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No Friends but the Mountains: The Tragic History of the Kurds.


J. Bulloch and H. Morris. Illustrated. 16.99[pounds].

A most remarkable feature of contemporary history is the increasing force of nationalism, particularly among smaller, hitherto oppressed, peoples. It is a force of which Marxist thought failed to take account, its greatest gap, and Communism has paid heavily for it. Have the Kurds yet reached the state of nationhood? They are mostly conscious of their identity as a people through a common language, folklore, history, etc. Their strivings towards independence would seem to indicate their searching towards this common stage of historic development. But will they reach it?

This informative book gives us the background and the present state of play, and a tragic story it is.

Their home is the mass of mountain country which borders on Turkey, Iraq and Iran, each of which has an interest in suppressing them, or keeping them divided and cornered in their mountains. Turkey has nine million of them, Iran four million, Iraq three million, with several more ethnic blobs detached in Syria, Russia, etc. Perhaps altogether some 15 million if drawn together in a united Kurdistan, controlling the head-waters of Euphrates and Tigris, with oil and minerals. Would it make a viable state?

Metternich described pre-revolution Germany as a |tesselated pavement'. The picture here is even more fractured, and makes a dizzying gyroscope. For English readers it reminds one of the history of the Scottish Highlands and the Borders. Dominant features are tribalism, clan loyalties and blood feuds, frenetic killings and, I suppose, ballads -- the usual amenities of such societies.

The mountain sheep are sweeter,

But the valley sheep are fatter.

We therefore deemed it meeter

To carry off the latter.

The Kurds produced one great historic figure in Saladin, who defeated the Crusaders and conquered Jerusalem from them. Saddam Hussein was born in Saladin's birthplace, reads history and has been inspired by his career. Absit omen! Though not a Kurd, he too rules through his tribe with the added amenities of modern civilisation, poison gas for the Kurds. The British in their day bombed them ineffectually from the air for not keeping quiet.

Everbody has let the Kurds down, most of all themselves for not being able to pull together. It is like the Greeks confronting the unified power of Rome, or Celts against Anglo-Saxons. Of course we don't need to be told about geographical factors.

It was said that the historian Buckle owed his paralysis of the brain to studying the theological controversies of the 17th century. One can hardly follow the maze of Kurdish internal divisions, feuds and set-backs, to which this book offers a trustworthy guide. The authors hold out no hope of the Kurds achieving a nation state. But who knows? It would be in keeping with the historic tide.
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Author:Rowse, A. L.
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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