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Over the course of over two years, I slacked my research and everything for this course as I believed it to be a nuisance. However, when my third-year internship started, and now as I have finished my Entrepreneurship minor and continue with my thesis, I have come back to this course and understood the importance of it all. My internship made me question myself whether “home” means anything to me, whether I have a “home” at all, and how my time traveling and eventually working away will affect this idea. Not because anyone made me think and question this, but because it became an internal struggle that needed an answer.
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Before my time in Indonesia and West-Africa, I merely traveled for months at a time and was unsure of my future in tourism elsewhere. Quite frankly about 8 months ago the idea of emigrating to norther-Iraq, in particular, the region of Iraqi Kurdistan has settled in. At this point in time that idea has developed to the point where both my girlfriend and I are very serious about emigrating to Kurdistan and have gone to the extent of researching everything there is to our “new entrepreneurial life” and our new “home”. Together we wish to develop both our entrepreneurial ideas into one overarching business with three domains; my tour operator, her stained-glass atelier, and our guesthouse. At the start of 2018, we announced our plans to family and friends and they were received with both enthusiasm as a concern. With this all in mind, I decided that the Kurdish (struggle for) independence would make a great topic for this essay. Mainly because of its relevance to the TCC course; entrepreneurial initiatives, ideological contexts, political settings, historical connections and more. Secondly since the situation (potentially) influences everything my girlfriend and I have been working too and dreaming for. Who are these Kurds, and what is their struggle? The Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, numbering between 20 and 25 million.
Approximately 15 million live in the regions of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, an area they called Kurdistan, yet they do not have a state, a “home” of their own. It is particularly odd that of all the ethnic groups in the world, the Kurds are still struggling for independence. This everlasting conflict has important geographical implications as well as religious and cultural ones. The history of the Kurdish nation, the causes for these conflicts, and an analysis of the situation will be discussed in this paper and contain the following points relevant to the TCC course: Ideological contexts, political settings, historical connections and changing worldviews. Furthermore, in this paper, there will be a focus on the Iraqi part of Kurdistan and the more recent claims for independence. This due to the personal importance as explained in the justification prior to the introduction. Struggle for Independence of Iraqi Kurdistan History of Kurdistan, and the Kurds The contiguous Kurdish regions of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria sit in the north-central area of the Middle East. Over the millennia, numerous ethnicities have migrated, settled or natively inhabited the area. From the beginning of recorded history until the present day, all of these ethnic groups have strived politically and violently both offensively and defensively for a secure homeland. As one of the crossroads of the Middle East, Kurdistan has been home to both ethnic battlegrounds, as well as peaceful ethnic coexistence. As such, over the past hundred years, the desire for an independent Kurdish state has created conflicts mainly with the Turkish and Iraqi populations in the areas where most of the Kurds live.
Formal attempts to establish such a state were crushed by the larger and more powerful countries in the region after both world wars. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I, the Kurds were promised their own independent nation under the Treaty of Sevres. In 1923 however, the treaty was broken allowing Turkey to maintain its status thus not allowing the Kurdish people to have a nation to call their own. When the Treaty of Sevres was rejected by the new Turkish Republic, and a new treaty, the Treaty of Lausanne, was negotiated and signed. However, the Treaty of Lausanne annulled its predecessor, giving control of the entire Anatolian peninsula to the new Turkish Republic including the Kurdistan homeland. There was no provision in the new treaty for any referendum for Kurdish independence or autonomy. Kurdistan’s hopes for an autonomous region and independent state were brought down. Even though a lot of time past from the end of World War I to the Gulf War in 1990, the Kurds came little closer to an independence as they fought unsuccessful guerrilla campaigns to achieve autonomy.
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All of the campaigns were forcibly put down and the Kurdish people suffered greater repression each time. Kurdish independence was only viable if, alike to countries in the caucuses and the middle-east, it was backed by a major player in the world. The first indication for this happened just after the Gulf War in 1990-1991 when an enforcement by the Americans of a secure zone in Iraqi Kurdistan region settled in and the Iraqi Kurds had their first costly autonomy, as they suffered great hardship. Nonetheless, this leads to an alliance of political parties, the Iraqi Kurdistan Front, which held parliamentary and presidential elections thus establishing the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), a new autonomous Government of Kurdistan in Iraq. The KRG is a secular government modeled along the lines of the modern independent nation-state in a federation with the rest of Iraq. They have their own parliament, military (the “Peshmerga”), borders and foreign policy. The second indication of this backing was in 2003 when the Americans invaded Iraq and the Peshmerga (the military forces of Iraqi Kurdistan) joined in the fight to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
After Hussein was driven from office, the Iraqis, in a national referendum, approved a new constitution. The new constitution recognized the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdistan Parliament. This government was later unified under Prime Minister Barzani and thus turning the dream of an independent state for the Kurds slowly but surely into a reality. Causes of the conflict The causes for this major conflict have great relevance to geography. The areas of geography relating to these specific conflicts are a historical claim to territory on the part of the Kurds: cultural, economic, and political geography. These four areas of geography can best explain the reasons for these Kurdish conflicts. First of all, the Kurds have a valid historical claim to the territory. They have lived in the area for over 2000 years. For this reason, they desire the establishment of a Kurdish homeland. Iraqis and Turks, while living in the area for a long period of time, cannot make a historical claim to that same area. The conflict arises, however, because the area happens to lie within the borders of Iraq and Turkey. Even though the Kurds claim is valid, the Turks and Iraqis have chosen to ignore it and have tried to wipe out the Kurds. Secondly, and probably most important, is that this conflict involves cultural geography. The Kurds are ethnically and culturally different from both the Turks and the Iraqis. They speak a different language, and while all three groups are Muslim, they all practice different forms. The Kurds have used this cultural difference as a reason to establish a homeland. However, the Turks and Iraqis look at the contrast in ethnicity in a much different sense.
The government of Turkey viewed any religious or ethnic identity that was not their own to be a threat to the state. Moreover, Saddam Hussein believed that the Kurds were “in the way” in Iraq and he perceived them as a threat to “the glory of the Arabs”. For this reason, he carried out his mass genocide of the Kurds in his country. The third factor in these conflicts is economic geography. The areas of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria that the Kurds live in is called Kurdistan. Kurdistan is a strategically important area for both Turkey and Iraq because it contains important oil and water resources which they cannot afford to lose. Also, there has been no significant economic activity in the region, due to the trade embargo against Iraq that has been in place since 1991 and for a great length after that. A final cause of the conflict is political geography. The Turks and Iraqis do not wish to lose their control over Kurdistan and have resorted to various measures such as the attacks previously described. The Kurds, on the other hand, have had political problems of their own. There was a sharp difference of opinion between the two main Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The parties are at odds about how to resolve the conflicts in which their people are involved. Even though this internal conflict among the Kurds has been close to solved, it will be difficult for them to deal with the Turks and Iraqis due to the recent developments. Recent developments The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the latest existential threat, now controls a large swath of land straddling the Iraq and Syrian borders. ISIS is attacking Kurdish cities in both Syria and Iraq. The Peshmerga is defending and attempting to retake cities which were previously under the control of the Kurds. The Peshmerga, which also includes women, has shown to be an effective fighting force, but have few resources against what appears to be a well-financed and growing ISIS army. America supports Iraqi Kurdish autonomy and provides continuous direct military support for training and equipping Peshmerga as well as providing air strikes to destroy ISIS.
Kurdistan is a land-locked country dependent on its neighbors for access to markets for both supplies and to export oil – Kurdistan’s main economic resource. Given the history of the region and the geographic significance of Kurdistan as one of the crossroads of the Middle East, the potential for continued conflict is extremely high. If Kurdistan hopes to survive as an independent nation-state, it must prove to be strong enough to defend itself against the inevitable existential threats that will present itself and establish peaceful relationships with its neighbors despite a history of conflict, distrust, and grievances. A referendum for independence 2017 The current impasse is the result of mistakes by both the K.R.G. and Baghdad. But the Kurdish cause in Iraq is, at its essence, a matter of long-term security and survival for an ethnic minority group that has been subjected to violent repression for generations. Despite much talk about change in Iraq since 2003, the government in Baghdad — no matter who is in charge — has repeatedly demonstrated that it intends to undermine and dominate the Kurds. Baghdad’s gross mistreatment of Sunni Arabs shows how brutal it can be. The language is very different from Turkish or Arabic, in the way that it uses an extended Latin alphabet as opposed to the Arabic abjad. They also have their own cuisine with dishes such as, Yapraxi galamew, which is rice stuffed in grape leaves, Kfta which is spiced meat cased in a thin layer of mashed pudding rice, shifta, which is a form of a meat patty, and Mastaw, which is a yogurt based drink. Favor: It’s their natural right.
The right to determine your fate is a natural right. Kurds have the right to determine whether they want to live with Arabs in Iraq or have their own country in their own land. It is the natural right of every nation regardless of which country or which politician likes and supports it or dislike and oppose it. Favor: Kurdistan has a history of supporting the U.S. Gary Bauer states,”Even with outdated equipment and limited help, the Syrian Kurds have redefined the battlefield. They have also advanced the idea of the establishment of an autonomous region in Northern Syria. This is an idea Americans should support because the Kurds’ national interests, governmental objectives, and democratic principles are pro-America and pro-West.” Why not support them if their cause is righteous in American eyes. Against: Countries have Ethnic Diversity Kurdistan should not be independent because countries like the United States of America are known as “The Melting Pot” and are perfectly fine with the amount of diversity evident within the country. Yes, there is racism and difference between each ethnicity; however, all are working well together. If a Kurdish country were to establish that will only be the beginning of bigger problems.
Furthermore, they will have too much control since they’re in the middle of the Middle East. If a war were to rise with the Kurds in the Middle East between any of the Arab countries they would have blockades and that will destroy and make wars worse than they already are. The Kurdish country is a threat not a benefit to the Middle East. Against: It will upset a major NATO member. Turkey is a member of NATO, and the Kurds in turkey want to break away from it. This will not do because NATO would side with Turkey due to the nature of the alliance, so if there is a civil war in Turkey, the US may even end up fighting the Kurds if they pose a threat to Turkey. Turkey breaking apart will not help anyone except Russia, who wants to weaken NATO. If we don’t help Turkey in their war with the Kurds, then we obviously can’t uphold the treaties we signed when we made NATO, and not only would the world lose faith in us, but the NATO alliance would crumble. Against: Yet another conflict, more problems Kurdistan should not gain independence due to the fact that a regional war could start in the Middle Eastern region. Kurdistan encompasses territories of four countries: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. With an independent Kurdish state, the chaos in Iraq and Syria will be even worse, more people will die, and as a result, the United States will be dragged into the conflict.
The governments of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria will not be happy with Kurdish independence, and surely they will not hesitate to send in their armed forces to ensure that there is no Kurdish state. Even if Kurdistan does gain independence, and they do repel attacks from surrounding countries, they will be in a bad position, geographically speaking. Kurdistan, if made independent, will be land-locked, since all four countries that oppose Kurdish independence surround the region. Those countries will ensure that no supplies, food, or cargo enter or leaves the Kurdish state, thus leaving the people of Kurdistan in a very terrible position. Sure, they may have oil, which they could profit from and then buy supplies with that money, but no one would want to buy that oil since that would mean antagonizing Turkey and sparking yet more conflicts with Iran and Syria, which is something that very few countries want, especially the major western powers. Due to this, the Kurds will be left in a hopeless situation, and they would have to dissolve their state anyway. Basically, Kurdish independence will pose a problem not only to the Arabs, Persians, and Turks but also to the very people of Kurdistan in the long run. Future of Iraqi Kurdistan What has proven to be the key to establishing independence for Kurdistan, but has been missing in Kurdistan’s quest for autonomy, is the support of a superpower.
Other minority nation-states who have established their own nation-state in the region have done so with the support of a superpower: Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan had the Soviet Union; Israel had Great Britain and the U.S. Personal Stance Despite legitimate Kurdish aspirations for statehood, the Sept. 25 vote is not necessarily just a push to secure independence. Instead, its purpose is to fundamentally restructure the relationship between the Kurdistan regional government, or K.R.G., and the federal government in Baghdad. In their statements in recent years, senior Kurdish officials have repeatedly signaled — if often implicitly — their willingness to settle for something other than independence, namely a “confederation” between Kurdistan and Iraq. Kurdish leaders hope that the referendum will draw the outside world’s attention to the Kurds’ cyclical and dysfunctional relationship with the Iraqi government. For decades, this relationship has been characterized by periods of calm, often when Baghdad is weak, followed by conflict when central authorities feel powerful enough to take on the Kurds militarily. Now, longstanding tensions over territory, oil and military affairs seem once again ready to explode into violence. Kurdistan is a region that has existed in turmoil and is and will probably remain the “never was” country. Without the support of a large powerful nation such as the U.S., the Kurds will probably never establish an independent Kurdish state. The Kurds do not have enough military power to fight off the Turks and Iraqis without help.
The Iraqis and Turks would not be willing to give up their economically important territory to people which they perceive a “threat” to their way of life and will most likely continue to fight the Kurds. The Kurds have no choice but to continue fighting until either they or the Turks and Iraqis are defeated, as both groups are unwilling to allow them to remain in their countries.
The future definitely looks bleak for the Kurds. It’s for those reasons that many Kurds see full independence as desirable. But the government in Erbil, the Kurdish government capital, is also aware that it faces strong opposition not just from Baghdad but also from Iran and the United States. Turkey, too, has sent mixed signals and could come to oppose independence. That’s why the Kurdish leadership is, in fact, open to other options, in particular, a system that created a confederation of Iraq and what is now the K.R.G. — two separate but united states.
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