The Kurds are often in conflict with states they live in and which consider them a threat to territorial integrity. Now the Kurds are a key target of the jihadists calling themselves Islamic State, as the Kurds stand in the way of the caliphate they want to form. The Kurds have been driven from homes in Syria.
“You see what we are going through. They attack us, behead our children and abduct our women. They set our houses ablaze. What can I say? They play dirty games on Kurds. they do terrible things to Kurds”, says Mustafa Harun.
Many Kurds have sought refuge in Turkey, where 20 percent of the population is Kurdish.
There is a long tradition of Kurds fighting for recognition and rights in Turkey, notably for greater powers of self-government in the southeast.
Following a bloody conflict lasting some 30 years and which claimed 45,000 lives, their historic leader and head of the armed PKK Kurdistan Workers’ Party resistance Abdullah Ocalan, sentenced to life in prison, moved into a peace process with Ankara at the end of 2012.
In March 2013, the PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU and the US, declared a truce. On 14 May 2013, some 2,000 Kurdish fighters withdrew from southeastern Turkey towards Iraqi Kurdistan, where they numbered 4,000. Peace process negotiations are ongoing, and delicate.
The eruption of the radical Islamic State movement in the region complicates the prospects for peace for the Kurds, given that they are also long-present in Syria.
The Kurds number some 30 million in total, of Indo-European origin and mostly Sunni Muslims. Yet there are also minority Christians and Yazidis living in the region. Many already had to flee Syria by crossing the Tigris River into Iraqi Kurdistan in August. They fled jihadists who demanded they renounce their faith and follow the radicals’ vision of strict Islam.
In Iraq, there are 4.6 million Kurds, in an autonomous territory rich in oil. Their armed forces, the Peshmerga, have won back territory lost to ISIL after the islamists were weakened by American-led airstrikes. They will need more than that to decisively turn the tide.