Thursday, May 12, 2016
Kurdish Independence Coming
‘This is our 1948’: Kurds close relationship with Jews and Israel
“Do you know why we like Israel?” “The help in the 1960s, when Israel supported Kurdish resistance?” I wondered.
“That is a tiny reason,” said the major.
“We had Jews in this region, in our communities and we say ‘blood is blood’ and it is something you cannot abandon. We have gone through the same things, both suffered a lot.”
He pointed out that the Jewish people had suffered up until the foundation of Israel. “We have many of the same enemies around us and we are struggling for our state.”
Elements of this story appeared in most conversations I had in Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, last year. Some men claimed to have Jewish cousins. They were eager to show photos of Jewish houses in Aqrah, where some peshmerga we met were from. In Amadiya there were stories of “holy Jewish graves” from times of old. In the town of Alqosh there is the grave of the Jewish prophet Nahum, which some Jewish groups have shown interest in helping preserve and encourage visits to.
Hussein Yazdanpana, the leader of an Iranian Kurdish party that is in exile in Iraqi Kurdistan and has been fighting Islamic State, is enthusiastic about Kurdish-Jewish ties. Meeting him at a frontline observation post west of Kirkuk city, he spoke about the Holocaust and the shared suffering of Jews and Kurds as well as common values such as freedom and democracy.
“I look forward to good relations with Israel and the Jewish people in which we fight terrorism together in this region.”
In meeting throughout Kurdistan, the constant refrain is that the Kurds are today living in their [hoped for] independen[ce] year.
While other nations in the world gained independence long ago, such as Israel in 1948, the Kurdish nation of 30 million is divided between Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. In Iraq they are closest to a functioning independence state, running their own affairs with an autonomous government. In Iran they suffer under the Persian-speaking and Shi’a dominated regime. In Turkey, although Kurds have representation in parliament, the Turkish government has been fighting a war with Kurdish communist guerrillas from the PKK party since last year. Cities are under curfew and thousands have died.
In Syria, the Kurdish areas have come under the control of the YPG, a left-leaning movement that has been the main force fighting ISIS. The Kurdish area of Syria has suffered greatly, with cities like Kobani in ruins and although it wants an autonomous, federal structure after the war, no one is supporting its desires.
This mutual interest between Israel and Kurdistan is unique in the region.
In many countries, such as Morocco or Egypt, even depicting Jewish history in the country is seen as controversial.
In contrast, in Erbil you can buy books in Kurdish about Golda Meir and about the history of Kurdish Jews.
In the Kurdish regions of Iraq, much of the talk today is about a referendum and eventual independence. The war with Islamic State is grinding on and Kurds have successfully pushed back the extremists and gained key allies, not only among Western powers, but also in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, countries usually hostile to Kurdish interests.
Israel, which has had a close clandestine relationship with Kurdish groups that dates to the 1960s, has generally been supportive of Kurdish rights. In January, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked expressed support for Kurdish independence.
In a 2014 speech to the Institute for National Security Studies Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Kurdistan was “worthy of statehood.” All of these developments in the last years point to an enduring bond between two Middle Eastern peoples that is growing and can be cultivated.