According to The Wikipedia, there are 40,000 to 60,000 Kurds in Georgia. I have met at least two of them.
Thus begins another foray into regional politics.
The other day I was speaking with a Kurdish woman. She asked if I knew about the Kurds, and I responded that I did, and rattled off a few facts which had been rattling around in my head and realized that in the context of speaking to an actual person the facts were kind of depressing.
My previous general knowledge of the Kurds springs from two sources: one, paying close attention to goings-on in Iraq; two, studying Turkish politics since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. If you are familiar with either of these subjects you will perhaps begin to see why the facts that I know are so depressing.
From the Iraqi side, Kurds make the news rather often – talk of Iraqi Kurdistan, aka Northern Iraq, pops up in the context of UN sanctions (Kurdistan was the only place where oil-for-food actually worked) and of regional politics in response to the war (for instance, the toppling of Saddam Hussein potentially destabilizing the Kurdish regions of Turkey, Syria, and perhaps Iran). See, it seems that four countries have bits that are ethnically Kurdish, and the Kurdish people, observing this fact, reasoned that if each of these neighboring regions were to split from their respective countries, then Kurdistan could be a reality. The specter of civil war in Iraq made Iraqi Kurdish secession seem more likely, which could in turn domino into the other three countries.
From the Turkish side, it’s all about the Kurdistan Workers Party. I mean, they get the coverage these days, despite being a small minority of Kurds in Turkey. Historically, what happened was that Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, decided that the only way he could have a country (and avoid being carved up by the British and French like Iraq and Syria and such places) was to make sure that everything in the country was Turkish. He went so far as to ban the Kurdish language from public use, including in radio broadcasts and printed materials. Kurds did not like this, but Ataturk won out, and only recently have oppressive rules targeting Kurds been relaxed at all – a sign of Turkey’s glacially slow progress away from radical Kemalism and towards democracy. Anyway, the PKK took umbrage at this treatment and resisted Turkish rule, advocating violent secessionism and getting itself labeled a “terrorist” organization.
So anyway, lots of Kurds were displaced by stuff like a century of Ottoman and Turkish repression, World Wars, European meddling, war between Iraq and Iran, and various other really unfortunate shit going on in their neighborhood. As you may know the modern shape of Middle Eastern countries owes a lot to the British and French basically partitioning it up after WWI, which has led to a number of problems because the national borders don’t match the ethnic or geographic or historical borders particularly well. Giving Kurds their own country may have helped matters, or it may not have, because if you give one group a country then everyone else wants one, and that tendency has also led to a number of problems (Israel, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Chechnya, the Balkans, etc etc etc); the point is, though, that some Kurds feel like they ought to have their own country, since there are like 35 million of them in the world.
One Kurdish woman who I met in Georgia is third generation Georgian. Her ancestors left Turkey right around WWI. She considers herself Georgian first and Kurdish second. The other said that she thinks that Georgia is okay, but she’d really rather have her own country.
Nationalism is interesting. I guess some people feel it and others don’t. I personally think the world would be better off without the “one tribe, one nation” mentality especially given how arbitrary ethnicity is when it comes to people joining together to form a state. But, I guess that given that I have at least four discernible ethnicities, I don’t really know what it’s like to feel attached to one. Like, what would a country look like that contained only Slovenian-German-Italian-Puerto-Ricans? It would probably just be me and my sister.
Actually, that would be kind of cool. Okay, I get it now.
Georgians don’t really make a big deal about ethnic minorities. I wonder if, to Georgians, Kurds stand out as being obviously a minority. Like, I can often spot a Mingrelian, but Kurds take me by surprise.
If Syria descends sufficiently into civil war, and Iraq remains a devastated nation, and Turkey’s Kurdish section remains troubled, it is entirely possible that a real, widespread, credible Kurdish secession movement could spring up. That would likely lead to even more war. I’m sure they’d find a Western sponsor to provide them with weapons to advance some catastrophically short-sighted goal, like countering the regional influence of Iran or some other such nonsense (remember that’s how Saddam Hussein got his start). I have to conclude that the likelihood of a Kurdish nation is small, and accompanied by huge amounts of bloodshed and destruction.
Yeah, Middle Eastern politics is pretty unfortunate overall.