The Question of autonomy of the Kurdish people

Overview of the issue:

Of all the ethnic groups in the world, the Kurds are one of the biggest that has no nation to call their own. Kurds have never accomplished nation-state status, making Kurdistan a non-governmental region and one of the largest stateless countries in the world. The estimated Kurdish population is 35 million. They shape about 25% of the population in Turkey, 7-10% of the population in Iran and 17% of Iraq’s population. The

On 30 October 1918, The Armistice of Mudros marked the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. In his Fourteen Points, Woodrow Wilson promised the Kurds a sovereign state. The formation of a Kurdish state was supposed to have been carried out through the Treaty of Sevres in 1920.  However, Woodrow’s promise was nullified in 1923 by the new Turkish president, Kemal Ataturk. The subsequent year, Turkey also passed a law banning the use of Kurdish language in public places.

The Kurds are Sunni Muslim people (with some Shi’a Muslims and Alevis and a minority of Christians, Yarsanis and Yazidis) residing particularly in Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Their tradition is very distinctive from their Turkish, Persian, Arabic neighbours and this results in the high potential for conflict. In 1961, major conflict began for the Kurds living in Iraq when the Kurdish Democratic Party began a rebellion. Within two weeks the Iraqi government had dissolved the KDP. A war began, and after 9 years a peace agreement was signed in March 1970 between the Iraqi government and the Kurds.

Around this time, Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq. In 1975, Hussein ended his support for Kurds seeking independence and over the next 15 years the Iraqi army used bombings, cyanide and mustard gas in an attempt to eradicate all the Kurds in the nation.

In the late 1970s Hussein enacted a policy of uprooting Kurds from areas with Kurdish majorities leading to the diaspora to nations such as Russia, Lebanon, North America, Germany

In 1980, The Iran-Iraq War begins. Although the KDP forces work intently with Iran, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) does not. Three years later, PUK consents to a cease-fire with Iraq and begins negotiations on Kurdish autonomy.

A safe haven is set up in April 1991, in Iraqi Kurdistan by the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Iraqi forces are barred from working inside the region, and Kurds begin independent rule, with KDP leading the north and PUK leading the south.

On 7 October 2019, President Donald Trump withdrew their forces from the border areas with Turkey, consequently abandoning their Kurdish allies. The change comes after Mr Trump and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan discussed Ankara’s plans to set up a “safe zone” east of the Euphrates River in Syria.


Countries and Organisations involved:

Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP): One of the largest parties in the Northern part of Iraq.

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG): This is the government for the Kurdish state.

Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK): Aim to create a nation inside Turkey

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK): Founded in Syria however is now in the northern section of Iraq. Syria and Iran: None of them wants a Kurdish State created as it would destabilize an already fragile country and it may lead to a domino effect, as it would lead other minority groups to additionally attempt and obtain independence.

Turkey: Turkish government requested Iraqi forces to arrest individuals of the PKK has used north Iraq to attack via the borderline. Turkey is in opposition to the Kurds as the PKK wants part of Turkey’s territory to create a state.

United States of America: the USA does not have a good relationship with Iraq, on the other hand, they did have one with the Kurds, as they helped combat ISIS and had constantly been a notable ally. In 1990, the United States launched Operation Desert storm and the First Gulf War, they took this chance to impose a no-fly zone over Iraqi Kurdistan. On October 9, 2019, Turkey launched a military offensive into Northeastern Syria, just days after US President Donald Trump’s administration announced that US troops would depart from the border area. Erdogan’s “Operation Peace Spring” is an effort to pressure away Kurdish forces from the border and use the location to resettle about two million Syrian refugees. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who work in the area are Kurdish-led, and nevertheless, hold thousands of ISIS opponents captured in battle.


Related UN resolutions and Previous Approaches to Solving the Issue:

The Sykes-Picot agreement:

  • Drafted in the final years of WW1
  • A secret document between the British and the French which divided the Levant Region in half.

The Treaty of Sevres:

  • After the fall of the Ottoman Empire (1918) the treaty was passed, which started the conflict.
  • Aimed to divide the terrain into countries which separated the Kurds.

Treaty of Lausanne:

  • This treaty was signed by the Allied powers.
  • It amended the Treaty of Sevres.
  • Forming what is now known as Turkey and Syria.

A referendum in the Kurdish region took place but

  • The referendum was illegal and had not been approved by the government of Iraq.
  • Majority of Kurds voted for independence