Kurdish Independence and Russian Expansion [1946]

Editor's Note: Interest in the Kurdish question suddenly revived at the end of the Gulf War. We decided that our readers might benefit from reading excerpts of an article originally published in the July 1946 issue of Foreign Affairs that has become a standard reference. The late Dr. Westermann, then Professor of History at Columbia University, wrote this piece amid concern in Washington over the links between the Kurdish rebellion and the Soviet Union; hence the outmoded title. That particular crisis over a Kurdish republic eventually disappeared, but Dr. Westermann's article contains some sage observations that have stood the test of time.

A Kurdish independence movement was officially inaugurated at the San Francisco Conference in April 1945, in a letter addressed to the delegates in the name of the Kurdish League. . . . The demands for Kurdish autonomy may be exaggerated to the point that many readers of liberal intention will consider them ridiculous. Certain facts, nevertheless, remain. There is a Kurdish independence movement. It has three active propaganda centers, one located in Syrian Beirut, a second at Sauj Bulagh in western Iran. The third center is in the "communist" party of Iraq, which has published a program of reforms with the resounding title of "The Charter of the Kurdish People." Its 17 clauses include: collaboration of the Arabs of Iraq; "real" independence of the Kurds and Arabs (implying that Iraq is under British imperial control); freedom of political opinion and expression; distribution of lands in fee simple to the peasants; old age, sickness and unemployment security; freedom of worship for religious minorities, with special mention in this regard of the Turcomans, Yezidis, Arabs and Assyrian Christians; and encouragement of public instruction for both sexes, with native schools and teaching in the Kurdish language. All of this is admirable enough, if one can grant that Kurdish independence is feasible or that it is advisable from the point of view of world security. . . .

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