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Op-Ed: Sykes-Picot must be revised and the Kurds must be supported in their national struggle

Kurdish national liberation movement activist Kajal Mohammadi urges the international community to revise the Sykes-Picot agreement in order to stop the violence against the Kurdish people in the Middle East and reach a peaceful solution to the Kurdish national question.
A Kurdish woman in liberation movement Photo Credit:

Today marks the 101st anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement, where the French and British redrew what the borders of the modern nation-states in the Middle East would look like after World War I. The Kurdish land was divided between contemporary Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, where the Kurds have ever since been subjected to widespread political violence, assimilation, marginalization and mass murder.

To understand the modern history of the Kurds, their ongoing struggle with the nation-states, recent conflict with ISIS and the role of the diaspora, one must understand the events surrounding the modern history of the Middle East, with a particular attention given to the events of the late 19th and 20th century. The modern nation states in the region, as stated above, were formed post-World War I with the support from both the English and the French.

These newly formed states monopolized the government and army whereby they brutally oppressed and suppressed internal and regional uprisings and conflicts. The Kurdish nationalist activities and resistance were especially heightened as these artificial borders were re-drawn and communities were separated by borders.

Articles 62 and 64 of the Treaty of Sevres, which was signed on August 10, 1920, however, promised the Kurds an independent state. While Article 62 of the treaty provided that a commission appointed by the French, Italian and British would within six months of the treaty entering into effect draft a scheme of local autonomy for the Kurdish areas, it also stated that in the case that this did not take place within the one year period, the Kurds had every right to call for independence—which would be subjected to a recommendation from the League of Nations.

Britain, being one of the main powers in the region, was appointed as the governing authority by the League of Nations and during the 1921 Cairo Conference, the future of Iraq was discussed and there was a memorandum from the British government’s Middle East Department objecting to the incorporation of the Kurdish areas in the Arab state of Mesopotamia. Winston Churchill, who was the head of the Colonial Office in Iraq, objected to the inclusion of the Kurds in Iraq, as he feared the Kurds would be suppressed and oppressed.

Sir Percy Cox, the British High Commissioner in Iraq, on the other hand, was in favor of incorporating the Kurdish region in the newly formed Iraq. Cox’s decision was influenced by the Turkish state’s claim to Mosul and the succession of Turkish nationalism, which ended the possibility of creating a Kurdish state. The League of Nations, under pressure from Britain, awarded Mosul (a Kurdish populated area) to Iraq in 1925 on the conditions that the Kurds whose sovereignty and independence were denied would have cultural and linguistic autonomy. The Lausanne Treaty of 1923, therefore, replaced the earlier Sevres Treaty and the Kurdish land was once again divided between Turkey, Iran, and Iraq.

The single most important question and problem these newly formed states faced at this time (and still face now), was/is the construction of a unifying national identity. In order to overcome this, those in power sought to create a unified national identity around the largest ethnicity or religion in the country, thereby employing assimilatory and oppressive policies when dealing with other ethnic and religious minorities.

The Kurds continue to suffer due to historical and contemporary forms of nationalism, sovereignty, territorial integrity and the oppressive and assimilatory policies adopted by these nation-states. This has resulted in numerous genocidal campaigns, the mass destruction of the Kurdish land, the forced internal and external displacement and the criminalization and militarization of the Kurdish region. Accordingly, the Kurds’ struggle for freedom, self-governance and access to social and political representation is silenced and denied.

The states’ aggression, discrimination and violence against the Kurds are ongoing and as such, there is little to no room for the possibility of dialogue and reconciliation. The Kurds’ claim to the land and notions of independence and sovereignty are perceived and received as challenging the existing territorial integrity, which is too often used to justify their ongoing aggression and violence against the Kurdish population. The human tragedy, war, violence, assimilation and exclusion are the outcome of the Sykes-Picot agreement.

With the rise of ISIS in the region, the fall of Saddam Hussein and the current state of affairs in Syria, we’ve, however, witnessed how borders drawn a century ago can become meaningless. New borders, as a result, were created and this just shows that those responsible for this agreement have a moral and historic responsibility to support the plight of these diverse nations and the Kurds especially as they have endured decades of assimilation and discrimination.

The Kurds have throughout this century called for peace and negotiations with the nation-states. However, these states have responded to this call with further violence. Today, the Kurds are struggling to protect and preserve their culture, national identity and people against four different states that continue to deny the Kurds their national identity and rights. In order to prevent further atrocities, tragedy and violence, the international community, must revise the Sykes-Picot agreement in order to stop this violence and extremists and prevent it from continuing on.

On this 101st anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement, we call on the international community, the super powers and the nation-states’ occupying Kurdistan, to come to the negotiation table and reach a peaceful solution to the Kurdish national question. The international community must shoulder this historic responsibility and support the Kurds in their struggle for sovereignty and statehood and the democratization of these countries in the region, as opposed to insisting on the continuation of this decades-old occupation and division.

JOL Blogger | Kajal Mohammadi

Kajal Mohammadi is a Kurd from East (Rojhelat) Kurdistan (Kurdistan under Iranian occupation). Her family, along with thousands of other Rojhelati Kurds, was forcefully dislodged from their towns and villages in Rojhalat because of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Khomeni 1979 Jihad and onslaught on the Kurds; and the subsequent 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. She was born in a refugee camp known as Altash Camp in Romadi, located in Western Iraq. She completed my elementary schooling in the camp and relocated to Canada through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2002. She completed her secondary and post-secondary education in Canada. She is a first year PhD student and is a strong advocate of the Kurdish national liberation movement across occupied Kurdistan.

She is especially involved and interested in the East Kurdistan’s renewed resistance movement; and is of the strong believe that the international community and world powers need to support the Kurds in their struggle for democracy, equality and human rights against the terrorist Iranian regime.

Click Here for more reports by Kajal Mohammadi

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