc... by Rhoda on Tuesday, Oct 21, 2008 at 2:22:58 PM
Thank you Rhoda for your response. I have one issu... by Matoska on Tuesday, Oct 21, 2008 at 3:39:58 PM