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A People Without a Country: The Kurds and Kurdistan.

The Kurds have many countries, but rule no state of their own.

That is the essence of the grievance from which comes the curious title of this book. Nationalists from among the 16m Kurds have fought, suffered and died so as to try to correct what they see as an historical injustice. Brutal treatment of the Kurds, especially in Iraq, along with the claims to political independence or full autonomy in the safe havens in northern Iraq, are part of the wider question of minority rights in the contemporary Middle East.

Detailed chapters by Kurdish nationalist intellectuals provide the core of this book, analysing the origins of Kurdish nationalism. They offer historical surveys of the various Kurdish communities under the Ottoman empire as well as analyses of the political situation of Kurds in modern Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and the Soviet Union.

Writing under the alias of "Kendal", a Kurd of Turkey maintains that the forms of discrimination resulting when a people is prevented from expressing its identity culturally is often more difficult to bear than material poverty or economic exploitation. These and other contributions by A. R. Ghassemlou (on Iran), Ismet Sheriff Vanly (on Iraq), and Mustafa Nazdar (on Syria) will have a lasting relevance to the ongoing debate about Kurdish identity and nationalism. But they come from another era.

Since the first edition of this book was published over a decade ago (in French in 1978 and in English in 1980), far-reaching political developments have occurred in the Middle East to affect Kurdish politics. Since 1980, many new books and analyses have been published (including last year a new book by John Bulloch and Harvey Morris, No Friends but the Moutains - see page 42).

Considering all this, it is somewhat surprising that no attempt has been made to revise the original book, other than adding three brief new chapters by other writers, and a short note by the editor, Gerard Chaliand, on the Iranian Kurds under Ayatollah Khomeini.

Kamran Karadaghi (of the London-based Al Hayat) writes on the two Gulf wars over the period from 1979 to 1992. He shows how the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war greatly affected the Kurdish armed struggle in Iraq and Iran. Karadaghi ends on an optimistic note, arguing that none of the Kurdish opposition parties on its own could have survived Baghdad's defeat of the uprising. The Kurdish Front, he maintains, prevented total social and economic disintegration in the areas under their control.

The international community's abject failure to take measures to protect civilian Kurds, even after the horrifying and well-documented use of poison gas by the Saddam Hussein regime to kill off Kurds at Halabja in 1988, shocked many people with a conscience. In another new contribution to the book, the American analyst Bill Frelick denounces the double standards adopted by the United States and by the West in general over the successive phases of the Kurdish tragedy, writing of "an essentially humanitarian facade" to the military intervention in Iraq.

Aliza Marcus, a journalist formerly based in Turkey, reports on Turkey's Kurds in the south-eastern region. She claims that the Turkish government's various liberalisation measures taken from 1991 to appease the Kurds (their so called "mountain Turks") have done very little to appease dissidents.

Many other foreign observers have concluded that Ankara can no longer afford to ignore a minority which makes up one-fifth of its total population. But the Turkish army still controls the troubled Kurdish region, and whatever the politicians in Ankara may want, it is the hardline military who are likely to remain in control of policy on the ground.

The British specialist, David McDowall, who wrote a Minority Rights Group report on the Kurds, argues in a foreword to this book that the Kurdish question should be better and more widely understood if long overdue progress is to be made in resolving it. "It is public silence which permits reluctant governments to disregard international responsibilities, and informed and articulate public opinion which goads them into action."
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Publication:The Middle East
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Previous Article:Rough justice.
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