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There have been several diaries lately about the Kurds and the Turkish border, Kirkuk, the debacle in Iraq; some of these diaries well sourced, others, not so much...  

But, who are the Kurds?  Who are these Middle Eastern people that have both men and women in their army?  Who are these mountain warriors that their neighbors refer to as the 'best fighters in the Middle East'?  Who are these ancient people whom claim descent from the Biblical Medes?

Since it's a good idea to know who we (the American people) are doing business with, I thought I'd put in my two cents based on actual experience; time I've spent with the Kurds and the seven years of research I've done about them for a book I am working on.  It's a long diary, but they're an ancient people, so, forgive me if there's a lot to say.

More below the fold...

There have been diaries that explore the Kurdish situation in Iraq and Kurdish history.  I have not had time to read them all, so I don't know if there were any that addressed the nature of the Kurdish people, their personalities, their politics, their founding history, their activities to address the more difficult aspects of the situation in which they now find themselves.  

That is what I am attempting to do here.  

My reason for this; not only on DKos, but in the west overall, it that Kurds are not well understood and yet, they are, for all intents and purposes, our partners in the Middle East (unless/until we mess that up...).

Historical Identity

The Kurds are the original Aryans (a term absconded by the Nazis, much like they stole the swastika from the Hindus). It means to be of noble birth; an Indo-European-Iranian people, not Semitic (Arab) or Turkish.  

Note: The name Iran also comes from Aryan; it means to be of Aryan birth.

To explore the nature of the Kurds, it is important to understand this sense of nobility; the pride with which they claim (and are most probably correct) descent from a people who used to run the world in the seventh and sixth century, BCE.  These were the biblical Medes, the original Aryan (Indo-European) people of the Zagros Mountains.  

Think about that.  What would it be like to be a people whose history extends back to ruling the largest empire of the pre-Persian age and have no one know about it?  To be able, in many cases, to trace your own lineage back to those times?  To know that, when Saddam Hussein gassed Halabja in 1988, many of the thousands of peoples he killed were descended from kings, generals, Magi (the Zoroastrian priests of the Medes).

That's right.  The Magi, the three wise men from the Bible.  They were Medes, as was Cyrus the Great (half-Mede), and Saladin (by then, they were called Kurds), the ruler who defeated Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade.

Now, were the Kurds only Medes, this noble aryan lineage?  Not exclusively.  They can also trace back to the Hurrians, an indigenous people from Turkey and a tribe from the Zagros Mountain region near modern day Kirkuk (and this is key) called the Gutii or Cadusii (or both).

Who, by the way, were hard to defeat, as recorded by Xenophon.  You just couldn't get them out of the Zagros Mountains if they didn't want to go.

Sort of like the Kurds today.

But defeat wasn't part of the equation in the seventh century BCE.  They were the rulers of the Median Empire after they allied with Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (hanging gardens' fame) and overthrew the Assyrian empire.

A semantic irony:  The Kurds, the original Aryans, ended up allied with the Israelites after the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pilasar III took the ten (lost) tribes of Israel captive and resettled them, according to the Bible, in the land of the Madai (the Medes).  

So, what does the historical alliance say about the Sunni Kurds?  These ancient people who do not carry prejudice toward Jews, toward Shi'a, toward Christians, toward anyone?

To understand it, it's best to go back to their source religion, Zoroastrianism, a faith based on tolerance toward and influence of other faiths:  

Zoroastrianism is uniquely important in the history of religion because of its possible formative links to both Western Abrahamic and Eastern Dharmic religious traditions.

Some scholars assert that key concepts of Zoroastrian eschatology and demonology are evident in the Abrahamic religions, for instance in the Asmodai of Judaism. However, Iranologists also tell us that Zoroastrianism inherited ideas from other belief systems.  As such, Zoroastrianism, like other practiced religions, revealed or otherwise, was not immune to syncretism.

For example, one of the popular strains within Zoroastrianism considers both good and evil as creations of God. According to some historians, this is a doctrine that influenced Christianity and notwithstanding the great deal of exposition in order to not compromise Zoroaster's otherwise coherent concept of Free Will, has a widespread following.

It is said that Kurds hold their Islam with a "light touch."  This was exhibited during an interview with the Kurdish police chief in Kirkuk, where he laughed off a question about whether the ethnic divides in Kirkuk were religious in nature.

He replied, "I am a Kurd, we were Yazidi, we were Zoroastrian, we do not ask what anyone believes.  I may be Sunni, but I am a Kurd."

For Kurds, their Zoroastrian roots are not far from the surface and the idea of judging another by their religion is as foreign to them as giving up their traditional nightly whiskey for Islam.

They are Kurds first and Sunnis or Christians or Yazidis or Zoroastrians or Jews or Alevi or Zaza...; those are all different religious and/or tribal groups within the wider Kurdish historical identity, and this sense of historical identity lives within every Kurd I have ever met, all of whom are Kurdish first.  

This is best demonstrated in their most treasured poem, written by Cigerxwin (which means: the bleeding heart), a pseudonym for Sheikmous Hasan, the great Kurdish poet who was forced into exile from his native Turkey in 1925.

Who am I?

Who am I, you ask ?
The Kurd of Kurdistan,
a lively volcano,
fire and dynamite
in the face of enemy.
When furious,
I shake the mountains,
the sparks of my anger
are death to my foes.
Who am I ?


I am the proud Kurd,
the enemies' enemy,
the friend of peace-loving ones.
I am of noble race,
not wild as they claim.
My mighty ancestors
were free people.
Like them I want to be free
and that is why I fight
for the enemy won't leave in peace
and I don't want to be forever oppressed.
Who am I ?

The poem has many stanzas.  The last is particularly telling:

I am not blood thirsty;
no, I adore peace.
Noble were my ancestors;
sincere are my leaders,
We don't ask for war but demand equality
but our enemies are the ones who betray and lie.
Friendship I seek and offer my hands
to all friendly nations.
Long live Kurdistan;
death to the oppressor!
Who am I?

Here's that verse in Kurdish (Kurmanji; they have multiple dialects):

Ne xwînxwar im ez haþtî xwaz im ez,
Serdarê meye gernas û nebez.
Em þer naxwazin,
Divên wekhevî,
Em paþ ve naçin,
Dijmin direvî!..
Ji bo mirovan em tev dost û yar
Bijî Kurdistan, bimrî koledar!
Kîme ez?

Friendship I seek and offer my hands to all friendly nations.

And then...

Death to the oppressor.

If that doesn't illustrate the duel nature of the Kurds....  They want peace, they crave it, they are near secular by nature (remember:  Kurds hold their religion with a light touch), drawn to democracy, struggling to reach an equality of the sexes that their original religion (Zoroastrianism) promoted, though they would be the first to admit they're still working on that, and, in the spirit of optimism, the Iraqi Kurds are heavily investing in their infrastructure in the middle of the chaos that has yet to cross their border, thanks to the efficiency and fierce reputation of the Peshmerga who guard the lands.

You see, no one wants to fight the Iraqi Kurds, not the Sunni (many Kurds are Sunni), not the Shi'a, whom have formed a coalition with them, not Turkey (more on that later) or Iran.

That's because, for all their civility, the Kurds have a dark side; that "death to the oppressor" part, which is manifested in the ancient practice of blood feud.  Kill my brother and I will kill anyone you might even be related to, through all your generations until your kind no longer exists.

And they mean that.

But, could they carry out such a threat?

The answer requires an understanding of:

Kurdish demographics

Just how many Kurds are there?  What makes them, this may come as a surprise, the world's largest stateless minority?

This table may help:

CountryEstimated PopulationSource
Turkey14,941,800CIA factbook
Iran6,250,000CIA factbook
Iraq3,994,200-5,325,600CIA factbook
Syria1,619,000-1,904,600CIA factbook
Israel150,000wiki (Kurdish Jews)
Lebanon80,000Kurdish Institute
Sub Total Asia26,226,500-27,840,500
Germany500,000-600,000Kurdish Institute
France100,000 - 120,000Kurdish Institute
Netherlands70,000 - 80,000Kurdish Institute
Switzerland60,000 - 70,000Kurdish Institute
Belgium50,000 - 60,000Kurdish Institute
Austria50,000 - 60,000Kurdish Institute
Sweden25,000 - 30,000Kurdish Institute
United Kingdom20,000 - 25,000Kurdish Institute
Greece20,000 - 25,000Kurdish Institute
Denmark8,000 - 10,000Kurdish Institute
Norway4,000 - 5,000Kurdish Institute
Italy3,000 - 4,000Kurdish Institute
Finland2,000 - 3,000Kurdish Institute
Sub Total Europe 912,000 - 1,092,000
United States15,000 - 20,000Kurdish Institute
Canada6,000 - 7,000Kurdish Institute
Sub Total North America21,800 - 27,000
Grand Total*27,156,500 - 28,959,200(*Does not include Australia)

So, according to the estimates on this table, which, I believe, are underestimated, we're talking almost 30 million Kurds worldwide, with the most in:


Where they are, according to the EU, severely oppressed -- a situation the must improve dramatically if Turkey hopes to gain EU membership.  

Some improvements that have come through the initial EU requirements:

  • Removal of the ban on three letters that are in the Kurdish alphabet (x,w,q - not used in Turkish).  Try printing a textbook without three letters...
  • Removal of the ban on Kurdish names (they could not register their children)
  • Removal of the ban on the Kurdish language being spoken over airwaves (radio and television) and in parliament.

Well, you get the idea...

In response to EU pressure, the bans have been lifted, but, like with voter registration in the '50's south, not all officials have gotten the memo.  

Also, southeastern Turkey (the Kurdish region) is devastatingly poor and, because of the infiltration of the PKK, the Kurds there caught in an increasingly abusive vise between the Turkish authorities and the PKK.  

Suffice to say, there are many Kurds in Turkey who are aching for the freedom and prosperity they see blossoming across the border.

The second largest population:  


Kurds are the third most important ethnic group in Iran after the Persians and Azarbaijanis and account for about 9 percent of the total population. They are concentrated in the Zagros Mountain area along the western frontiers with Turkey and Iraq and adjacent to the Kurdish populations of both those countries. Most of the rural Kurds retain a tribal form of social organization.

The majority of both rural and urban Kurds in West Azarbaijan and Kordestan practice Sunni Islam. There is more diversity of religious practice in southern Kurdish areas, especially in the Bakhtaran area, where many villagers and townspeople follow Shia beliefs. Schismatic Islamic groups, such as the Ahl-e Haqq and the Yazdis, both of which are considered heretical by orthodox Shias, traditionally have had numerous adherents among the Kurds of the Bakhtaran region. A tiny minority of Kurds are adherents of Judaism.

The Kurds have manifested an independent spirit throughout modern Iranian history, rebelling against central government efforts to restrict their autonomy during the Safavid, Qajar, and Pahlavi periods. The most recent Kurdish uprising took place in 1979 following the Revolution...Intense fighting between government forces and Kurdish guerrillas occurred from 1979 to 1982, but since 1983 the government has asserted its control over most of the Kurdish area.

The Kurdish population of Iran has become an infiltrating culture.  Because they are also Indo-European ancestry, it is difficult for Iranian officials to tell loyal from spy.

Also, the Iranian Kurds practice an equality of the sexes not seen in any other part of Iran.  It is rumored that Iranian women are joining the Iranian Kurds as a way to get out from under the veil.    

It should be noted that the anger the Iranian Kurds feel toward the current regime is exacerbated by the fact that the Kurds believe the current president, Ahmedinejad, was the assassin who went to Europe in '78 or '79 and killed the exiled Iranian Kurdish leader.

They hate him.

The third:


Now free, Iraqi Kurdistan is navigating between a new reality as the potential tipping point for peace or war in the Middle East.

Only the Kurds don't see those borders.  A Kurd is a Kurd is a Kurd, whether s/he is in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria (see demographic list above) and this map of the Median Empire (historical Kurdistan) -- prior to the British having carved it up post WWI (a fine mess), with the only divisions between them: allegiance to tribe, clan or group.  

In the world of the Kurds that breaks down to the following:

Kurdish Clans and Militias

The Talabanis/PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan):

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan claims to be working for self-determination, human rights, democracy and peace for the Kurdish people of Iraq.  The Secretary General is Jalal Talabani, who is also the current president of Iraq.

The PUK was a coalition of five separate political entities that united under the leadership of Jalal Talabani also known to Kurds as Mam ("Uncle") Jalal.  The PUK received grassroots support from the urban intellectual classes of Iraqi Kurdistan upon its establishment, this was partly due to 13 of its 15 founding members being PhD holders and academics.

Originally, the party was a leftist political movement which has progressively moved towards the center ground and has now become a social democratic party and an associate member of Socialist International.

The party has its wings in every part of Kurdistan, the KDPI (KDP of Iran), in Syria (Al Party), in Turkey (PDK-Bakur) and even in Lebanon.

The PUK ran into some alleged corruption scandals between the two gulf wars (the no-fly zone years), with some of their high level members allegedly manipulating land deals for profit.  It is unknown if these issues continue under the new regime.  

Recently, there was a large oil field discovered near Suleymaniyah, which falls under the Talabani clan's sphere of influence.  The PUK and the KDP (see below) have formed a joint government and co-rule Iraqi Kurdistan, with Jalal Talabani as the President of Iraq and Mesud Barzani as the President of the Kurdish Regional Government.

There are many members of the Talabani clan in positions of power, with Jalal's relatives in what is equivalent to ambassadorial posts in various world capitals, London, etc, with the most influential, the Kurdish representative to Washington, being Jalal's youngest son, Qubad Talabani, who may be the heir apparent to his father's position of power.

The Barzanis/KDP (Kurdish Democratic Party):

The Kurdish Democratic Party of Iraq was founded by Mustafa Barzani, the legendary Kurd who fought numerous revolts against Baghdad with success. It was established in Iranian Kurdistan in 1946.

Rebelling against the Iraqi government in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, the KDP became perhaps the single most influential Iraqi anti-Saddam group. Its Peshmerga, or militia fighters, were able to operate with relative impunity in the no-fly zone of northern Iraq.

The KDP has jointly administered northern Iraq (which the Kurds call the free Kurdistan, because of its semi-independent status).

The KDP is the leading party in the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil.  Their leader, Mesud Barzani, is currently the President of Iraqi Kurdistan (the Kurdistan Regional Government). His son is the Prime Minister, with other clan members in similar positions of authority and the main body of the Peshmerga forces (the Kurdish Militia) reporting to them.  

Note: there is a possibility that there are many more Peshmerga than they say and there may be additional militias loyal to the KDP (Talabani Clan), with its offshoots in Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey.

There was a scare recently when an Austrian Kurd accused (never proven) one of the Barzani clan of being a Russian agent.  Whether this is true or not, the Barzani clan maintains a strong control over the KRG (Kurdish Regional Government regions; their base as Irbil and the Talabani's as Suleymaniyah, with many businesses owned or controlled by one clan or the other (a visitor once reported every gas station between the Turkish border and Irbil has belonging to one or the other).

Layers within layers when you're dealing with the Kurds.

The PKK (Turkish Kurdish Worker's Party):

AKA Kongra-Gel, Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK), Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK):

From Global Security Org:  Established in 1974 as a Marxist-Leninist insurgent group primarily composed of Turkish Kurds, by the late 1990s the PKK had moved beyond rural-based insurgent activities to include urban terrorism. The PKK sought to set up an independent Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey, where there is a predominantly Kurdish population.

Since 1984 the separatist PKK waged a violent terrorist insurgency in southeast Turkey, directed against both security forces and civilians, almost all of them Kurds, whom the PKK accuses of cooperating with the State. The government of Turkey in turn waged an intense campaign to suppress PKK terrorism, targeting active PKK units as well as persons they believe support or sympathize with the PKK. In the process, both government forces and PKK terrorists committed human rights abuses against each other and noncombatants. According to the Government, from 1984 through November 1997, 26,532 PKK members, 5,185 security force members, and 5,209 civilians lost their lives in the fighting.

The head of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, was captured in Kenya in February 1999. The PKK observed a cease-fire since September 1999, although there have been occasional clashes between Turkish military units and some of the 4,000-5,000 armed PKK militants, and, lately, an increase in violence, including several bombings of tourist sites withing Turkey, with responsibility claimed by the PKK; most of whom currently are encamped in northern Iraq.

The PKK has been declared a terrorist organization by the EU and the US.  Turkey has stationed ~250,000 soldiers on the Turkish/Iraqi border and is rumored to be conducting cross border raids in an effort to clear them out.

Such an operation is complicated by three specific risks:

  1. If the Turks become too heavy handed with the PKK, they could inspire the Peshmerga, who currently do not openly support the PKK (the have chased them out of Iraqi Kurdistan in the past), to help them.
  2.  If the Iraqi Kurds declare independence (unlikely, at this point), the Turks may cross the border to keep them from inspiring their own Kurds to do the same (and, of course, there's all that oil there).
  3. It is rumored that there may be Turkish/Kurdish refugees living in or near the PKK camps; noncombatants who are there to escape Turkish oppression.  If that is the case and fighting creates a risk to that population, the Peshmerga may react to defend fellow Kurds.

The PJAK (Iranian Kurdish Guerrilla Movement):

The Iranian Kurdish militia probably numbers less than 1,000 in Qandil and thousands more underground in Iran. It recruits female guerrillas and boasts that its cruelest and fiercest fighters are Iranian women drawn to the movement's radical feminism.

"Ahmadinejad does not respect the Sunnis. He thinks they are agents of Israel and the USA," says PJAK spokesman Ihsan Warya, an ex-lawyer from Kermanshah. (Most Kurds are Sunni). Warya nevertheless points out that PJAK really does wish it were an agent of the United States, and that they're disappointed that Washington hasn't made contact.

The Peshmerga (Kurdish Armed Militia):

Falling under the leadership of the KDP and the PUK (they each have their own historical forces), the Peshmerga, a Kurdish compound word that means "Those who face death," rumored to be between 100,000-190,000 strong (which means they may be much larger), are considered one of the most disciplined and effective fighting forces in the Middle East.  

These are well trained mountain fighters, both women and men (the women are considered some of the best amongst them), whom have effectively secured the border of Iraqi Kurdistan, allowing it to flourish amid the chaos of what, otherwise, is Iraq.

And what is it that the Peshmerga are protecting?

The Rebuilding and Development of Iraqi Kurdistan:

ABC News video link:  Where things stand in Northern Iraq (amazing report).

There is an Iraqi real estate developer in Irbil who has sunk over 1 billion dollars (billion with a b) into a combination mall and office park that will end up being the biggest in the Middle East:

Enjoying the Relative Peace in Northern Iraq

ABC News

Nizar Hana dreams big. Really big. Eleven million square feet, 8,000 shops and 4,000 offices, all in one complex. In Iraq.

His friends back in Beirut, where he lives, initially thought he was crazy. But the first phase of his Nishtiman complex has been completed. It opened in February in the predominantly Kurdish northern city of Irbil, and nobody is laughing at him anymore. "Some of them decided to come in, too," Hana says , laughing...

One can walk through Irbil or Sulaymaniyah and, for the most part, feel completely safe.  There is no required veil for women, it is not a Kurdish custom; although there are some Kurds in outlying villages who do practice, much to the dismay of the very independent Kurdish women (and they are very independent) in the cities.

There are kids on skateboards, there are girls and boys in schools; the people are happy, excited about their future and protected from the chaos by their disciplined and efficient army (Peshmerga) and a huge trench that has been dug as a barrier between Irbil and Iraq to the south.  

If a car wants to get into Iraqi Kurdistan, they have to go through a Peshmerga checkpoint.  

There's no other way around.

Which has led to significant investment into Iraqi Kurdistan by international venture capitalists.  In addition, they just opened a 300 million dollar international airport with runways long enough for the world's largest planes.

To say that there is a spirit of optimism in Iraqi Kurdistan would be an understatement.

The View From the Border

It's not difficult to see why the dispossessed Kurds of Turkey would look across the border of Iraqi Kurdistan with longing or why the Turks themselves might see that as a threat.  The Turkish Kurds are a minimum 20% of Turkey's entire population.  If they declare independence, that means civil war; something none of Turkey's neighbors (they're bordered by everybody...) nor its allies and trading partners (US, Nato, EU, Russia), nor its drug mafia (lots of Afghan opium going through there), can afford.

Nor can the Iraqi Kurds.  That's the key to this.  They have peace, they have a negotiating position to work from because of the oil in their territory and they have a bargaining chip to offer.

The nature of this chip?

Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey

A (very) little history: (please see this link for more)

As mentioned, the PUK (Talabani) and KDP (Barzani) have, in the past, chased the PKK out of their territory after negotiations with the Turks.

4 October 1992, the Kurdish government in Erbil: "PKK should either withdraw from the border bases or be expelled.

And from this article in 2003:

Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul is claiming that American forces have clashed with PKK/KADEK forces in northern Iraq.

..."It is true that clashes took place yesterday," Gul has said. "Not only U.S. forces but also Kurdish 'peshmerga' fighters were involved in engaging the PKK. Some U.S. helicopters were also deployed.

A Kurdish friend was visiting a Peshmerga camp during that period.  He was surprised to find the Pêşmerge were cleaning their weapons in anticipation of a battle with the PKK.  When he asked them why they were doing it, their commander replied "Ez ĥes ji partî demokratî dikim (I like the Democratic Party)."

They have other well known sayings in Kurdistan:  "Kurds have no friends but the mountains" and "Leşkerê Kurdî bi hêz e, (Kurdish soldiers are strong)".

The two sayings are intertwined.  As mentioned above, the Peshmerga are mountain guerillas with a long history of warfare.  They are stronger than the PKK and, frankly, one of the reasons you don't see the Sunni/Shi'a violence spilling over the Kurdî border.

The Problem of Kirkuk:

Kirkuk is the sticking point of any agreement with the Kurds.  To them, it's their Jerusalem.  They want it and the Turks and the Shi'a and the Sunni and the Turkmen, etc, don't want them to have it -- exclusively, at least.

Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey made that clear on this Dec. 19th Newshour interview.

Erdogan:  You speak of the more peaceful north. Well, the north, there are also some issues there, as well. For example, in the city of Kirkuk, the demographics of the city are being changed, and that is like a bomb that is ticking to explode.

There are Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds who live in that area, and the demographics must reflect the situation as it is. And Kirkuk must be granted a special status based on its historical background.

There is a referendum that is planned for 2007, and I don't think the referendum results will be very positive. And, in my opinion, the referendum must be postponed.

So he's put his terms forward.  Which is useful to the U.S., and not just because of the demographics.  It has to do with this oil find in Iraqi Kurdistan.

So, now the western oil interests have a self-interest reason to need a stable Kurdistan.

When Erdogan puts forward an ultimatum:  Try to keep Kirkuk and you're screwed, he's not doing that in a vacuum.

Kurdish political activities:

The guy to watch in all of this is the son of the current president of Iraq, Qubad Talibani:

Christopher Allbritton:  Qubad Jalal Talabani, the deputy representative for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Washington -- which has had sometimes warmer, sometimes cooler relations with the PKK -- told me via email:

There is much talk about US-Turkey action towards the PKK, but in reality, the US are already fighting a war on a few fronts (Al-Qaeda, Ansar, Saddam loyalists etc). The last thing would want to do is open another front. Secondly, the US and the Kurds (Iraqi), are on a very new and different playing field, in terms of the respect that each shows the other. The US would never do such actions with first consulting, and second receiving permission, from us. Our advice to the US and to Turkey has always been, the PKK are tired, regardless of what some idiots from within them think, the majority of them are ready to lay down their arms and go back to their homes. If the US can pressure Turkey into providing them with an amnesty (a real one!) then this problem will be resolved.

So... There's a Kurdish response.  Find a way to bring the Turkish PKK  home.  Is he trying to help the PKK?  Perhaps.  Either way, it puts the onus on the PKK if they don't stop their terrorism.

In which case, they may just face the Kurdish Peshmerga (those best fighters in the regions) clearing out the PKK sometime in the near future, and/or turning a blind eye as Turkish forces perform cross-border raids to do just that.

There is also talk of the U.S. -- when they pull out of Iraq proper -- establishing bases on the Turkish/Kurdish border...another reason to clear the PKK out:

MARGARET WARNER: ...There are also ideas of moving American troops up to the more peaceful Kurdish area near the border with Turkey.

What would you say should be the U.S. military posture, say, in the next six months to a year?

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: The world must be prepared for the future in Iraq. And that's what must be carefully planned, based on the experiences that exist, and it must be done by seeking wise counsel.

And by doing that, and if such a road map is prepared based on a consensus, including the views and the opinions of the neighboring countries, this will help the people in Iraq to feel more secure about their future.

So, the question becomes: Will the Kurds help themselves to keep the peace?  

Given the:

  • The discovery of a large oil field in their area and the new leverage that gives the Kurds.
  • The clear statement from Erdogan regarding Kirkuk, the PKK and the hint above that he would not have a problem with U.S. troops on his border (he's stated elsewhere he'd welcome them)
  • The U.S. as appointed a special envoy for "countering the PKK," Joseph Ralston.
  • Qubad Talibani, Kurdish heir appearant, just married an American socialite (here's her govt bio), and lives, for the most part, in the U.S.
  • The U.S., the EU and almost everyone else as declared the PKK a terrorist entity.

From that point of view: The PKK are the ones looking lonely.  The hotspots to watch - vis-a-vis Turkey and Iraq are: Kirkuk, the overall volatility of Iraq, whether the U.S. puts their bases within Kurdistan, and, if they don't, what the Turks do to fill the void.

Either way, the Iraqi/Kurdish border is, so far, secure, and the Turkish/Kurdish border is one place in the Middle East where active diplomacy, albeit behind the scenes, seems to be taking place, partially because the Iraqi Kurds have too much to lose if they get involved in a conflict with Turkey and because Qubad Talabani is married to the woman who is one of the executives of the administration's Millennium Challenge Corporation; which means he is, like many ambassadors, well acquainted with all the Washington power players needed to effectively represent his people and to move the administration to action where they might not otherwise be cognizant of the need.

Iraqi Refugees

The Iraqi Kurds have been very sensitive to the plight of the Iraqi refugees.  They are, by nature, a generous people, as evidenced by the many Shi'a, Sunni, Christian and other sects they've taken in from Iraq proper; those who were running for their lives and have now made it to Iraqi Kurdistan:

From an ABC report:

This relative security proves increasingly attractive to other Iraqis. Many are moving up here to settle down and work, particularly those with high skills, like doctors and engineers. There is a new industry in Kurdistan of private medical clinics, staffed almost entirely by doctors from Baghdad.

Iraq's small Christian community — about 2 percent of the population before the 2003 invasion, probably less now — is increasingly moving north, too, escaping the violence in the big cities.

So, the Iraqi Kurds are showing they'll take Iraqi refugees in.  However, they might not be so accommodating to their own Turkish/Kurdish brethren, because, at 14 million plus, an influx of the Turkish Kurds over the border could not only strain them to the breaking point, it would be perceived as a threat to Turkey's sovereignty.

All this adds up to the fact that the Iraqi Kurds are walking a tightrope while they enjoy their sparkling cities and Newroz picnics and their nightly whiskey and proceed with their customary dignity and grace, while putting pretty fiery rhetoric on their websites about the Turks and, at the same time, sending messages like that email from Qubad Talabani, offering everyone a way out.

Kirkuk (the spanner in the works):

Kirkuk has great historical significance to the Kurds.  In addition to being their historical founding city (they refer to it as their Jerusalem), it holds many historical monuments, including one of the two sites purported to be Daniel (as in the Lion's Den)'s tomb.

From the Wiki:

Originally the city was founded by Hurrian-related Zagros-Taurus dwellers who were known as Karda (Kurds), Qurtie or Guti by lowland-dwellers of Southern Mesopotamia.  Ancient Kirkuk named Arraphkha, was capital of Kingdom of Gutium which is mentioned in cuneiform records about 2400 BC, and roughly corresponds to much of Kurdistan.

But Kirkuk is also considered an historical city to Sunnis, as is it the origin of the Tikriti tribe (Saddam's tribe).

The Turkmen also claim historical significance.

A disputed city, but, until 1975, one where people, for the most part, got along until you shoot ahead to Saddam Hussein, and the picture changes:

In 1975, the Iraqi government embarked on a sweeping campaign to "Arabize" Kirkuk.  Arab tribes from southern Iraq were enticed to move to the north with government benefits and offers of housing. Uprooted Kurdish and Turkmen farmers were sent to new homes in rudimentary government-controlled camps along the main highways.

Some were forcibly relocated to the flat and desolate landscapes of southern Iraq, including thousands of refugees from the Barzani tribal areas who returned from Iran in late 1975 under a general amnesty.

In November 1975, an Iraqi official acknowledged that some fifty-thousand Kurds had been deported to the southern districts of Nasiriya and Diwaniya, although the true figure was almost certainly higher. According to some other sources, 1,400 Kurdish villages were razed and around 600,000 Kurds were forcibly transferred to collective towns.

Following Saddam's overthrow, in 2003, the Kurds flocked back to Kirkuk to reclaim their homes.  Arabs who had been given their properties were evicted in a reversal of the original act by Hussein; which continued until a provincial council was put in place that had representatives from all the different ethnic groups.  Since then, Kirkuk has been divided in two; half for the Kurds, an area that is relatively peaceful and half for the Arabs and Turkmen, which is been subject to violence.  This is further exacerbated by a recent resumption of Arab evictions, which some speculate could be a prelude to an attempted annexation, by Iraqi Kurdistan, of Kirkuk, which is currently just outside their border.

A dangerous move, if they take it, though nothing compared to the violence that has the potential to erupt regarding:

The Oil:

In 1927 a huge oil gusher was discovered at Baba Gurgur near Kirkuk. The Kirkuk oil field was brought into use by the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) in 1934 and has ever since remained the basis of northern Iraqi oil production with over ten billion barrels (1.6 km³) of proven remaining oil reserves as of 1998. After about seven decades of operation, Kirkuk still produces up to one million barrels a day, almost half of all Iraqi oil exports.

When you hear the Nancy Pelosi or John Murtha or various Bushies say that Iraq must share their oil revenues, they are talking about Kirkuk and the oil fields in the Shi'a region to the south.  

That is the sticking point.  Is the Kurd's interest in Kirkuk dynastic or monopolistic?  If the former, then it is possible that a land use deal can be worked out with the oil revenues shared.

If it is about the oil, then that becomes a much bigger conundrum.

However, there is that new oil field near Suleymaniyah, clearly inside Iraqi Kurdistan.  More room to argue, more revenues to share without loss of assumed eventual income.  A key factor to watch, as well.

What can't be discounted is the historical significance of Kirkuk to the Kurds.  

When they refer to it as their Jerusalem, they are giving an accurate representation of what the disputed city of Kirkuk means to them, to the Arabs and to the Turkmen.  It is their founding city.  If they cannot work out a way to have a majority Kurdish presence, it could lead to conflict.

However, given how much the Kurds have at stake, I am hopeful they will practice their customary pragmatism and work out a deal.  Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but, given what's at stake, a bit of positive affirmation might be a good thing.

I say this because the situation with the Kurds is the potential tipping point to a wider war.  Remember those demographics?  There are (minimum) 30 million Kurds.  If the Kurds get involved in a war, many will come home to fight at their side; they love Kurdistan; they will protect it.

If that turns into a war with Turkey, then you have all the different Middle Eastern countries with Kurdish populations (and a few in Russia -- that wasn't listed above) worrying whether their Kurds will rise up next.

And some of those countries (i.e. Turkey) are our allies and the Kurds are our allies.  If we choose one over the other, how long will it be before the one we didn't choose allies itself with Russia, Iran, China, fill in the blank...

And then it becomes the wider oil war we've been hoping to avoid.

The Kurds, of course, are aware of this.  It's the reason they have not declared independence.  It is also one of the reasons we have not left Iraq (oh, did Bush forget to mention that?).  Right now, we need the Kurds to live in peace; to have a reason not to go to war with Turkey.  

Not that it takes a lot of troops on our part.  An American general mentioned recently that there were a total of about seven Americans (liaisons) stationed in Iraqi Kurdistan.

When asked why so few, he replied, "it's peaceful there."

An anecdote from a dinner with a Kurdish family.

Much of what I've written here comes from interaction with Kurdish acquaintances.   I have been studying them for over seven years; originally for a book I've been writing and then, as a result of my fascination with them, as a people.

I find them unique, graceful, funny, friendly, talented (music is big deal in their culture), with defined personalities and a directness that shows they are not afraid to let you know how they feel.

Case in point:

One time, a Kurd announced I was joining them for dinner (like ten minutes before dinner).  His wife waited until he left the room and then told me, "Kurdish men treat their women like sh-t."  When he came back, she threw a serving spoon at his head and he followed her around the rest of the night asking what he'd done wrong.  He never did figure it out.

The food, btw, was among the best I've ever tasted; real Kurdish cooking is amazing, and then the night devolved into the entire extended family pulling out musical instruments, singing a musical version of the poem I quoted above, teaching me each verse in Kurdish and English, with all of us getting seriously drunk on pot-stilled whiskey that I probably will never recover from.

I fell in love with the Kurds that night.

I don't know what will happen out of the mess we've made of the Middle East.  I do know the Kurds are a key to either war or peace.

I'm hoping it's peace.

©2007 jhritz

Originally posted to jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 08:59 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Writing without the right letters (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bronte17, jhritz

    Made me think of the book "Ella Minnow Pea"

     Again: it might sound like this is all just wordplay, but it's not. Dunn has fashioned a real novel here -- wordplay just happens to be at the centre of it. The characters do come alive, even as the language is deadened, and their daily concerns are very nicely rendered. There's suspense here, and love, and a great deal of affection for language and people. And the book zips along quickly enough that the wordplay does not get tiresome.
          Ella Minnow Pea is also a very effective allegory of totalitarianism. These limits on language may seem absurd and arbitrary, but the Council's basis for action is no more ridiculous than those given by Bible-thumpers, Islamic fundamentalists, or many elected officials in countries such as the United States or Great Britain (not to mention unelected officials in all your favourite totalitarian nations) for limiting the rights of individuals. The way power can easily be abused even in what appears to be a cultured, civilized nation is nicely demonstrated.

    Revolutionary words start revolutions

    by Catte Nappe on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 09:10:03 AM PDT

  •  another winner! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    parryander, MBNYC, jhritz

    youre on a roll this week!

    i know that the hypnotized never lie

    by howardx on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 09:17:54 AM PDT

  •  I have to come back at another time (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I imagine you've read Kevin McKeirnan's book? I am almost finished. I look forward to your contribution to a fascinating subject.

  •  Thanks For Taking the Time To Write This (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe, goodasgold, MBNYC, jhritz

    I've always wanted to know more about the history of the Kurds. Just created a PDF of this post and will have to check out all your links to learn even more.

    I've always felt that the Kurds really have their act together, and that they should be given a larger role in Iraq (and the Middle East in general), cause they've done something the other groups can't seem to do, they can live in peace and prosperity.

    As an American with a lot of friends from other countries it is clear to me most (including myself) Americans have not sense of history or time. It was really clear from reading your post.

    Thanks again ...

    "It is not enough to win, all others must lose," Sun Tzu.

    by webranding on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 09:22:49 AM PDT

  •  Thank you (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RogueStage, goodasgold, jhritz

    My interest in the  Kurds was sparked by the first gulf war and I have been fascinated with them since then. Thanks for an informative diary. Loved this quote:

    That's because, for all their civility, the Kurds have a dark side; that "death to the oppressor" part, which is manifested in the ancient practice of blood feud.  Kill my brother and I will kill anyone you might even be related to, through all your generations until your kind no longer exists.

    That is some seriously bad-ass shit.

    Investigate, Impeach, Imprison! -9.13/-7.59

    by FireCrow on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 09:39:58 AM PDT

    •  Ser çava (you're welcome) :o) (4+ / 0-)

      Try sitting around with a bunch of them who can hold their liquor a heck of a lot better, and hearing them say that as an explanation on how they avoid a fight.

      The room spun.

      Supas (thanks).

      Have you read the UN's Climate Change Roadmap yet?

      by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 09:44:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Agreed On That Point (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RogueStage, FireCrow, jhritz

      I would think you have to have a similar mind-set in that part of the world if you want to live. I just hope Turkey leaves the Kurds alone, they keep access to oil in their region, and over time I hope the rest of Iraq will see that their quality of life is superior to theirs and they start to follow their lead.

      I mean IMHO, Iraq does have a lot going for it. Natural resources. An educated population (if they'd move back). And maybe more important then anything an infrastructure that is broken, but in place and fixable.

      I feel for the people of that nation. What had happened to them under Saddam and now us is just sad at so many levels.

      "It is not enough to win, all others must lose," Sun Tzu.

      by webranding on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 09:47:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Your respect comes shining through (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Every high school child should spend a little time reading this. Wonderful diary, loved it.

    Oh that we had the gift to see ourselves as others see us. Robbie Burns

    by ohcanada on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 09:43:46 AM PDT

  •  Excellent diary. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bronte17, KenBee, jhritz

    The Kurds have a saying: "The Kurds have no friends but the mountains".  This saying has probably gained even more popularity due to the way the Kurds have been treated in the 20th century.

    I'm Kurdish myself and grew up very confused about my place in the world.  I've finally reached the point where I'm glad I dont have a country.  The only thing I'm concerned about is equal human rights for every Kurd on the planet, most notably in Turkey.

    •  Where are you? (0+ / 0-)

      what country/state?

      Speak Kurdî?

      Tu ji Kurdistanê ne xerîb î?

      I've always felt the saying went back to the Cadusii when they lived near the Caspian Gates and melted into the mountains whenever one Darius or another would try to clear them out.


      I'm right there with you about equal rights.


      Have you read the UN's Climate Change Roadmap yet?

      by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 10:07:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Bio! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RogueStage, jhritz

        I was born in the UK and lived here my whole life.  My family speaks Kurmanji and although I can understand it, I cant speak it well. My parents were born in Turkey so we speak Turkish too.  All in all I have three cultures in me, which for a while was confusing (various English people in my life would say to me because I was born in the UK that I'm British) and as a result I ultimately ended up throwing my hands in the air claiming "I'm a human being and a muslim!"

        Alot of people cant comprehend whats it like to not have a country, which is why when I was growing up I'd simply tell people I was Turkish to prevent alot of hassle.  You'd think Kurdish people would as a result be in turmoil or something, but I think they're pretty happy and confident about who they are, and the vast majority naturally want their own state.

        I'm probably the only Kurd that doesnt, lol.  Whats so good about a country anyway, they all turn out corrupt and implode, at least all Kurdish people are currently united.

        One of my favourite quotes about the concept of countries is from Catch-22:  'What is a country?  A country is a piece of land sourrounded on all sides by boundaries, usually unnatural.'

        •  Ever been (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RogueStage, KenBee

          to the Zagros Mountains? (Iraqi side near Iran).  The ruins of Ecbatana?

          Here's a rhyton (cup) of a Median (Kurdish) king that was found at Ecbatana.

          You're descended from an incredibly noble and special people, kitano.   I can understand your confusion.  The truth is you are British, Turkish, Kurdish; whatever you want to be.  But you have a great deal to be proud of in your Kurdish/Median heritage.


          Thus Deioces collected the Medes into a nation, and ruled over them alone.  Now these are the tribes of which they consist: the Busae, the Paretaceni, the Struchates, the Arizanti, the Budii, and the Magi.

          That's the Magi, as in the three wise men and the Budii (I love this one), as in Buddha's tribe.

          Add Cyrus the Great, Harpagus of Ecbatana (he's my favorite), Saladin and the great poet mentioned above.

          Just wow.


          Have you read the UN's Climate Change Roadmap yet?

          by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 10:32:00 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  As I Said In Another Post (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Us darn Americans think we know everything, but often we don't know that much. I was amazed when I read this:

      • Removal of the ban on three letters that are in the Kurdish alphabet (x,w,q - not used in Turkish).  Try printing a textbook without three letters...
      • Removal of the ban on Kurdish names (they could not register their children)
      • Removal of the ban on the Kurdish language being spoken over airwaves (radio and television) and in parliament.

      I mean WTF. I've always thought Turkey was one of the more progressive nations in that region, I might need to rethink that somewhat and do a little more research.

      "It is not enough to win, all others must lose," Sun Tzu.

      by webranding on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 10:16:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  What I've never understood (0+ / 0-)

    is why Turkey can't see the potential benefit, particularly economic, to a free and prosperous Kurdistan (whether fully independent or not), particularly in light of the oil (oh the irony), which could lead to better "political/social" stability as well, and not just for the Kurds and Turkey.

    If a pipeline from northern Iraq were to be built through Turkey (maybe the terrain or the PKK makes it impracticle/impossible) to a port city on Turkey's southern coast (are there any?), I would think that would be quite a boon to both.

    I don't know enough (thanks jhritz for enlightening me a bit), and I'm not trying to oversimplify or brush aside thousands of years of history, but there just seems as if there is a potential there, but too much history stands in the way.

    Anyone have any further enlightenment they could share?

    Vodka and Cigarettes, Breakfast of Revolutionaries

    by superfly on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 09:57:23 AM PDT

  •  The saga of Ibrahim Parlak (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RogueStage, KenBee, jhritz

    If you're not familiar with this tale of immigration woe, you would do well to acquaint yourself with it.

    Parlak is a Turkish Kurd who admitted on his 1991 asylum application that he was a "leading member of the ERNK, which has close ties to the PKK" during the mid-1980s.  The ERNK was the popular front for the PKK, but the U.S. has always regarded the ERNK as a lawful organization. The U.S. granted him asylum in 1992.

    Parlak pursued the American dream and took all steps to become an American citizen. But after 9/11, things changed.  The INS commenced deportation proceedings, and DHS escalated the charges to terrorism.  They arrested Parlak and held him in jail, without bond, for 10 months.  His offense?  His 1980s support of the ERNK--the same fact he had disclosed on his asylum application 10 years earlier.

    His immigration case is now before the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati.  It has broad legal implications: (a) admissibility of torture-induced evidence from a now-disbanded Turkish Security Court; and (b) whether any lawful organization--including the Red Cross, Catholic Charities, or Citgo--can be declared a "terrorist organization" if they have financial links to terrorism.

    Parlak is hosting Newroz--the Kurdish New Year celebration--at his restaurant (Cafe Gulistan) next week.  Let's wish him the best.

    •  I have followed his case (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee, ReEnergizer

      To me, he's the epitome of a Kurd; sweet, sincere and very intense.

      I would go to Cafe Gulistan if I were in that part of the country.  I love how the people there have rallied around him.

      I'm also hopeful that he'd get more support now that it's a dem house.  His congressman and senator, I believe, both wrote friend of the court letters.

      If they have the nerve to rule against him, I'm hoping they'll get the congress on it.

      Thanks for posting that.

      Have you read the UN's Climate Change Roadmap yet?

      by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 10:11:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You are correct (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        KenBee, jhritz

        I have never met a more humble, decent man.

        Actually, both his Congressman (Fred Upton, Republican) and Senator (Carl Levin, Democrat) have sponsored a private bill in both houses of Congress.  They cannot move on it until the litigation is over.  There are three possibilities: (1) appeal to the Supreme Court (by either side); (2) Parlak wins, and the government doesn't appeal; or (3) Parlak loses, and the private bills go forward.

        There should be a decision by the end of the year.  Keep your fingers crossed.

  •  Great diary. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    webranding, KenBee, jhritz, puffy66

    You've captured the layered history of the region, the way it views historical time and the various residues of empire. A lot of us Americans don't get, at a very visceral level, that other peoples have much longer historical memories than we do; the Europeans do grasp that, but we seemingly don't. Personally, I consider this national inability of ours to understand how Mideastern societies relate to their own history the key ingredient of American policy failures in the Mideast.

    Once again, outstanding work. I'm looking forward to that book.

    In New York, we eat wingnuts for breakfast. And we blog, too.

    by MBNYC on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 10:43:12 AM PDT

    •  Which is (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee, puffy66

      not getting finished (the book), 'cause I keep writing diaries

      DKos as a manifestation of writer's block.


      Your point about understanding how other cultures relate to their history (or not) is the whole point.

      Means a lot to me that you got that.

      Supas (thanks) for the post.

      Have you read the UN's Climate Change Roadmap yet?

      by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 10:47:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Again, you're welcome. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jhritz, puffy66

        I'm a history buff and I grew up overseas, so I really appreciate stuff like this.

        In New York, we eat wingnuts for breakfast. And we blog, too.

        by MBNYC on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 11:18:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Where (0+ / 0-)


          Have you read the UN's Climate Change Roadmap yet?

          by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 11:20:43 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Germany and the UK. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Which in a nutshell explains why I'm extremely sensitive to anti-Semitism, as you may have noticed, and why I write the way that I do. It's all very British :-).

            In New York, we eat wingnuts for breakfast. And we blog, too.

            by MBNYC on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 11:27:47 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Vedy (0+ / 0-)


              From overseas or US Army,etc, foreign service family?

              Have you read the UN's Climate Change Roadmap yet?

              by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 11:29:07 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Air Force. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                Dad's a retired officer, Mom's a Frauleinwunder. One grandfather in the Wehrmacht (and subsequently in Siberia, cough), another with the Allies. Explains a lot, I suppose.

                In New York, we eat wingnuts for breakfast. And we blog, too.

                by MBNYC on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 11:38:12 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  How interesting. (0+ / 0-)

                  One of my projects is a WWII story about the Czech resistance; a German intelligence officer who worked for Canais' aide (the same guy Oscar Schindler worked for) and his British trained/Czech paratrouper contact.

                  He ended up getting caught in the end (the paratrouper survived).

                  That's the one I need to get to after I finish the one I have writer's block on.


                  It does explain a lot, btw.  Makes me think even better of you.


                  Have you read the UN's Climate Change Roadmap yet?

                  by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 11:45:28 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  :-) (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    You're not so bad yourself.

                    A relative of a friend of mine actually worked for Canaris; he was a part of the 20th July plot and subsequently hanged. His widow and daughter, old East Prussian aristocracy, just managed to get out before the Red Army came and looted their estate in 1945; they saw Berlin burning in the distance, and passed concentration camp inmates being herded across Germany on death marches. The daughter became my friend's mother.

                    That's history for you right there, and just one reason why I'm so deathly allergic to certain comparisons with Nazi Germany.

                    In New York, we eat wingnuts for breakfast. And we blog, too.

                    by MBNYC on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 12:06:19 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  oh, oh, oh, wait (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      Not Adam von Trott du Salz?  No, he was information ministry.  One of the Bonhoeffers?  They were in Canaris' circle.  Paul von Hase?  One of the von der Schulenburgs maybe?  Part of Goerdeler's circle?  Wirmer who stood up to the kangaroo court?  (told Freisler: "When I hang, I'll have no fear, but you will")

                      I'm racking my brain, but I was up all night writing about Kurds and am starting to sputter.

                      Can I get a hint?

                      Have you read the UN's Climate Change Roadmap yet?

                      by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 12:23:04 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  I'm not sure exactly (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:

                        ...I forget her maiden name, but they were involved with the von Moltkes in some way, I seem to recall. Those families are all related; one of their ancestors is Friedrich von Schiller. But remember, the 20th July plot and Freisler basically purged the entire aristocracy.

                        In New York, we eat wingnuts for breakfast. And we blog, too.

                        by MBNYC on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 12:31:04 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  The good news is (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:

                          that Freisler was killed in an air raid as he was screaming at a defendant.  He died, the defendant lived.  The other judges refused to hang him without Freisler egging them on.

                          And here's a Freisler fact:

                          He was one of the attendees at the Wannesse conference.

                          There was a reason that roof fell in on his head.

                          Helmuth von Moltke was part of the Kreisau Circle.  Then your friend's relative (von Wartenburg, maybe?) would have known Adam von Trott du Salz.  He was the great grandson of John Jay, he could have gotten out of Germany, but he chose to stay to help lead the plot with von Stauffenberg (one of closest friends).  

                          Lot of heriosm in that circle.

                          Have you read the UN's Climate Change Roadmap yet?

                          by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 12:46:54 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  It really is Karma. (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:

                            Freisler is someone I always saw as the prototypical totalitarian asskisser, a low little creature sitting in judgment over better people than himself. I didn't know he was at the Wannsee conference, but that's not a surprise.

                            So, just curious: this is all very specialized knowledge. What's the nature of your interest in it?

                            In New York, we eat wingnuts for breakfast. And we blog, too.

                            by MBNYC on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 02:15:58 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Aside from strong interest (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:

                            and a semi photographic memory -- I remember most of everything I read -- I do a great deal of background research for everything I write, sort of total immersion therapy.  

                            The Czech WWII story I'm (supposed to be) writing is a nexus point for all of the different players; Heydrich, who held the Wannesse conference, was the Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia (aka the butcher of Bohemia), the Czech lands themselves bordered on Germany, the resistance members and the Nazis crossed back and forth over the border all the time, the double agent worked for Canaris was the station chief there, the Czech resistance was a key conduit for the information that some of the plotters were leaking to the west (in other words, they were doing more than just plotting to kill Hitler).  

                            And they all knew each other.

                            Remembered the name of the plotter who survived because of the air raid during his trial: von Schlabrendorff.  He went on to become a judge in the new Germany.  How's that for Karma?

                            Here's a great book, if you haven't read it:  Berlin Dairies by Marie Vassiltchikov:


                            Highly recommend it, not only for the great read, but for the day to day insight into the life of a July 20th plotter/aristocrat who was part of the Kreisau Circle.

                            She would have known your friend's relative - very well - and may have even written about him.

                            Have you read about the Kurds yet?

                            by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 05:27:56 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  This is all so interesting. (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:

                            One thing you might want to do in that context, unless you've done so already, is take a look at the Kommittee Freies Deutschland. The KFD was started, probably under coercion, by General Paulus, the guy who lost Stalingrad; it had, as I understand it, some interesting connections to Stauffenberg's circle (even if he was basically a reactionary). There was an organization within KFD, the Bund Deutscher Offiziere, specifically charged with getting members of the aristocratic officers corps to work against the regime. The scholarship on this is less dense on the 20th July, because the KFD was seen as treasonous by the West Germans during the Cold War; but I'd suspect that you might find some interesting links to your story.

                            In New York, we eat wingnuts for breakfast. And we blog, too.

                            by MBNYC on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 05:47:21 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  I'll check it out. Thanks! n/t (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:

                            Have you read about the Kurds yet?

                            by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 05:52:18 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

  •  You should read... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KenBee, jhritz

    Snow, by Orhan Pamuk, if you haven't already. It's set it a small mountain town in/near the Kurdish area of Turkey. The whole thing is more about Muslim/secular relations than anything else, but there are lots of peripheral references to Turkish relations with the Armenian and Kurdish minorities. Add in the fact that this is a Nobel Prize winning author, and you've got a great read.

    O it is excellent to have a giant's strength: but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant. --Measure for Measure, II.2

    by RogueStage on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 10:59:45 AM PDT

  •  Thank You For The Education! (0+ / 0-)

    This is one of those under-reported facets of the Iraq war.  I was only tangentially aware that there was a northern area of Iraq that was relatively peaceful and prosperous.

    Had this been a story about the Sunni Arabs of central Iraq how different the world would be at this moment. I had to think that my revulsion to the  Iraq war has primarily been with respect to the outcome of the conflict. I did not like being lied to and manipulated but even as a flaming liberal how could I object to the removal of a tyrant like Saddam ?  The parallel to the  treatment of the Kurds by Saddam in America would be the Japanese Internment camps minus the WMD attacks on Kurdish villages.

    But this article made me think if the rest of Iraq was in the same condition as the northern part of Iraq would I still be against the war ?

    The answer is no; had the benefits of removing Sadam been the creation of a prosperous democratic peaceful nation I would have supported the  war effort.  

    The deception and manipulation in such a  serious matter as the nation going to war can never be forgotten.

    However Bush would  have been hailed as a visionary leader had the situation in northern Iraq been true of the entire country.  Forced relocation of Iraqi Kurds, the persecution of the Shia, the madman rapist son Uday, the ruling of an entire country by a pathological crime family.  It was clear Saddam had to go.  It was the incompetence coupled with the cruelty of a botched war that galvanized my opposition to the administration.

    When I read about northern Iraq I see what could  have been.  But I also see why we should not have  invaded in the cultural differences between the Kurds and the Sunni and Shia Arabs.

    They want peace, they crave it, they are near secular by nature (remember:  Kurds hold their religion with a light touch), drawn to democracy, struggling to reach an equality of the sexes

    Is any of the above true of strict adherents to Islam ? The treatment of women in particular is a major issue.  As much is I am opposed to the GOP the hard line Iranian religious wing-nuts are the most  contemptuous of  threats to modern progress.

    Why does one culture foster peace, stability and hope and another hatred, war and  poverty ?

    It's clear we need to support the Kurds and did you notice the part about the migration of educated  and skilled workers  to Kurdistan ? Also how religious groups like the Iraqi Christians moved to northern Iraq.

    As the north prospers and the rest of Iraq wallows in poverty and squalor we will have another situation akin to North and South Korea only in reverse.

    If you substitute North Korean style totalitarianism for Islamic fundamentalism you get the same results; marginal utilization of whole segments of the work force, no skills based migration of work, no respect for  private property, the subjugation of individuals and their liberties; which act to cripple the ability of the rest of Iraq to stabilize and prosper.

    •  The Kurds hold (0+ / 0-)

      their Islam with a light touch.  It's not just a saying.  They don't believe in fundamentalism of any type.  As I wrote above, it goes back to their Zoroastrian roots.  The precepts prevent proselytizing as an intrusion on another's choice of faith.

      They're a remarkable people.

      Have you read the UN's Climate Change Roadmap yet?

      by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 11:34:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this magnum of information (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We have many Kurdish families living here in CT; there are 20 or more families who are my medical patients many of whom lived in tents in refugee camps in Turkey before emigrating here. Some of the families went from Iraq to Guam before settling here.

    I have been tempted to ask more personal questions than just medical, family and surgical histories. Many of the parents, mostly in their 30's and 40's know both Kurdish (and dialect) and Arabic since they were forced to study only in Arabic under Saddam Hussein. A handful of young adults in these families are currently in Iraq, translating for the US military.

    "And tell me how does god choose whose prayers does he refuse?" Tom Waits

    by madaprn on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 12:01:48 PM PDT

    •  Thank you! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      feel free to use the more benign info from the diary as a conversation piece (i.e. is it true that Saladin was Kurdish?).  I find, when I let Kurds know how impressed I am with their history, they tend to open up.

      Have you read the UN's Climate Change Roadmap yet?

      by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 12:06:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've noticed they seem to have a comparatively (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        low threshold for developing diabetes, meaning that the onset of insulin-resistance appears at a lesser degree of obesity than in many of our other fairer-skinned patients.

        Some of the mothers have expressed extreme frustration over the difficulties of trying to instill their values in their children in the face of overwhelmingly different American cultural values. Some major teenage rebellion taking place and parental disbelief over the financial and emotional cost of raising children here.

        Most of the Kurdish families have 6 or more children. Luckily, all of the Kurds I know emigrated legally so they and their children at least qualify for state CHIP insurance and in-state tuition break at the state colleges and universities.

        "And tell me how does god choose whose prayers does he refuse?" Tom Waits

        by madaprn on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 12:29:02 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  My heart goes out to them (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          madaprn, KenBee

          their bodies and culture is acclimatized for the Zagros Mountains, not CT.

          Here's why:

          If they're Iraqi Kurds, they would have spend a lot of time walking over rough (but beautiful) terrain in crystal clear, often cold air; a lot of exercise.

          Sugar they would have been exposed to are the cubes used with Kurdish Chai.  (very caffeinated cinnamon/black tea).  They might have upped their intake since coming here, especially with being cut off from their culture.  That could lead the men to getting together a lot over tea or whiskey (depending on the time of day).

          The number of children is also cultural, not as much a problem in a culture that's adapted to it (it takes a village?).  It's about strength in numbers.  So many Kurds were getting killed.  They wanted sons for the Peshmerga.

          If you can get them to tell you what their drinking as well as eating, you might be able to help them reduce intake.

          Just an idea.

          Have you read the UN's Climate Change Roadmap yet?

          by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 12:37:20 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The amount of liquid calories in most diets is (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            pretty appalling. Your points all resonate with the info given me by our Kurdish families. They also complain about needing to "make exercise" here, something provided naturally by their daily lives there.
            Ironically, safety is a huge issue for them here; there is a lot of violence in the city I work in, mostly gangs and guns. The Kurds who live in public housing do not send their kids to play outside, leading me to wonder if their Iraqi villages provide a safer and healthier environment right now than a poor city in CT.

            "And tell me how does god choose whose prayers does he refuse?" Tom Waits

            by madaprn on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 03:15:37 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Kurdish culture (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              is intertwined with music.  That might be a way to produce a connection between parents and children, if they had something musical they could do together (are there boys/girls clubs around there?, YMCA, YWCA?).  

              That could also get them somewhere where they could get exercise; getting the parents to try new things that the kids themselves are likely already taking to (i.e. basketball, volleyball, swimming, heck, even twister at home, if they're afraid to go out), soccer games, if there's a safe park, etc...  

              It might help the kids feel less alienated from their parents (although I picture them laughing at them if they do engage in any sports together) and their parents realizing they have to find a way to meet these kids within the new culture, so the kids don't feel like they're exploring it alone.

              That goes for libraries; a great way to bring people together, museums, whatever free/safe public place they can either go together or take turns spelling each other if one parent must stay home with younger kids.

              That way, the parents can look to the children to help them explore parts of our culture, which will make the kids feel validated, increase their tendency to care about their parents, when they understand that they are needed, and render the parents less frightened of the new world they're in, helping to get back whatever friendship between parent and child (another feature of their culture, they should be very loving with each other).

              If they must stay in (I'm still for twister :O), then using the time to learn together in fun ways, watching things like the history channel, discovery, etc, if they have access to cable TV; getting them backgammon games, other games from their own culture, while encouraging the parents to get their children's opinion about the new culture they're in; to ask lots of questions about what the kids think of their schools, the people they're meeting, not as a third degree, but, and this is important, to let the kids know they are curious about their new world and that they are interested in their kids' take on it.

              I could go on, but you get the idea.  Helping them return their families to the cohesive units they once were is going to require some creative thinking.  It hearkens back to every immigrant family who ever came here; the balance between keeping the best of their own culture and integrating into the best (safest) part of ours.  

              Hey, that's a thought, the story of Ellis Island, the different things the waves of immigrants did to both fit in here and to put their own unique stamp on our culture, the example of how, now, the Irish, the Italians, the Jews and now the Hispanics have enriched America.  I have to think that people of such an ancient culture as the Kurds have a great deal to offer, as well.

              Last, feel free to show them this diary, if it will help.  They may not be aware of the fact that there are many Americans who find the Kurds to be a lovely people, worthy of great respect, people we can learn from.

              Don't know if any of that will help, but the key is getting the parents to realize their kids can be a bridge to the new culture, which will help the kids to feel like they have something to offer, make them  sense that they are important to the family unit.

              Hope that helps.

              Have you read about the Kurds yet?

              by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 05:11:27 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  thank you jhritz (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                I will be sure to share your diary with them. You suggestions are things any nurse practitioner worth her salt incorporates into every primary care visit, BTW. We, for the most part, practice holistically, incorporating mind, body, culture and spirit into our assessments and plans.

                "And tell me how does god choose whose prayers does he refuse?" Tom Waits

                by madaprn on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 05:23:16 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  One of my (0+ / 0-)

                  sisters is a NPRN.  

                  I am in awe of the work you all do.


                  I'll check back on this diary periodically.  Let me know if anything else comes up.  I am very interested in what happens to your Kurdish families.


                  Have you read about the Kurds yet?

                  by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 05:31:08 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

      •  The History Channel Had a Show On (0+ / 0-)

        Saladin the other day. I feel bad saying this, but my knowledge of history isn't what it should be. I was taught in High School little about the Crusades. Basically Muslims bad, Catholics good.

        I really wasn't aware that Saladin was the type of leader he was. He didn't slaughter cities he captured. let the local leaders rule as they saw fit. And didn't force his religion on them.

        Any books you'd suggest on Saladin?

        "It is not enough to win, all others must lose," Sun Tzu.

        by webranding on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 12:46:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Islam in Kurdish people (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KenBee, jhritz

    I must admit thats a shrewd observation about Islam and Kurdish people.  Personally I dont consider myself part of any sect: sunni, shia, whatever, I simply use the Quran alone as a guide in my life and there isnt anything in that book that justifies the horrible things done in Islam's name.  Its the man-made rules (and dodgy translations) that came after the Quran that are quoted to justify the oppression of women and all the rest of it.

    Ironically enough, when I see a news story about the headscarf being banned, I consider it a push forward for real islam, but then its doubly ironic because banning it isnt what a democracy should be doing.

    Reza Aslan's theory that Islam is basically at war with itself, as opposed to war with the west, is the best commentary I've read on today's turbulent climate.  The various sects are battling with each other so that only one is left at the top, and the west is simply caught in the middle.

    To me it does appear that Kurds integrate their faith into their lives in a practical way, enhancing their lives, as opposed to becoming slaves to it.  Maybe their nomadic history has played a factor into this, the lack of a central authority to push rules on everyone has made them more fluid as a population. Or maybe I'm just talking out my bum.

    •  Or maybe, you're making a great deal of sense :O) (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      You are less confused than you think you are.

      It goes back to Zoroastrian roots; not something you would have been taught because, at this point, it's more ingrained tradition than an awareness of a cultural or religion past.

      Main precepts:  good thoughts, good words, good deeds.  

      Feel familiar?

      It is all about tolerance, pragmatism, all the things you describe.  It's become part the culture.

      Agree with you 100% about Reza Aslan.

      Great post.

      Have you read the UN's Climate Change Roadmap yet?

      by jhritz on Sat Mar 24, 2007 at 12:27:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Excellent, jhritz! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        A very interesting read.

        With the little I know of the Kurds, I have developed affection for them, too.

        One problem I have, though:  I've read that they practice female circumcision.  Is this true?  It seems at odds with the equality you cited.  Is it a tribal holdover practiced by a minority in remote areas?

        As for Zoroastrianism, it seems to be the scource of the Abrahamic religions.  And there is a theory that Abraham is actually Brahma, and his wife, Sarah, is Sarai, Brahma's consort ...Hindu figures.

        I was very surprized at the Median empire shown on the map.  The Kurds could very well be the originators of civilization.

        War is outdated. Dalai Lama

        by x on Mon Mar 26, 2007 at 11:47:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There have been (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          reports of female circumcision (more accurately known as fgm (female genital mutilation) in about 40 villages in the rural Germian region of Iraqi Kurdistan where a stronger Islam has taken hold.  The Peshmerga culture does not support it (that's the coed army I mentioned), nor is it prevalent in the cities where the Kurdish Imams have issued a fatwa against it.  

          There are NGOs from Germany who are working with the villages in the affected region to educate them and to bring word of the fatwa.  That should help (hopefully) to change the practice.

          Zoroastrianism did strongly influence the Abrahamic religions.  It goes back to Daniel (Lion's den fame?).  He was the third governor in Babylon at the time the tribe of Judah was exiled there -- the same time that they were inscribing their oral history in what would become the first ten books of the bible.

          Daniel had three roles in Babylon.  He was Nebuchadnezzar's closest adviser.  He was the liaison between his people and the court and, this is key, he shared the governorship with a man named Gobryas who was related by marriage to Cambyses of Anshan (Iran), the devout Zoroastrian prince who was the father of Cyrus the Great.

          Cambyses was a merchant prince who sold his goods to his neighbors, which included Babylon (his closest neighbor).  It is highly likely that Daniel and Cambyses knew each other; especially since Daniel went on to serve his son, Cyrus, and his successor, Darius the Great.

          Cambyses was described by Herodotus as a "quite and thoughtful" prince.  At the same time, he groomed his son to take over the world...  Layers there...

          If they did know each other, they would have had numerous discussions about their religions, as that was both men's favorite subject.

          Another thing that would have brought them together.  Zoroastrianism was the only other monotheistic religion around at that point.  It preached equality, charity, protection of he environment and did not allow slavery, promoted land ownership for all the classes and allowed anyone (servants or kings) to bring a case to their courts against anyone (servants or kings) without penalty.

          That had to sound pretty darn to a moralistic, monotheistic tribe that was enslaved in Babylon with their temple prostitutes and many gods.

          When you add Daniel's influence on the production of the first ten books of the Bible, you can start to see the confluence of ideas.

          The Kurds might agree with you about the civilization, but that's only partially accurate.  Ur was the starting point and a predominant tribe in the region was the Gutii, one of the three forebearers of the Kurds.  But, by the time Abraham came along, the Sumarians were in charge.  That was followed by the Elamites, who conquered Ur and then were run out by the Akkadians (forerunners of the Babylonians and Assyrians).

          So, if they weren't the originators, they were among them, though I would put the Anshan/Elamite kingdom as a bit more advanced at the time, since they were a matriarchal society that adhered strictly to Zoroastrian law, including the equality of the sexes and all the other advantages I listed above.

          Not something the Iranians are telling their people, btw (hey, we used to be ruled by women and even the lowliest servant could accuse our leaders in court without retribution).  hmmm....

          But most Iranians know about their heritage.  They still put flowers on Daniel's tomb and there's not one of them who wouldn't trade Cyrus for their current leadership.

          As for the Median Empire, it was the largest of its time and had a great deal of influence on both the east and the western sages (the pre-Socratic birth of philosophy) who were used as royal messengers between the Lydian, Median, Babylonian and Anshan courts (Thales, Aesop, Solon, Anacharsis, etc...).

          If I could travel back in time and be a fly on the wall, that's where I'd go.


          Have you read about the Kurds yet?

          by jhritz on Tue Mar 27, 2007 at 01:16:15 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I wrote a diary about this (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Female circumcision surfaces in Iraq

          Cutting of human genitals is a harmful practice found in cultures worldwide.  Read here for a thorough scholarly analysis of it across cultures and time.

          As Americans we need to look in the mirror and eradicate our own genital cutting practices if we are to take a moral high ground against the practice in other cultures (pretending its medicine is just our particular form of rationalization).

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