Sunday, February 21, 2016

Is "Kurd" More Than Just A Word In The News For You? Who Are They?

We'd just gotten back from a Bainbridge library Great Decisions presentation by Dr. Reşat Kasaba, Director of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington Future of Kurdistan,  when I saw this piece in the Morning Briefings section of the Saturday ADN online. (Here's the longer original AP story.) From the ADN:

TURKEY Kurdish group claims responsibility for Ankara attack ANKARA — 
"A Kurdish militant group on Friday claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb attack in the Turkish capital Ankara which killed 28 people. In a statement posted on its website, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons said it carried out the attack to avenge Turkish military operations against Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey. The Turkey-based group is considered an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and has carried out several violent attacks in the past. Turkey had blamed a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia group for the attack, saying they had acted in collaboration with the PKK."
[If you're looking at the picture and wondering about the Bainbridge Island library - well, the talk was held at the Bethany Lutheran Church which has more space than the library.]

Violence by Kurds in Turkey was not addressed, but here are some points Dr. Kasaba made:
  • Kurds are the indigenous people who have been in the Middle East longer than anyone else there today, including Arabs.
  • They've never had their own autonomous state.
  • They are tribal - which he said means family based - and so there are many tribal divisions
  • They have a major presence in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, and a smaller but more integrated presence in Iran.
  • The Kurdish area of northern Iraq is relatively autonomous and doing ok.  The Syrian group, with military support from the US to fight ISIS is relatively ok.
  • The Turkish Kurds are having trouble because of the 15 year Islamic government in Turkey.  He pointed out that any government in control that long becomes more autocratic and corrupt.
  • Cities with the biggest number of Kurds include Istanbul and Berlin.
  • Helping the Turks to treat the Kurds better - recognizing their ethnic and linguistic identity and better integrating them into Turkish society - would go a long way to improving the region.
  • The nuclear treaty with Iran isn't a solution, but it gives the US a ten year breather in relations with Iran
  • Kurds tend to be more egalitarian and women have much more power than is generally the case in the countries they live
  • The 2003 Iraq war set back the US in the Middle East
  • Trying to solve the Syrian conflict alone would take hundreds of thousands of US troops and lots of funding and with a person like Asad who is willing to destroy his country rather than lose power, even that would have no guarantees
  • Russia is not a strong as people think.  Internally they are suffering due to the drop in oil prices and nationalistic ventures like the Ukraine and Syria are attempts to gain support for Putin

'Major Kurdish populations in the Middle East' from Encyclopedia of the Middle East

When you consider his thoughts, you might want to consider that Dr. Kasaba's undergraduate degree is from Turkey and his graduate degrees are from SUNY Binghamton.  So he has a native's understanding of Turkey and the region, but has been in the US long enough to have a good understanding of us as well.  His webpage at UW says:
"Over the last three decades, my research and publications on the Ottoman Empire, Middle East, and Turkey have covered economic history, state-society relations, migration, ethnicity and nationalism, modernity and urban history. Recently, I have started researching the role of education in the formation of modern Turkish identity in the twentieth century."
The Encyclopedia of the Middle East has more on Kurds and the map I'm using comes from their site because the photos I took of Kasaba's maps were awful.   It does say there are 26-36 million Kurds in the world, 10-15 million of whom live in Turkey.

To put that into context, this list of countries ordered from highest to lowest population, would put a country of 30 million at number 39, right after Uganda, in its list which includes 155 nations with a population of over 1 million people (plus more with fewer).

I'd note, it's Sunday and here's another story I saw in the Alaska Dispatch News from the (longer) Washington Post article, that highlights Kasaba's point that coming to terms with its Kurdish population is one of the key issues in the Middle East today.
"A rift with the United States, Turkey’s closest and most vital ally, over the status of the main Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), has further exposed Turkey’s vulnerability. A demand by President Recep Tayyep Erdogan that Washington choose between NATO ally Turkey and the YPG, its main Syrian ally in the fight against the Islamic State, was rebuffed by the State Department this month, despite Turkish allegations that the YPG had carried out the bombing in Ankara. On Saturday, Turkey dug in, demanding unconditional support from the United States. “The only thing we expect from our U.S. ally is to support Turkey with no ifs or buts,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told journalists in Ankara."


  1. On my way to other things this morning but want to reply to your lead question. Due to living in London, I've had the chance to get to know two other students who are Kurdish. One, a woman forced to moved from Northern Iraq with her family to Sweden. Her Swedish is native; her English very good. The other Kurd I know is from eastern Turkey and his family came to London when he was a boy. He's in my philosophy cohort and I'm learning about the Qur'an from him. (yeah, religious outreach!)

    The other thing I just wanted to quickly note is that I found one of those infotainment-type Fb videos today. This one is good and quite rich with meanings as to what it is to be framed by our learning bias. Til later.

    The link is

  2. I suspect you're unique in knowingly knowing a Kurd. And the video is terrific, exactly what this blog is about.


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