The Kurds, people without a state bombarded by Iran and Turkey

Turkish airstrikes are currently targeting Kurdish fighters in their strongholds in northern Iraq and Syria, following a November 13 attack in Istanbul, attributed by Ankara to Kurdish groups. Nearly 500 targets have been targeted by Turkish air force and artillery in these regions since Sunday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Wednesday. Tuesday evening, Turkish artillery bombardment focused in particular on the emblematic city of Kobané, a stronghold of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) taken over in 2015 from the jihadists of the Islamic State group with Western support, according to the Syrian Observatory of human rights. People without a State, the Kurds, a minority whose number is estimated between 25 and 35 million people, are mainly present in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran.

Turkey on Sunday launched Operation Sword Claw, a series of airstrikes since followed by sustained artillery fire against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and YPG positions. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also threatening to launch a ground operation in northern Syria. In Iraq, Iran is bombarding the Iranian Kurdish opposition in the north of the country, accusing it of encouraging the demonstrations that have shaken the Islamic Republic since the death in mid-September of the young Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini.

Read also: “We will do everything to defend our people”: Syrian Kurdistan prepares for a major attack

Anti-jihadist struggle

In Syria, the YPG militia has since 2014 been one of the main forces fighting the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) with air support from the international coalition led by the United States. In early 2015, Kurdish forces backed by the coalition drove ISIS out of Kobane, near the Turkish border. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of 25,000 Kurds and 5,000 Arabs, were created in October. Dominated by the YPG, they receive substantial help from Washington.

The SDF will chase ISIS from its stronghold of Raqa, then seize its last Syrian stronghold, Baghouz, in March 2019. In Iraq, Kurdish peshmerga fighters also took part in the fight against the jihadists.

Read also: After a series of raids, Turkey urged to hold back its blows in Syria

Divided between four countries

People of Indo-European origin, the Kurds descend from the Medes of ancient Persia, who founded an empire in the 7th century BC. Mostly Sunni Muslims, with non-Muslim minorities and often secular political formations, the Kurds are established on nearly half a million square kilometers. Their total number varies according to sources from 25 to 35 million people. The largest number live in Turkey (about 20% of the population). In Iraq, the Kurds represent 15 to 20% of the population, in Syria 15% and in Iran around 10%.

Settled in inland areas, they have been able to preserve their dialects, their traditions and a largely clan-based mode of organization. Large Kurdish communities also live in Azerbaijan, Armenia or Lebanon as well as in Europe, notably in Germany.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War had paved the way for the creation of a Kurdish state, provided for by the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920, located in eastern Anatolia and in Mosul province. But after Mustafa Kemal’s victory in Turkey, the Allies reversed their decision and, in 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne established the domination of Turkey, Iran, Great Britain (for Iraq) and France (for Syria) on Kurdish populations.

Also read: “The Kurdish cities of Iran are the first to have entered into turmoil”

Conflicts with central powers

Claiming the creation of a unified Kurdistan, the Kurds are perceived as a threat to the territorial integrity of the countries where they are settled. In Syria, the Kurds, who have suffered from decades of marginalization and oppression from the regime, adopt at the start of the conflict in 2011 a position of “neutrality” towards power and the rebellion. In 2016, they proclaimed the creation of a vast “federal region” in the North, made up of three cantons, attracting the enmity of opposition forces and the hostility of neighboring Turkey.

In Turkey, the conflict between the government and the PKK resumed in the summer of 2015, shattering hopes for a resolution of this crisis which has claimed more than 40,000 lives since 1984. Ankara has already carried out three military offensives. scale in Syria: in 2016 and early 2018 to repel IS jihadists and YPG fighters from its border, then in 2019 against Kurdish forces in the Northeast.

In Iraq, the Kurds persecuted under Saddam Hussein rose up in 1991 after the defeat of Baghdad in Kuwait and established de facto autonomy. Iraqi Kurdistan constitutes itself as an autonomous region according to the terms of the 2005 Constitution, which establishes a Federal Republic. In 2017, the Kurds voted for secession, against the advice of Baghdad and the international community. In retaliation, the central power sends its armored vehicles to take over the disputed areas.

In Iran, a harshly suppressed Kurdish uprising followed the 1979 Islamic revolution. The country has since clashed with Kurdish militants, who are using bases in Iraqi Kurdistan to carry out attacks in the country.

Read also: A relative of Mahsa Amini: “His death taught me not to be afraid anymore”

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