If there is a cause that screams its urgency from today's troubled Middle East, it is the cause of Kurdish nationhood. It sounds forth from the battlefields of the war against ISIS. It echoes from the agonizing disappointments of the Arab Spring. It pleads from the blood of far too many martyrs for a more tolerant version of Islam.
The time for a Kurdish nation has arrived.
This cry is not new. As long ago as the end of World War I, a Treaty of Sevres called for "autonomy for the predominantly Kurdish areas lying east of the Euphrates." (III, 62) The birth of an independent Kurdistan seemed near. Sadly, it was not to be. A secret agreement fashioned by a few European nations during the early days of the war carved the Middle East into British and French spheres of influence. Kurdish dreams of nationhood were not among the European dreams that ruled history in those days.
Instead, the Kurds of Kurdistan were pressed into the newly invented nation of Iraq and placed under the rule of Faisal bin Hussein, an Arab, Hashemite king born in Mecca. The Kurds, though, are not Arabs. They are descendants of the ancient Medes, familiar to many today primarily from the pages of their Bibles. This made little difference to the European architects of the modern Middle East. In their eyes, the Kurds could be a people only as part of the Arab nation of Iraq.
So began the torturous decades during which the Kurds were squeezed between a vindictive Turkish Republic and an oppressive Iraqi state. That state was ultimately ruled by Saddam Hussein who declared war on the Kurds of his nation and who killed more than a million of them, many with Sarin and mustard gas, some of which burns in Kurdish flesh still.
Mercifully, it was the atrocities of Saddam that finally moved the West to act on the Kurds' behalf. Under the protection of a U.S.-led 'no-fly zone' in the early 1990's, the Kurds began to reclaim themselves and their land. After a silly civil war between their two leading political parties, they unified and began rebuilding their beloved Kurdistan. They declared themselves a democracy, passed a law that offered foreign investors sweeping incentives, and began fashioning the "Kurdish Miracle" now celebrated the world over.
In a land that once grieved some 4,000 villages destroyed by Saddam, there are new and stunning hospitals, schools, restaurants, five star hotels, parks and airports. That Kurdistan was included, until just recently, on the "must-see" travel lists of the New York Times, National Geographic Traveler and Conde Nast is testament to what the Kurds have built.
This resurrection of a near-decimated people ought to have been encouraged by the West. Instead, the United States refused to recognize Kurdish autonomy and insisted upon channeling aid through the corrupt, unstable Iraqi government in Baghdad. The folly of this policy became evident recently with the rise of ISIS. The badly misnamed Iraqi army dissolved upon first contact with ISIS and many of the shiny new weapons the U.S. had sent to Baghdad fell easily into enemy hands.
Only the Kurdish fighting force, the Peshmerga, stood their ground and proved themselves worthy. Yet until recently they have had to go it largely alone in this fight, much as they have for most of their modern history.
It is time for this isolation to end. The day of a Kurdish nation is upon us. The case for Kurdish nationhood is obvious.
Kurdistan is rich in natural resources and has already made herself host to vast foreign investment. Ranging over 15,000 square miles, a Kurdish nation would be much larger than Israel, a lynchpin of U.S. policy in the region. She would also be a valuable ally -- a pro-democracy, pro-U.S. and majority pro-Israel people in the belly of the Middle East. Her more moderate version of Islam -- women have recently sat upon the Supreme Court in Kurdistan and there is a "Christian Department" within the region government -- is a version the U.S. will want to encourage in the decades to come.
There is also the matter of the debt the West owes the Kurds. Though this alone would not be sufficient reason to support a Kurdish nation it is nevertheless a considerable debt and ought to be factored in. The western nations, the United States in particular, repeatedly turned a blind eye to Saddam's evils in order to use Iraq as a hedge against Iran. Thus, the weapons Baghdad used to massacre the Kurds were often U.S. weapons. The gas rained down upon the citizens of Halabjah in 1988, for example, was sold to Saddam, in part, by U.S. firms with the approval of their government. No one in the West intended the extermination of the Kurds. Still, selling chemical weapons to a madman makes a company, or a nation, at least partially responsible for that madman's deeds. It is time to right the scales of history.
Supporting the cause of a Kurdish nation will require a new forthrightness in U.S. Middle East policy. It will mean arming and supporting the Kurds. It will mean insisting that Saudi Arabia stop funding ISIS. It will also mean insisting that Turkey stop allowing terrorists to flood through its borders into Iraq. It will certainly mean an end to the politics of petroleum and a genuine commitment to democratic values in the Middle East.
Hopefully, support for the Kurdish cause will require that one day the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations has opportunity to vote "Yes" on the matter of Kurdish Independence. It will be a vote much dreamt of and long deserved by the Kurdish people.
CORRECTION: This post previously stated that the prospective Kurdish nation would cover more than 40,000 square miles. The area of Iraqi Kurdistan, and therefore the likely area of an independent Kurdish nation, is approximately 15,000 square miles.