Kurdistan: an historical approach to understand the future

One of the most fascinating and deep cultures of the Middle Eastern area is the one belonging to the Kurdish tradition: a population with very ancient roots and a strong sense of identity, but who has a history made of continuous conquering attempts by the external powers coming from the outside, and a difficult present to deal with, considering the current fight for self-determination that started after World War I.

kurdistan map
The geographical position of Kurdistan

I would like to start addressing the ancient origins of this people, which is mentioned for the first time by Xenophon, a Greek historian and soldier, in his work “Anabasis” in 401 BC with the name “Carduchoi” (“Καρδούχοι” in Ancient Greek): he describes them as a population of warriors, enemies of the Persians and able to use bows and slings. Actually, some recent studies demonstrated that they dwelled the Zagros Mountains since the 2400 BC, fighting against the Sumerians, living in the close, fertile region of Mesopotamia. By the way, the first (effective) attempt of conquering the region was made by the Persians, during the reign of Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC) and, successively, Darius I (522- 486 BC).

Xenophon (431 – 354 BC)

Then, during the Hellenistic period (323-30 BC), the ancient land of “Corduene”, as it was called by Strabo, Greek geographer, previously confining with the immense Empire of Alexander the Great – whose death by the way marked the beginning of the above-mentioned period – was merged to the Seleucid Empire, becoming autonomous in the II Century BC, even if as vassal state of the Parthians. Important is also the alliance with the Roman Republic in 66 BC, which lasted until the 4th century AD, when Rome was a declining Empire, about to topple in less than 100 years.

An old photo of Lake Van, in the western part of the region

This introduction with a historical approach was meant to understand the past of this people and of this land, characterized by, as I said before, incessant attacks that threatened several times the safety of the ancestors of the Kurds. Moreover, one of the reasons at the basis of this situation is also related to the geographical position of the region they dwelled (and still dwell): Kurdistan, being in the middle between Europe and Asia, has always been a crossroads among different civilizations, creeds, religions, and so forth. Controlling this area (and the surroundings as well), meant to have access to three seas: the Mediterranean, most important waterway of the ancient era; the Black Sea, and the Caspian Sea.

zagros mountains
A wonderful canyon in the Zagros Mountains, in the Iraqi Kurdistan

And that’s why, also in the following centuries, the land of Corduene was fragmented in many different states, often controlled by external powers. It’s important to remark that this was also the period of the conversion of the Kurdish people to Islam, since some sources confirm the presence of Khalifs. This does not mean of course that Kurds identify themselves with the Arab world: their culture and tradition, instead, clearly states that their position is closer to the Persian tradition, as confirmed by their language, which is a variant of Farsi.

The first attestation of the term “Kurdistan” comes from an Armenian document of the 12th century, where the suffix “-stan” stands for “region” in the Persian language, and since this moment the land acquired the name with which is also known today. Years and years of battles and struggles were about to mark the future of Kurdistan: in 1514, after the battle of Chaldiran, the territory was divided between the Safavid and the Ottoman Empire, with the latter slowly but constantly getting control of more and more pieces of territory, also thanks to its “inclusive” policy, which allowed the populations conquered a certain autonomy, up until World War I (1914 – 1918), when the Empire itself was dissolved, and the Kurds remained with no land. Significant were the Treaties of Sevres (1920) and Lausanne (1923), that split the Kurdish area among 4 states: Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Despite the incessant requests of the Kurdish delegates, the opportunity of self-determination was strictly denied to this people.

It’s only in 1992 that, in the northern area of Iraq inhabited by the Kurds, a first autonomous region was established. The Kurdish people had for the first time the opportunity to rule over themselves, having their own Parliament and also their own flag, which is worth mentioning because it contains the entire essence of the Kurds: it is composed of three horizontal stripes of three different colors (red, white and green, respectively representing blood and suffering of the Kurdish people throughout the history, pureness of thought and the vegetation that sprinkles the Zagros mountains) with a shining yellow sun in the middle having 21 rays. Why 21? Because it represents the spring equinox (which happens on the 21st March), that, in the Kurdish culture is the symbol of rebirth and indeed it is considered as the beginning of the new year.

kurds flag
The Kurdish flag

Shining is also the courage of the Peshmerga that, independently from the political opinion about the matter that each of us can have, it deserves to be recognized: they are the military forces of Kurdistan Başūr (Southern Kurdistan, the one belonging to Iraq), currently fighting in Syria and many other territories. Their goal, common to all the other 40 million Kurds living in the different states, is to see the establishment of a new independent country: the Kurdish one. Among them, there are many young men and women who strongly want this dream to be realized, in order to live in a better environment, their environment, where they can be free to take choices and decide for themselves.

peshmerga (1)
Some Peshmergas with the Kurdish flag.

The recent events in the geopolitical field (especially after the fall of the last ISIS bastion of some days ago, thanks to the Democratic Syrian Forces) are maybe suggesting that this can happen in the immediate future or in the next years… Whether it may happen or not, there is only one certain thing: after all this struggle, Kurdistan is a reality that cannot be ignored, and which – given the ancient tradition of the people inhabiting this area – deserves recognition by the international environment, and – ultimately – freedom.

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