Opinion Editorial
The Kurds: Victims and Oppressors
By Augin Haninke
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(AINA) -- Recently I sat in the waiting room at Children's Hospital in Stockholm for a small ailment for my little son. While waiting I used my phone to connect to Facebook, where I saw a post by the famous Turkish writer Ismail Besikçi that one of my friends had shared. The post had received thousands of Likes and Shares, even by some Assyrian leftists who sympathize with the Kurdish struggle for freedom. Besikçi says the following in a video in Turkish:

Today Kurdish children in Kurdistan [Eastern Turkey] are forced every morning to shout that they sacrifice themselves to the Turkish existence. Why? Why should Kurdish children sacrifice themselves for the Turkish children's existence? Why are Kurdish children every day forced to shout 'I am Turkish, I am honest'? This is the worst racism in the world. We have to point this out. Such racism occurs neither in South Africa nor any other part of the world. It is the world's most backward racism. It is highly reprehensible to try to destroy a nation's language and culture and erase it from history. This is specific to Turkey. It is impossible to see such racism anywhere else in the world.

When I heard Ismail Besikçis speech, I could not but agree. The Turkish Republic has done everything in its power to assimilate all non-Turks throughout the 20th century, under the banner of one people, one language, one religion. During World War One the country's Christian population (Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks), which represented approximately one third of the population, was eliminated through genocide. The majority of the Kurdish clans, who were promised Kurdish autonomy, participated in this genocide. They also became wealthy landowners after expropriating Christian property.

In July of 1923 the Lausanne Peace Treaty was signed and shortly thereafter the Republic of Turkey was born from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Kurds now realized that the Turks would not keep their promise of Kurdish autonomy. In 1925 the Kurdish leader Sheikh Said attempted to form an autonomous Kurdish government in the eastern part of Turkey, but Mustafa Kemal Atatürk crushed the insurrection mercilessly. In 1926 he murdered or deported thousands of Kurdish tribal leaders. The assimilation policy against non-Turkish citizens had started.

But when it comes to the Kurds the assimilation has failed, although their language and culture has been kept alive only through oral tradition (schools were banned). On the contrary, the assimilation policies fuelled Kurdish nationalism and new aspirations for self-government. In the 1980s, the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (PKK, The Kurdistan Workers' Party), took up arms in the struggle for Kurdish independence.

The few Assyrians who remained in Turabdin were caught in the middle of the fighting between Kurds and Turks and were forced to flee to Europe. Today, when a semblance of peace has returned to the area, some Assyrians are finding their way back to their ancestral homes but are encounterring difficulties (more on this below).

Despite the oppression the Kurds have suffered at the hands of the Turks, they have not learned to be tolerant. In the Kurdish autonomous of North Iraq, The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) are acting in the same way as the Turkish government has for 90 years against Kurds and Assyrians. Reports of systematic abuses against Assyrians within the Kurdish autonomy in Iraq are constantly increasing in number. There is organized harassment, sanctioned by the Kurdish authorities. The aim is obviously the same as that of the Turks, to assimilate or expel the Assyrian indigenous people who have lived in these parts of the country for more than 7,000 years.

Kurdish historians argue the Kurds are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia. But that's nonsense. The first time that the Kurds were given permission to settle in Mesopotamia was 500 years ago (1514) when the Turkish sultan Yavuz Sultan Selim aligned himself with them in his fight against the Persians. That was when Kurds were allowed to settle in Mesopotamia in larger groups. Their origin is the mountains of Zagros.

But now that the Kurds are in the process of forming their own state, they act just as racist as Turks, Arabs and other ruling powers in the Middle East. Recently the Assyria Council of Europe and Assyria Foundation released a report on human rights of Assyrians in Iraq 2013. According to the report:

Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, Iraq underwent Arabization. People were taught that the entire civilization of Mesopotamia is Arab. In the KRG-area history repeats itself, and the local Assyrian history is seen as Kurdish history. City names are changed to Kurdish names. Assyrian heritage is ruined and Assyrian history is not recognised in school books, museums and during memorial days.

Assyrian children are not allowed to learn their history in schools, but become indoctrinated as Christian Kurdistan residents. How is this different from Kurdish children in Turkey who must shout "I am Turkish, I am honest?"

The report also says that the Assyrians are discriminated against and kept out of civil and political offices, their villages and property are taken away from them, are subjected to threats, harassment and even attacked by armed Kurdish mob with help from the local police (AINA 9-3-2013, 6-17-2013).

The same morning as I sat in the emergency room Assyrians in the city of Mangesh released an appeal to ask the world for help against the KRG's chauvinism and harassment (AINA 9-20-2013). They say that the Assyrians who refuse to comply with the Barzani Clans dominion within the KRG face extreme difficulty. To draw attention to the Turkish readers on how the Assyrians in Iraq are treated by the Kurdish authorities, I wrote a comment to Ismail Besikçis Facebook post and pasted the entire appeal in English.

As to the Kurds in Turkey, they have yet no self-government, but they have dominated some political parties in both local councils and parliament. Right now the Kurdish legal party that stands closest to the PKK is called BDP (Baris ve Demokrasi Partisi).

I'm sure some Assyrian PKK sympathizers would oppose my comparison between the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey. They claim that the PKK Kurds are more democratic, more modern and friendly to minorities in the country. But there are confirmed reports of Assyrian lands in Turabdin that Kurds have expropriated. Large areas of valuable land of the monastery of St. Augin have been occupied for the last 30 years by Kurds belonging to BDP. Representatives of the St. Augin Association have repeatedly met with BDP 's management and local politicians asking them to return the lands to the monastery. But so far there are no concrete results. Similarly in the case of the St. Gabriel Monastery, it is the Kurdish mayors from neighbouring villages who are claiming the land of the monastery.

Kurdish rulers in Midyat have over the last few years tried to get valuable property through intimidation and harassment of returning and resident Assyrians. Turkish courts are now prosecuting a number of Kurds, including the mayor of the city.

It appears that the Kurdish people in power in Turkey are no different than those in Iraq, and both are exercising the same assimilation policies that the Turks and Arabs have applied to them.

Augin Kurt Haninke is an Assyrian journalist and author in Sweden.

Views and opinions expressed in guest editorials do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of AINA.
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