How did the Kurds lose the opportunity to establish an independent state?


Margaret Macmillan
Historian, prof at Toronto university

This article has been translated from the chapter entitled "Ataturk and broke Siver treaty" from Margaret Macmillan's book, "Paris 1919: The Six Months That Changed the World" presented to him by the well-known American diplomat and friend of the Kurd, Richard Holbrooke.

Macmillan's book, published in 2001 through its 624 pages and translated into many languages around the world, is an important source for understanding the Peace Conference in Paris in 1919 and looking at the conference's scenes, its determinants and outcomes in Europe, Asia and Africa.


The book does not content itself with introducing the accepted in relation to that historical stage, but rather gaining its importance from the fact that the author also provides many pivotal details personal portraits of leaders and officials who played a role in shaping the features of a world order that is still largely with its details in effect in our present world.

The Kurds, whose fate was decided at that historical stage, are still shackled in their search for a national entity with the arrangements for the peace conference and subsequent treaties and agreements for it, including the Lausanne Agreement 1923, and military developments on the ground between 1919 and 1923 that affected the influential decision makers and international and regional decision-making centers, so that the Kurds would come out From that era, they lost their opportunity to establish their independent state in the Middle East. So I decided to call this translated text "How did the Kurds lose the opportunity to establish an independent state?"

Kurdistan had less opportunity than Armenia to find a protector. The Kurdistan issue appeared only once in the Paris Peace Conference. When Lloyd George first released his list of possible assignments in Ottoman lands on January 30, he forgot to mention Kurds. When he quickly added Kurdistan to his list, he admitted, laughing, that its geography was wrong. He thought he would cover Kurdistan in Mesopotamia (Iraq) or Armenia, but his advisers informed him that he was wrong. Lloyd George did not try wisely to define the boundaries of the new Mandate area: the border, like many other matters related to Kurdistan, was somewhat vague.

The Kurds were very far away, on the eastern side of the Ottoman Empire, and at that time, they had little influence on world public opinion.

Mark Sykes - who had traveled to the Kurdish areas before the war - loved them because they were strong, good fighters. While the American expert, who had never seen the region, never liked them.

The Kurds lived in a dangerous area. Behind the mountains to the north and east which are Russia and Persia, to the west toward the Turks, and to the south by Arab Mesopotamia. During World War I, the Ottoman and Russian armies fought on their northern tip, while the British rushed from the south. An estimated 800,000 Kurdish fighters may have died in the ranks of the Ottoman armies or from starvation and disease.

Estimating the Kurdish population was always difficult. Given that the Kurdish culture flourished in the Arabic, Persian, Turkish and even Armenian languages, it was impossible to determine the Kurdish population. About three-quarters of them - perhaps a million or even two million - lived in the Ottoman Empire, which was later called Turkey and they were the majority among the Kurds, and the rest of the Kurds lived in Iraq, with a scattering spread to them in Syria. The rest were in Persia.



Unlike other emerging countries, Kurdistan did not have strong sponsors in Paris, and the Kurds had not yet been able to speak effectively about themselves. Busy with their usual raids of livestock looting, kidnappings, clan wars and bandits, with the enthusiastic massacre of Armenians or simply their survival, they had shown no interest in that moment even in greater autonomy within the Ottoman Empire where the majority lived.

Before the World War, the national sentiments that moved among other peoples of the Middle East had produced a weak response among the Kurds. The main center of Kurdish nationalism, consisting of a few small gatherings and a handful of intellectuals, was in Constantinople.

The only Kurdish speaker in Paris in 1919 - a somewhat attractive man - lived there for a long time until he was called the elegant sheriff (Sharif Pasha). He did his best, laying down wide demands that would extend from Armenia (if any) to the Mediterranean. Much of that region was claimed by the Armenians and Persia.

Britain was the only force with a passing interest in seeing Kurdistan on the map. The United States, sympathetic to the Armenians, had no affection for the Kurds. The French laid down a demand for the mandate of Kurdistan as a bargaining tool. When Britain confirmed its acquisition on Syria in the fall of 1919, France abandoned any claim of interest. Nevertheless, France continued to oppose the British Mandate for Kurdistan.

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