July 2, 2017
“We must support the Kurds’ aspirations for independence; they deserve it” (PM Benyamin Netanyahu)
An independent Kurdish state, an idea that the countries where the Kurds live – Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran – strongly oppose, has one strong ally namely Israel. It might be surprising that Israel has long promoted cordial relations with the Kurds, particularly the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq (KRG). From Kurdish side there is believe that Israel can be their best lobby in the West for the project of a Kurdish state.
On 25th September 2017, a referendum will be held on the future of the autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq – whether remain within the Iraqi state or become an independent state. This referendum will be the Kurds’ first step towards the realization over century-long dream of an independent Kurdistan.
The Kurds have suffered persecution and oppression in the countries where they reside: Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. The Kurds now constitute the largest national group in the world without a state to call their own.
In Iraq, after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Kurds got a broad autonomy and also respect from outside especially due to the considerable assistance provided by the Peshmerga, the Kurdish military militia, to the war effort against ISIS.
Despite this the current Iraqi government more or less oppose Kurdish independence, according Bagdad the Kurds are an inseparable part of Iraqi society. One reason for this approach might be disputes between the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq (KRG) and the Iraqi government over oil ownership in Kurdistan and the reimbursement of funds demanded by the government for the sale of that oil.
Dr. Edy Cohen has recently published his analysis Kurdistan: From Referendum to the Road to Independence and concludes following:
For its part, Israel has an economic and security interest in supporting a Kurdish state. In view of the profusion of jihadist militias in Syria and Iraq, Jerusalem must be involved in developments in Kurdistan. It would be in Israel’s interest for the IDF to train and instruct Peshmerga soldiers in any future Kurdish state. One could go further – it might be sensible to build an air force base in Kurdistan for the state’s protection. Moreover, the independent Kurdish state may well allow the restitution of its former Jewish population, driven from Iraq for its plundered property, thus setting an important precedent for future Arab-Israeli peace agreements.
Israeli involvement with the Kurds is not a new phenomenon
In its search for non-Arab allies in the region, Israel has supported Kurdish militancy in Iraq since the 1960s. In 1980, Israeli premier Menachem Begin publicly acknowledged that besides humanitarian aid, Israel had secretly provided military aid to Kurds in the form of weapons and advisers. Israel and the Kurds also share a common bond through the Kurdish Jews in Israel. Prominent among them is Itzhak Mordechai, an Iraqi Kurd who was defense minister during Benjamin Netanyahu’s term nearly two decades ago.
Many Iraqi leaders accuse the president of the Kurdish autonomous region, Massoud Barzani, of collaborating with Israel, thereby hinting at the military assistance given by Israel in the 1960s and 1970s to the Kurds under the leadership of Mustafa Barzani (Massoud’s father) in their war against the central government. Israeli television has in the past broadcast photographs from the 1960s showing Mustafa Barzani, embracing the then Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan. According to Eliezer Tsafrir, a former senior Mossad official, in 1963–1975 Israel had military advisers at the headquarters of Mulla Mustafa Barzani, and trained and supplied the Kurdish units with firearms and field and anti-aircraft artillery. Israeli media in 2004 reported about the meetings of Israeli officials with Kurdish political leaders when Massoud Barzani, Jalal Talabani and the former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon publicly confirmed the good relations with the Iraqi Kurdistan region.
The president of the Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, answered a question while visiting Kuwait in May 2006 about the Kurdish-Israeli relationship: “It is not a crime to have relations with Israel. If Baghdad established diplomatic relations with Israel, we could open a consulate in Erbil.”
Former prime minister of Iraq (2006-14) Nuri al-Maliki, has repeatedly told the media pejoratively that Kurdistan would be a “second Israel.”
In a policy address in 2014, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported the establishment of an independent Kurdish state. He claimed that: “The Kurds are a fighting people that have proven political commitment and political moderation, and they’re also worthy of their own political independence.”…“We must support the Kurds’ aspirations for independence; they deserve it,” Netanyahu declared in a speech at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
The Israelis are also rumored to have provided weapons and training to the KRG. In addition, Israel helped the KRG by purchasing Kurdish oil in 2015 at a time when Baghdad threatened to sue anyone, who would trade with the Kurds.
“We must openly call for the establishment of a Kurdish state that separates Iran from Turkey, one which will be friendly towards Israel,” Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said in late January 2017. She also called the Kurds “a partner for the Israeli people.”
Globally, the Kurds are estimated to number anywhere from a low of 30 million, to possibly as high as 45 million, with the majority living in the region they regard as Greater Kurdistan. According to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, Kurdistan covers around 190,000 km² in Turkey, 125,000 km² in Iran, 65,000 km² in Iraq, and 12,000 km² in Syria, with a total area of approximately 392,000 km².
After WWI, the victorious powers promised independence for the Kurds. This did not materialize mainly due to the opposition of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.
Modern Kurdish-majority governments (source and more in WikipediA) are as follows:
- Kingdom of Kurdistan (1920) Kingdom of Kurdistan, which lasted from September 1922 until July 1924 The Kingdom of Kurdistan refers to a short-lived unrecognized state proclaimed in the city of Sulaymaniyah following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Officially, the territory involved was under the jurisdiction of the British Mandate of Mesopotamia.
- Republic of Ararat (1927–1930)
- Republic of Mahabad (1946) In December 1945 the Kurdish Republic of Kurdistan was declared by Qazi Muhammad, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party-Iran in Mahabad (northwestern Iran) which was under Soviet military control. In May 1946 the Soviet troops were withdrawn from Iran and all support for the Republic of Kurdistan was cut, in accordance with the Yalta Agreement. In December of that year Mahabad was finally overrun by Iranian troops, president Qazi Muhammad was hanged in Mahabad city along with his brother and a cousin, and a number of libraries containing Kurdish texts were burned.
- Kurdistan Regional Government (1991 to date)
- Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (2013 to date)
According WikipediA The Kurdish people are believed to be of heterogeneous origins combining a number of earlier tribal or ethnic groups including Lullubi, Guti, Cyrtians, Carduchi. Some of them have also absorbed some elements from Semitic, Turkic and Armenian people.
There is also theories/speculations/legends that Kurds are the closest relatives of Jews The Kurds are the descendants of Gutis, which in turn were the descendants of Israelites taken captive to Media. The Kurds are said to be the descendants of Medians. In modern time some scientists sampled Y-chromosomes from 18 populations and discovered that the majority of Jews around the world are closely related to the Kurdish people –more closely than they are to the Semitic-speaking Arabs or any other population that was tested.
Immigration of Kurdish Jews to the Land of Israel initiated during the late 16th century, with a community of rabbinic scholars arriving to Safed and Galilee and a Kurdish Jewish quarter had been established there as a result.
Since the early 20th century some Kurdish Jews had been active in the Zionist movement. One of the most famous members of Lehi (Freedom Fighters of Israel aka the “Stern) was Moshe Barazani, whose family immigrated from Iraqi Kurdistan and settled in Jerusalem in the late 1920s. Lehi/Stern was underground movement in pre-state British Mandate Palestine and had armed fight against British administration.
The vast majority of Kurdish Jews were forced out of Northern Iraq in the early 1950s, together with other Iraqi Jewish community. The vast majority of the Kurdish Jews of Iranian Kurdistan relocated mostly to Israel as well, in the 1950s.
Kurdish Jews in Israel are immigrants and descendants of the immigrants of the Kurdish Jewish communities, who now reside within the state of Israel. They number around 200,000.
The Barzani (also Barazani) family is one of the Kurdish tribes in Iraq and has has been the leading light of Kurdish politics since the decline and final collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The sheikhs of Barzan are descendants of Bahdinan and of Yazidi origin are assimilated to Kurdish culture. The Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) speaks of the Barzani families Jewish Rabbinical roots.
As consequence of still ongoing wars in Iraq and Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and EU met huge refugee crisis. However not so many Kurds were among refugees. One reason might be that Iraqi and Syrian Kurds had motivation to defend their homeland and they also had relatively good resources – oil, money and weapons – to do so. Related to manpower and describing Kurd society and culture the important aspect is that also women have significant role in military campaigns.
I share in the highest degree the ideas/visions of Abdullah Öcalan’s – leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party -paper on Democratic Confederalism for Kurdistan in future. He e.g. notes
that Democratic confederalism is based on grass-roots participation. Its decision-making processes lie with the communities. Higher levels only serve the coordination and implementation of the will of the communities that send their delegates to the general assemblies. For limited space of time they are both mouthpiece and executive institutions. However, the basic power of decision rests with the local grass-roots institutions.
Surrounded by enemies the Kurdish region, shares a border with Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. These countries, especially Iran and Turkey, all strongly oppose the establishment of a Kurdish state. They fear, that Kurdistan – which has managed to build a friendly island of calm and stability in an area surrounded by enemies and war – will indeed become that distasteful thing, a “second Israel.”
Kurdish feats on the battleground, have proven that the Kurds are a formidable barrier against dangerous anti-Israeli forces emanating from both Sunni and Shi’a Islamist radicals.
Edy Cohen concludes that
There are many commonalities between the Kurdish people and the Jewish people, both of whom have suffered continuous long-term persecution and are scattered throughout the world….in all probability, the state of Kurdistan will be an island of stability that is respectful of human rights. It will therefore differ substantially from the countries surrounding it…The Kurdish people must have a state of their own, and the sooner the better. The international community should support the independence of Kurdistan.
I fully agree this conclusion and recommendation.
Sources and more:
Kurdistan: From Referendum to the Road to Independence by Dr. Edy Cohen BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 507, June 24, 2017, View PDF,
Abdullah Öcalan’s Democratic Confederalism and
Article first appeared in Conflicts by Ari Rusila blog