Kurdish Lessons For Kashmiris

Aljazeerah.info, United Stated
28 Oct. 2004

Kurdish Lessons For Kashmiris

By K. Gajendra Singh

Al-Jazeerah, October 28, 2004

Earlier this year, perhaps echoing views of many Kashmiri leaders,
Sajjad Lone, leader of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) People’s Conference
said, “I don’t have to be a genius to realise that the Americans will
not allow any violent movement or Islamic militancy to succeed. That
applies to Kashmir as well.” Pervez Imroz of the Coalition of Civil
Society in Srinagar said that there was “a lot of suspicion about the
US ” in the minds of Kashmiris. “People are wondering if they have not
defended the rights of the Kurdish people in Iraq, why would they
defend our rights? ” “After 9/11, the American perception of Kashmir
has changed. They are the ones who are defining what terrorism is.”
Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the Jamaat-e-Islami said.” The Americans have
their own interest (to protect). They are prejudiced and do not want to
see just demands being met. If they did, then the situation in
Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan would not exist.”

Even the Kurds in North Iraq are now complaining, although they enjoyed
US protection from Saddam Hussein since 1991 Gulf war till the US
invasion of Iraq and almost total autonomy, but their status remains
ambiguous in ‘new Iraq’. When the farce of handing over the
‘sovereignty ‘ to Iraqi exile Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was carried
out in end June, it included no guarantee of their autonomy in the UN
resolution, which was promised earlier. A press release from the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said that “the current situation in Iraq
and the new-found attitude of the US, UK and UN has led to a serious
re-think for the Kurds. The prop! osed plans do not seem to promise the
expected Kurdish role in the future of a new Iraq. The Kurds feel
betrayed once again.” Underlining that the Kurds have been the only
true friends and allies of the coalition, it added that “if the plight
of the Kurds is ignored yet again and we are left with no say in the
future of a new Iraq, the will of the Kurdish people will be too great
for the Kurdish political parties to ignore–. This will certainly not
serve the unity of Iraq.”

But Turkey’s Kurds make progress

After receiving the Sakharov Prize, European Union (EU)’s top human
rights award, Leyla Zana, former Turkish deputy of Kurdish origin told
the European Assembly in Brussels on 14 October that “Violence has
outlived its time. The language and method of solution of our age is
dialogue, compromise and peace. It is not ‘die and kill,’ but ‘live and
let live’.” “Everything that is not given a name and not defined is
without identity. It is only the Kurds who do not have a name,” added
Zana. She said that her aim was to underline the brotherhood of
people’s languages and cultures. “The Kurds are determined for a
peaceful solution within the territorial integrity of Turkey.” She!
spoke partly in Kurdish and partly in Turkish.

Europe’s Parliament with its 732-members , which repeatedly called for
Zana’s release over the last decade, gave her a standing ovation after
her 30-minute speech. Zana was awarded the prize in 1995 when as a
member of Kurdish Democracy Party (DEP), she was jailed to serve a
15-year sentence by Turkey’s State Security Court along with three
other DEP deputies — Orhan Dogan, Hatip Dicle and Selim Sadak — on
charges of separatism and alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan
Workers’ Party (PKK). The other prominent winners of the award to honor
the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov were South African President
Nelson Mandela; Alexander Dubcek, father of the Praha Spring and
Burmese Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Aung San Suu Kyi.

In the wake of recent revolutionary changes in Turkey to make its
Constitution conform to the Copenhagen criteria and enable it join the
EU, Zana and others were temporarily freed in June and now face
re-trial on charges that she had sported a hair band in the traditional
Kurdish colors of yellow, green and red used by Kurdish militants. She
had also defied the ban on speaking in Kurdish in Turkey’s Parliament
.The four MPs were stripped of their parliamentary immunity in 1995 and
their pro-Kurdish DEP party banned. The EU entry aspired new human
rights laws made the court consider them as political prisoners,
released them, and called for a retrial.

Zana wants to launch a new “movement” for advancing the rights of
Turkey’s Kurds and invited writers, artists and other intellectuals to
join. She said “Our vision and basic goal is to advance the Kurdish
democratic movement in the areas of freedom, democracy and
participation and pluralistic politics … and to bring the people to
power.” Zana has repeatedly called for peaceful tactics to advance
cultural rights for Kurds, which have been conceded to a large extent.

While the activities of Zana and other Turkish leaders of Kurdish
origin provided the political thrust in the struggle for cultural and
other rights, Abdullah Ocalan leader of PKK represented the violent
face, which since millennia have resisted forced assimilation by
majority ethnic, linguistic and religious groups or nations. Ocalan
made his peace with the Turkish state, after his capture in 1999. He
was tried and condemned to death (later commuted to life term in 2002)
and imprisoned. He asked his followers to give up the gun, but since
June, when a unilateral ceasefire by his followers was not renewed,
violence has again re-surfaced.

But the Turkish state also paid a heavy price. Since 1984, Ocalan led
PKK rebellion for a Kurdish state in South and East cost over 37,000
lives, mostly Kurds but included over five thousand soldiers. Thousands
of Kurdish villages were bombed, destroyed, abandoned or relocated.
Millions of Kurds were moved or migrated. A third of Turkish army was
tied up in South East costing $6 to $8 billion per year .The region’s
economy was shattered. It brought charges of police and military
brutality and human rights violations in the West to which Turkey is
linked through NATO, OECD and EU.

Pakistani media team in Srinagar

In early part of October, a team of 16 Pakistani journalists during
their first-ever historic and path-breaking visit to Srinagar, capital
of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), met with among others, Yasin Malik, leader
of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), who was released some
years ago after many years in Indian jails. A member of the Pakistani
team reported back that Malik made them “squirm with his accusations.
He thinks our visit is an example of wily “Punjabi (Pakistan’s)
statecraft”, that India and Pakistan are two pipsqueaks with “tiny”
bombs. And then the knockout blow: we are here with a ‘brief’ from
Pakistan and are completely ‘confused’ about the situation here.” The
encounters and exchanges during the visit exposed many wrong
perceptions about each other.

Shabir Shah, berated the Pakistani scribes for coming to Kashmir on
Indian visas. When released from Indian Jail in 1994 he first visited
refugee camps in miserable conditions of the Kashmiri Pandits, who were
forced to leave Kashmir by terrorists and declared himself against any
solution that involved a further partition of Jammu and Kashmir
“because it will repeat the mistake of Partition and put the lives of
Indian Muslims in great danger”; and who, till two years ago, had
declared himself willing to fight the state assembly elections .His
virulent attack during the visit of Pakistanis reflects the depth of
disillusionment with New Delhi’s policies too.

A group of students perhaps egged on by hardliner Syed Ali Shah
Geelani. forced their way into a dialogue between the journ! alists and
students at Kashmir University and, after shouting Nizam-e-Mustapha and
Nara-e-Tadbir, said that they welcomed the militants from Pakistan and
regarded them as their saviours. But the Pakistan-based militants, have
‘liberated’ more than 6,000 Kashmiris in the past six years by killing
them, and systematically assassinate moderate Kashmiri leaders

Asiya Andrabi of Kashmir’s Dukhtaran-e-Millat militant group of women
was criticized by Pakistani scribes back home because “A day before (we
reached) Srinagar on Oct 6, she held a press conference (and)
forewarned the people of Kashmir that journalists from Pakistan were
visiting them ‘on orders of General Musharraf, who wants to abandon
Kashmiris for the pleasure of Americans’.

“The day after, a deadly jehadi outfit, Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, fully
endorsed her suspicions. The doubts regarding our visit were not
confined to ‘extremist fringes’. “Cartoon after cartoon appeared in a
section of the popular newspapers of Srinagar, where the journalists
from Pakistan were mocked with utmost contempt for avariciously
relishing the meaty Wazwun of Kashmir and appreciating the scenic
beauty of it l! ike the dazed tourists on an exotic picnic.” Kashmiris
and the media castigated the team for accepting the J&K government’s ”
5 Star hospitality”.

Another wrote that ” The official Pakistani discourse still talks about
the disputed issue of J&K’s accession to India; the religious elements
in Pakistan want the State’s accession to Pakistan on the basis of
religious affinity; the JKLF wants an independent State. The diversity
of these discourses is matched in J&K and India. But it is also subdued
for the time being because of the larger overhang of the single purpose
of getting rid of India.

“Yet, thi! s diversity cannot be avoided. At the negotiating table,
whenever that stage comes, one of the most difficult issues to resolve
would be defining aazadi (freedom, liberation, independence) because a
resolution would demand, more than emotions, an acceptable mechanism
for determining the Kashmiri aspirations.

“One can broadly have two poles, the rest lying between the two. Syed
Ali Geelani with his emphasis on accession to Pakistan being one; Omar
Abdullah, the chief of National Conference with his emphasis on
autonomy within the Indian Union being the other. The JKLF too is clear
on its stand but as things stand there are not many takers for the
independence option, at least in the way the group has formulated it or
continues to do so. Geelani and Abdullah are closer to the ground
realities because their solutions take into account the two major
players: Pakistan and ! India. ”

Human rights activists also told them stories they had heard before:
about missing persons or about individuals who had been tortured or
held in jail without trial for a number of years under the draconian
anti-terrorist laws. On this score too their perceptions were
reinforced. But a cool and confident National Conference leader of the
opposition, Omar Abdullah, grand son of legendry leader Sheikh Abdullah
and a feisty and shrewd Mehbooba Mufti, daughter of the Chief Minister
put across their points of view, which much impressed the visitors.

Another journalist wrote that “It may not constitute the unfinished
agenda of Partition, as Pakistan holds, but even from a discerning
Indian perspective the state certainly comes across as the unfinished
agenda of integration into the Indian Union.”

For the Pakistani team it came as a shocking revelation that almost the
entire Kashmiri intelligentsia conveyed to them (Pakistan) and to New
Delhi too -“A plague on both your houses. We want azadi.” It exploded
the belief in Pakistan that, being Muslims, Kashmiris want to join
Pakistan. For the last half-century Pakistanis believed and propounded
that Kashmir’s future be decided by a plebiscite giving Kashmiris only
two options, Pakistan or India. It became clear that Kashmiri militant
leaders whom Islamabad supports didn’t speak for the people of Kashmir
but a small minority. Of course Azadi (freedom) is interpreted in many
ways by Kashmiris but an Independent Kashmir is not on Pakistani mind.

The message to Pakistanis was that the Kashmiris want a place at the
negotiating table .The Pakistani journalists were unable to engage in
the long, painstaking discussions needed to get Kashmiri leaders to
drop their public postures and start defining azadi more precisely.
Whether azadi was for the pre-partition princely state of Kashmir, the
Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Valley and ‘Azad Kashmir’, or
only the Valley. Were the Kashmiris prepared for another partition if
some parts did not want to secede from India. How much sovereignty
would satisfy the thirst for azadi–who would look after Kashmiri
defence and security needs, and how much! of the present free access to
the Indian market, to Indian educational institutions and the Indian
fiscal support they wanted to retain. A Mori poll two years ago said
that 61 per cent of J& K people preferred to stay with India.

Many in Pakistan naively believe that after years of militant attacks
in J&K and India, getting a concession from India would be push over.
Indians firmly believe that no Indian government can survive any major
concessions. Some say that the unfinished agenda of Partition, could
engulf Pakistan, which has as yet to establish itself on the basis of
territorial loyalty. Pakistan would come around only if it felt that
its policy of confrontation has become counter prod! uctive and there
is some profit in a solution. While meeting Kashmiri aspirations as the
best way toward an agreement, it is for New Delhi and Islamabad to
balance the quantum of independence keeping in view Indian and
Pakistani vital interests

As for economic packages for J&K by governments of India.” These have
remained far from being realised,” said a senior official recently, who
feels that announcements of packages only make official files heavier
and burdensome without any concrete results on the ground. Most of
money leaks out, even invested in India.

Those in J&K who favour independence have not been happy about the
progress of talks, how ever tortuous, between India and Pakistan, done
mostly under US prodding. The two countries have moved to discussing
“solutions” for J&K with India committing itself to a “peaceful
negotiated settlement” in a formal acceptance of its “disputed” nature,
while Pakistan has accepted the “bilateral” nature of the dialogue and
dropped the insistence on a plebiscite and third-party mediation.
Pakistan kept the i! ssue alive except for a decade and a half after
1972, when it lost Bangladesh, with help from UK, USA and China, whose
attitudes have changed depending on their own strategic objectives and

The Kashmiris and even the Pakistanis might as well study the long
drawn out Kurdish struggle and learn something from it.

The Kurdish Problem

The Kurds are an Iranian-related people totaling over 25 million who
occupy mostly the adjoining mountainous regions of Turkey (14 million),
Iran (8 million) and Iraq (4 million) with nearly half a million each
in Syria, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

They have been caught up in ethnic upheavals and the intermingling of
Aryan, Turkic and Semitic races for many millennia. Descending from
Medes, they were first mentioned as the Kurduchoi, who harassed
Xenephon and his Ten Thousand during the epic retreat from Mesopotamia
to the Black Sea in 401 BC.

The Turks started moving into Anatolia only after the Byzantines were
defeated at Manzikert in 1071 AD. But barring petty dynasties and some
principalities in the region, the Kurds, most ! now Sunni Muslims,
failed to establish a lasting kingdom. Salahaddin remains their
greatest medieval hero. They have been kept divided and exploited as
pawns by the ruling Persian, Turkish and Arab empires, and later by
colonial powers, enjoying autonomy only when the empires were week.
Sunni Ottomans used them to guard the frontiers against the Shi’ite
Safavids of Iran. Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria might have adversary
relations with each other, but when it comes to Kurds, they close
ranks. But throughout history, whenever suppressed, the Kurds become
outlaws and take to the mountains.

Belonging to the Iranian-language! family, Kurdish is spoken in five
dialects and many sub-dialects, but the divisions among Kurds are
reflected not on! ly in the dialects or the countries they inhabit.
Differences among them have persisted throughout history. In north
Iraq, the Kurds are split among the Kurdish Democratic Movement (KDM)
of Masud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Jalal
Talabani, who have been warring with each other for decades.

But, even when divided, they have enjoyed some semblance of autonomy,
first under the British mandate, then the leftist regime of Brig
Kassem, and even under the kid gloves and poisoned sword treatment of
Saddam Hussein, with an almost free run during the Iran-Iraq war of the
1980s. And then under US-led protection after the 1991 Gulf War. The
idea of a Kurdish identity and autonomy, which was vigorously
suppressed in the unitary Turkish state, was kept alive across in Iraq.

The Irania! ns have manipulated Iraqi Kurds as did the Russians the
Iranian Kurds during World War II, encouraging them to declare the
Mahabad Republic, which after the Russian withdrawal in 1946 was
annihilated. Iran gave shelter and arms to Iraqi Kurds and the PKK. In
return, after the 1979 Khomeini revolution, the Iraqis supported
Iranian Kurds. But unlike Iraq, Iran and elsewhere, the Kurds in Turkey
are the most well integrated with other citizens. But they were
subjected to harassment and discrimination when the Kurdish insurgency
began, although they enjoy equal legal rights. Ataturk’s right hand
man, ! Ismet Pasha, later president, had Kurdish blood, as did former
president Turgut Ozal. The former foreign minister and the parliament
speaker, Hikmet Cetin, a full-blooded Kurd, is another of many such
examples of prominent Kurds in Turkey.

Ocalan and the PKK

Nicknamed Apo (uncle in Kurdish), Ocalan was born in 1949 at Omerli, a
small town on the Euphrates in Urfa in Turkey who claims a Turkish
grandmother, and some Arab blood too. His family took the surname of
Ocalan (avenger) for having rebelled against Ataturk’s republic in the
1920s. With a mixed population in south Turkey, many people speak
Turkish, Kurdish and Arabic.

More fluent in Turkish than Kurdish, Ocalan was a bright student and
after the usual religious education in the village Mekteb, at which he
excelled, he won a scholarship to the prestigious political science
faculty at Ankara, a breeding ground for Turkey’s intellectuals, civil
servants and even politicians. In the heady days of the early 1970s
after the Paris student uprising, the Ankara university had become a
center of leftist thought and activities.

To begin with, Ocalan was an admirer of Ataturk, and even wanted to be
a military officer. But the total suppression of ethnic or cultural
pluralism, as if Kurdish history and identity did not exist, and a
spell in prison after a crackdown on radical students in 1971, where he
met other Kurdish students, transformed him into a hardened leftist
Kurdish nationalist. After the first tentative steps in 1974 to
initiate a Kurdish liberation movement at Ankara, the PKK (in Kurdish –
Partia Karkaran-e Kurdish) – an alliance of workers, peasants and
intellectuals for a democratic and independent Kurdistan based on
Marxist-Leninist principles – was founded by Ocalan with 12 others in
the village of Lice in Diyarbakir on November 27, 1978.

The circumstances of its origins; tribalism, feudalism, the grinding
povert! y of the region compared to the growing prosperity in western
Turkey made Marxism an abiding ideology that attracted poorer but
educated youth of both sexes. After some unsuccessful attacks in 1979,
the really violent incidents, which brought recognition to the PKK as a
terror outfit, were carried out in 1984 in Sirit and Hakkari near the
Iraq-Iran border.

>>From a few hundred in 1984, the number of PKK cadres then rose to the
thousands and peaked in the first half of the 1990s when the PKK was
churning out 300 fighters every quarter. As the state used all the
brutal power at its command, the PKK fought back savagely by killing
government village headmen, guards, teachers and doctors, apart from
innocents and the military and police soldiers. Brutal reprisals and
killings by security forces brought in thousands of fresh volunteers to
the PKK.

Ocalan left Turkey for Lebanon just before the 1980 military
intervention. Afraid that Islamic revivalism and Kurdish nationalism
were undermining the state, the military junta banned major political
parties and debarred politicians, came down heavily on the media,
politicians, students and radicals, especially those of Kurdish origin.
But the prisons only proved to be academies for new recruits to the PKK

Ocalan first contacted PLO leftists, but was soon adopted by the
Syrians, who provided him a residence in Damascus and gave him the
Bekaa Valley for training his cadres. He spent some time in East
Germany, but mostly operated from Syria and Lebanon. A ruthless and
cruel leader, with a charismatic hold over his followers and in spite
of never returning to Turkey, Ocalan was revered by his dedicated
followers and feared and obeyed by most.

Roots of the Kurdish problem

The roots of the Kurdish problem lie deep in the Turkish psyche. The
seeds were sown during the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the birth
of the Turkish Republic after World War I. Under the Ottomans, its
Christian, Armenian and other millets (religious communities) enjoyed
religious freedom with autonomy in their personal laws and education.
The Turks complain that the Christian West used the stick of religion
and nationalism in Eastern Europe to b reak up the empire during the
19th and early 20th century. The first to leave were the Balkan
Christians, and in the late 19th century it was feared that even the
Kurds might desert, like the Egyptians. But the last s! traw was the
revolt by Muslim Arabs, for the Ottoman caliphs were always Muslims
first and then Turks. In fact the word “Turk”, until Ataturk endowed it
with dignity, was used as a term of contempt by the Ottoman elite.

Hence, Turks manifested a pervasive distrust of any cultural or
autonomous movement that might lead to fragmentation of the unitary
republic. It revives memories of Western conspiracies against Turkey
and the non-ratified 1920 Treaty of Sevres forced on the Ottoman Sultan
by the World War I victors. It would have divided Anatolia with
outright independence to the Armenians and given autonomy to Kurds,
leading to their independence and granted zones of influence to France,
Italy and Greece. The successful war of independence led by Ataturk,
though, undid the Sevres Treaty. In the new treaty of Lausanne in 1923,
there was no mention of Armenia or Kurds – not even the latter’s
language Kurdish, although it permitted Greeks, Armenians and others to
speak in their tongues.

To begin with, Ataturk himself had talked of Turks, Kurds, Lazes and
others, but a dramatic change came over him during 1923 -24 and he
opted for a unitary state. Perhaps it was because of the British
detachment of the Mosul and Kirkuk region, the ambivalent attitude of
many Kurds and minor revolts after the Treaty of Sevres. In 1924, he
abolished the Caliphate and Kurds were just turned into non-persons;
their language, music, dress and culture, even the use of Kurdish first
name! s, were made illegal. Conservative Kurds led by Sheikh Said, a
follower of the Nakshbandi sect (as are many current Islamic leaders),
rebelled against the ungodly state in 1925. The fledgling republic,
under pressure from radicals, ruthlessly suppressed Kurdish rebellions,
some of which lingered on into the 1930s. Influential Kurdish families
were relocated to extreme western Turkey near the border with Bulgaria.
They were allowed to come back and rehabilitated only after the
introduction of multiparty democracy and slackening of the unitary
state’s heavy hand in the 1950s.

Turkey’s constitution describes itself as a Laic state, which,
according to many, is more Jacobin than genuinely secular. It is based
on the nationalist philosophy of Zia Gokalp, him! self perhaps a Kurd,
who unfortunately used for laic/secular, the title la din i.e.,
anti-religion. After the founding of the republic, its Christian
minorities were exchanged with Turks from Greece and the remaining
squeezed out later. A few left in the southeast left too, faced with
the Kurdish rebellion against the state. So the concept of secularism
in Turkey became one of anti-religion, and it tends to become anti this
or anti that, which leads to intolerance. The Sunni-dominated police
establishment has regularly harassed the Shi’ite Alevis, ironically
perhaps, the original Turcoman, who helped conquer Anatolia and then
the Kurds. But Turkey claims to be the protectors of Turcomans in north
Iraq and warned USA recently on it.

The establishment, a curious macho amalgam of the military-led secular
elite and the Sunni-dominated interior ministry tried to resolve
problems by force as a compromise might be seen as a sign of weakness.
It considered Islamic revivalism and Kurdish rebellion as two major
threats to the security, stability and integrity of the state, although
the left of center Social Democrat Party (SHP), in coalition
governments in 1991-95, had come to the conclusion in 1990, based on a
study that neither Kurdish nationalism nor Islamic fundamentalism posed
a threat to the republican order. Many other subsequent reports have
confirmed the same conclusions, underlining that most Kurds wanted
respect for their identity, the use of the Kurdish language for
education and television and cultural freedom.

Kurds after the 1991 Gulf W! ar

The 1990-91 Gulf War proved to be a watershed in the violent explosion
of the Kurdish problem. A nebulous and ambiguous situation emerged in
north Iraq when, at the end of the war, US president George W Bush Sr
encouraged the Kurds (and the hapless Shi’ites in the south) to revolt
against Saddam Hussein’s Sunni Arab regime.

Turkey was dead against it, as a Kurdish state in the north would have
given ideas to its own to Kurds. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states in
the Gulf were opposed to a Shi’ite state in south Iraq. The hapless
Iraqi Kurds and Shi’ites paid a heavy price. In March 1991, protec! ted
zone in north Iraq, patrolled by US and British war planes was created
for the Iraqi Kurds, who even elected a parliament, which, of course,
never functioned properly. Barzani and Talabani, though, mostly run
almost autonomous administrations in their areas. This state of affairs
allowed the PKK a free run. Earlier, it had used the eight-year
Iran-Iraq war to stockpile arms.

It was Turkish President Turgut Ozal, who softened the rigors against
his own Kurds, when he publicly proclaimed in 1991 that there were 12
million Kurds in Turkey and allowed them to use Kurdish in speech and
music. Earlier, in 1989, he had acknowledged his Kurdish ancestry and
had thus ended the legal taboo on the use of word “Kurd” since 1924.
The Kurds were till 1989 called mountain Turks.

On this writer’s first visit! in 1969 to Diyarbakir, the biggest
Kurdish city, after checking into a hotel, as soon as he emerged he was
accosted by urchins singing Kurdish songs and muttering defiantly
“Kurdum Kurdum” (I am Kurd! I am Kurd! – but in Turkish). As late as
1979, when a former minister for public housing said that there were
Kurds in Turkey and that he himself was one, he was sentenced to two
years in prison. As the Kurds were barred from adopting Kurdish names,
many took on Arabic ones. Therefore, they found Turkish protests
hypocritical when Bulgaria forced its citizens of Turkish origin to
take on Bulgarian names in the late 1980s.

But not only Ozal but also many Turks remain fascinated with the dream
of “getting back” the Ottoman provinces of Mosul with Kirkuk now in
Iraq. They were originally included within the sacred borders of the
republic proclaimed in the National Pact of 1919 by Kemal Ataturk and
his comrades, who had started organizing resistance to fight for
Turkey’s independence from the occupying World War I victors. The
oil-rich part of the Mosul region was occupied by the British forces
illegally after the armistice and then annexed to Iraq, then under
British mandate, in 1925, much to Turkish chagrin.

Iraq was created by joining Ottoman Baghdad and Basra vilayats
(provinces). Kuwait ‘s kayamakan (sub-governor) came under Basra rule.
Later, two British agents, Sir Percy Cox for Iraq and Major John More
for Kuwait, drew the frontiers between them in 1923, which remains a
cause of perennial claims, tension and wars in the region. Kuwait was
known to have oil and Mosul had potential. Thus, control of oil
resources remains a perma! nent factor in the region. At the same time,
Turks remain equally apprehensive of an independent Kurdish state
evolving in north Iraq, which would act as a magnet for its own Kurds.
They would then intervene, they have said.

The Kurdish problem after the 1991 Gulf War

Attempts to even look at the Kurdish problem dispassionately mostly
came to naught. Unfortunately, Ozal, who had helped bring the problem
out into the open and might have found a solution, died in April 1993.
Soon after his death, the unilateral ceasefire by the PKK, tacitly
observed by the government, broke down when, in May 1993 and the
PKK-state violence increased. Of course there were many vested
interests, with considerable leakage of billions of dollars spent in
security operations against the Kurds. Scandals cropped up from time to
time. Like rebel movements elsewhere, the PKK was accused of funding
itself from the drug trade (also from donations, extortion and taxes in
Turkey and in Western Europe).

Because of Turkey’s continued importance for NATO, and the PKK’s
Marxist ideology and Soviet support, it remained anathema to many in
the US, but Europeans, especially with Kurdish populations, have been
more sympathetic to their plight. Europe also provided safe havens to
expelled and persecuted Kurdish MPs and others. Many Europeans,
parliamentarians and others extended vocal support to the Kurdish
cause, raising Turkish heckles.

Forming nearly 20 percent of the population, about 100 Kurds get
elected to the parliament, but their cause was not taken up by their
parties. They were not able to form a Kurdish party to politically
ventilate their grievances. Such attempts led to harassment of
parliament deputies, removal of their immunities, jailing and even
killings. Kurdish parties such as the HEP (Kurdish Labor Party), DEP
(Democracy Party) and HADEP (People’s Democracy Party) were obstructed
and suppressed. Their members harassed, jailed and even killed, with
radicals across the board setting the agenda discouraging any peaceful
and meaningful discussion in parliament or outside.

Since the early 1990s, attempts to explain the Kurdish viewpoint
through the media by newspapers like Ozgur Gundem (Free Agenda) Ozgur
Ulke (Free Country) and! others were stopped through harassment and
even murder of journalists and distributors, with connivance and help
from the establishment. Even the mainline media was punished for
writing about Kurds, their problems and even about mishandling of the
rebellion. When Urfa-born popular Kurdish singer Ibrahim Tatlisiz
complained that he could not sing in his mother tongue, he had hell to
pay. Kurds and even Turks, including famous writers like Yassar Kemal,
were harassed and imprisoned for writing about Kurds and their

Turkey goes for PKK’s jugular

Turkey’s determination to deal a hammer blow to the Kurdish rebellion
was brought to a head in late 1998 when it threatened war on Syria
unless it expelled Ocalan and the PKK who were given shelter by Syria
as a lever against Turkey for denial of its fair share of Euphrates
waters and irredentist claims over Hatay province.

After the collapse of the USSR, Syria’s patron and supplier of arms, a
weakened and isolated Syria expelled Ocalan, who first went to the
Russian Federation and then to Rome in sea! rch of asylum. Eventually
he was apprehended after leaving the Greek embassy in Nairobi on
February 16, 1999 by Turkish agents assisted by other countries,
including, perhaps, the US and Israel. His capture was followed by
violence and demonstrations in Turkey and European cities with Kurdish

Ocalan was tried and given the death verdict. At his trial, Ocalan,
instead of being defiant, promised peace and to bring down the PKK
fighters from the mountains. Awaiting a certain death sentence in a
glass cage, Ocalan’s performance was sober, dignified and consistent in
his defense. Apart from the 1993 conditional ceasefire, he had offered
the olive branch many times, including in 1994 and 1995. A court
commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment in October 2002.


Mountainous Kurdish lands with headwaters of Euphrates and Tigris and
birthplace of civilizations in the region became strategic locations
and disputed by Sunni Turkish Ottomans, Shia Persians Safavids and
Arabs and their predecessors and successors. Kashmir, next to the
underbelly of former Soviet Union, still adjoins China’s strategic
Xingjian and Tibet provinces. China also occupies Kashmir territory in
Ladakh. J&K also controls river waters of Punjabs (five waters) in
Pakistan and India. Other such strategic places nearby are Tajikistan,
Kyrgyzstan and Ferghana valley. This is what made Kashmir so important
for USA from 1950s to 1970s in West vs. USSR Cold War. But Henry
Kissinger’s visit to Beijing changed the situation some what. After
fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and movement of India towards USA,
Kashmir further lost its importance to USA. Of course USA, UK will use
it to squeeze whatever concessions they can from India. After 119 USA
has now established bases in Central Asia adjoining China and Russia,
so Kashmir is not that much valuable.

In the words of the greatest of the Sanskrit poets Kalidas, Kashmir is
“more beautiful than the heaven and is the benefactor of supreme bliss
and happiness.” The 19th century British historian Sir Walter Lawrence
said: “The valley is an emerald set in pearls; a land of lakes, clear
streams, green turf, magnificent trees and mighty mountains where the
air is cool, and the water sweet, where men are strong, and women vie
with the soil in fruitfulness.”

In ancient times, it was called “Kashyapamar” (after saint Kashyapa)
that later became Kashmir. The ancient Greeks called it “Kasperia,” and
the Chinese pilgrim Hiun-Tsang who visited the valley in the 7th
century AD, called it “Kashimilo.” The earliest recorded history of
Kashmir by its historian Kalhan begins at the time of the Mahabharata
war. In the 3rd century BC, emperor Ashoka introduced Buddhism in the
valley. Kashmir became a major hub of Hindu culture by the 9th century
AD. It was the birthplace of the Hindu sect called Kashmiri ‘Shaivism’,
Islam came in 14th century, when Hindu shrines were destroyed, and
Hindus were forced to embrace Islam. But major conversions were done by
Sufis, which remains i! ts core strength. The Mughals ruled Kashmir
from 1587 to 1752, followed by a dark period (1752-1819), of rule by
Afghan despots.

The Muslim period, which lasted for about 500 years, came to an end
with the annexation of Kashmir to the Sikh kingdom of Punjab in 1819.
At the end of the First Sikh War in 1846, by the treaties of Lahore and
Amritsar, the Hindu Dogra ruler of Jammu, was made the ruler of
Kashmir. Its boundaries were delimited by the British after
negotiations with Afghanistan and Russia. The crisis in Kashmir began
immediately after the British rule ended in 1947! , when a Pakistan led
and directed force of tribals invaded Kashmir. In accordance with the
Indian Independence act, which created Pakistan too, the Kashmiri ruler
acceded to India. India took the complaint to United Nations. But with
Pakistan joining the western side in the Cold War, Kashmir became a
pawn in the Cold War strategies and polemics.

The UN a resolution calling for a free and impartial plebiscite could
not be implemented because Pakistan did not comply with the resolution
calling on it to withdraw its forces from the state. In 1949, with the
intervention of the United Nations, India and Pakistan defined a
ceasefire line (“Line of Control”) that divided the two countries. In
September 1951, elections were held in J& K and the National Conference
under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah came to power, with the
inauguration of the Constituent Assembly, which re-affirmed the
accession of the State to India.

After the Pakistan attack in 1965, war broke out between India and
Pakistan. A cease-fire was established, and the two countries signed an
agreement at Tashkent in 1966, pledging to end the dispute by peaceful
means. After the 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh, Shimla
Agreement was signed in 1972 between the two countries. Both sides
agreed to resolve the problem bilaterally and peacefully. But after the
with drawl of USSR from! Afghanistan in end 1980s, the militants and
Jihadis fighting there were redirected by Pakistan into Kashmir.
Pakistan continues to stir up violence in India and in occupied Kashmir
trains and funds “Islamic guerrillas” that have waged a war of
separatism war since 1989, killing tens of thousands of people.
Pakistan always denied the charges, calling it an indigenous “freedom
struggle.” But even US Congress reports confirm Pakistani hand.

In 1999, intense fighting ensued between the infiltrators and the
Indian army in the Kargil area of J&K which lasted for more than two
months. Pakistan withdrew troops after intervention by US President
Bill Clinton. In end 2001, Pakistan-backed terrorists waged violent
attacks on the Kashmir Assembly and the Indian Parliament in New Delhi
leading to a serious war like situation. The situation stabilized after
President Gen Musharraf promised in a telecast in January 2002 that
Pakistan would not support jihadis on Pakistani controlled territory
.USA wants Pakistan which joined in its war on terror after 119 to
concentrate on catching Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaida! and Taleban
leaders, for which it needs peace on its eastern borders. India has
more or less acquiesced in.

A few months ago media exposed Israeli interference in north Iraq, with
the former providing training to Kurdish peshmarga militias and running
covert operations in neighboring countries like Syria and Iran, which
upset Turkey no end, hurting their close military relations. Israel
would prefer a weak and decentralized Iraq, if not a divided one. North
Iraqi Kurdish leaders still have a tribal, narrow short-term outlook.
Help from neighbours like Israel could backfire.

While the future of the Kurds in North Iraq remains uncertain, not much
is written about the problems of those in Iran, Syria (where,
instigated by the Israelis, they rebelled recently), in Caucasus and
beyond. Turkey’s Kurds have reached the stage of getting back their
identity, language and culture ,accepted after a bloody struggle since
almost the inception of the Turkish Republic. It was helped by Turkey’s
determination to join EU which brought about revolutionary changes in
its polity. But it needs watching.

Unlike the Kurds, who are a distinct people, Kashmiris are like the
rest of the people of India or Pakistan, mixed. Kashmiris have no
problems regarding their identity, language and culture in India’s
multicultural polity. Yes, the regimes in Delhi have not allowed the
young generation of Kashmiris to come up in politics from the grass
roots and join the mainstream like Yadavas and Lals of Hindi belt.
While efforts have been made to bring minorities (Christians) in North
East of India into mainstream, by encouraging political leaders! hip at
grass roots and reservations in civil services and education, such
steps have not been taken for Muslims of Kashmir in particular and
India in general.

There are some similarities between the career of Ocalan and Hizbul
Mujahaddin Commander Syed Salahddin aka Syed Yusuf Shah. The latter
took to rebellion when he was denied a legitimate role in political
life of the Valley. Frustrated, like others he became a rebel. Delhi
has tended to rely on a few Muslim families of Kashmir. A similar
tendency can be seen by many political parties in relying on a few
reliable Muslim individuals in India’s polity, who are recycled
regularly. Even after reservations for Other Backward Classes, similar
facility was not extended to the Muslims .In the Sub-Continent,
converts to Islam or Christianity maintain their caste hierarchy, so it
is ! not difficult to classify them.

Another important thing to remember is that the Kurds in Turkey and for
that matter Palestinians in Occupied Territories, while accepting
assistance from outsiders, have generally fought their own battles,
while the Kashmiris have allowed the outsiders to fight their battle
i.e. Pakistanis, Arabs and other Muslims and have become victims of the
latter’s agenda and interests. And finally without open and full
support from western nations, China and Muslim countries like Saudi
Arabia, apart from Pakistan; the Kashmir struggle would have been a
non-starter. But the outsiders then demand their pound of flesh.

(K Gajendra Singh, served as Indian Ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan
in 1992-96. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to Jordan (during
the 1990-91 Gulf war), Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman
of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies. The views expressed here
are his own.- [email protected])

This article was submitted to Al-Jazeerah.info by the author after it
had been published by