Austin Bay
As the militant Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL) threatens to shatter Iraq's central government, the leaders of Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government have called for the creation of Independent Kurdistan. In June, KRG President Massoud Barzani said, "the time is here for the Kurdistan people to determine their future."

I doubt Barzani intentionally echoed Woodrow Wilson's post-World War I call for political self-determination. Kurdish nationalists believe, with good cause, they were grievously wronged after World War I.

Kurd demands for independence have been repeatedly disappointed; despite Iraqi chaos, they may be disappointed once again.

The Kurds' landlocked wedge of planet earth is a geographic "tweener." Using the old names illustrates the Kurds' historic difficulty. To the south, Kurdistan meshes with Mesopotamia; to the east with Persia, to the west with the Levant and to the north with Greco-Roman-Byzantine-Turk Anatolia.

For three millennia Kurds have fought various imperialists -- Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Turks.

However, they thought their time had come in August 1920 when the victorious World War I allies ratified the Treaty of Sevres.

Sevres addressed the defeated Ottoman Turkish Empire's territories. It divided Ottomans' Arab provinces between France and Britain, gave Greece a slice of Thrace and handed Italy a chain of Aegean Islands. France and Britain took de facto control of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles (Turkish Straits).

With an irresolute nod to Wilsonian self-determination, Sevres promised the Kurdish people a state or perhaps several autonomous states conveniently advised by allied political officials.

Though Sevres did not specify Kurdistan's precise location, Kurdish nationalists were ecstatic. Today, Kurds are the largest ethnic group in Southeastern Turkey, Northeastern Syria and a small triangle of Iran (Turkey-Iraq border area). Kurds are definitely the majority in the KRG. Kurdistan 1921 would have formed somewhere in this area, probably Southeastern Turkey ... maybe.

But Britain and France were not committed to seeing through an afterthought Kurdistan. The secular Turkish nationalist movement, led by Kemal Ataturk, insisted on Turkish nationalist self-determination. Turkish nationalists opposed the war-weary French and British occupiers and the rump Ottoman dynasty (dictatorship) the occupiers supported.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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