by Antonella Vicini, Reset Doc, September 12, 2014

In the ‘Great Game’ developing in the Middle East and amidst constant changes in diplomatic equilibria, as well as the deployment of armed forces to try and stop ISIS’ advance, the only certainty for the moment is the role the Kurds have over time cut out for themselves and their mandate from the most important European countries and the United States. This concerns not only the often discussed Peshmerga, Iraqi Kurds who have rather effectively opposed the Islamic State’s penetration since the beginning of the summer, but also Syrian Kurds, active since at least 2012 and without doubt less visible at least from a media perspective.

Syrian Kurdistan is a region mainly inhabited by Kurds in northern Syria and also known as Rojava, effectively the western part of the nation called Kurdistan. Since the Syrian civil war started, rather like what happened in Iraq after 2003, the Kurds have gained control over increasingly larger areas and achieved greater autonomy, although there has not as yet been formal acknowledgment as happened with Iraqi Kurdistan. The Syrian Kurds, after fighting Assad’s armed forces, have clashed with Islamists so as to defend their region, in a rather fragile area bordering with Iraq and subject to infiltrations from the Al Nabar province. They have become a force, fighting the Islamic State fanatics thanks to action taken by YPG, the Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (Kurdish for the People’s Protection Unit), a regular army of about eight brigades spread throughout the area and also the armed wing of the Kurdish Supreme Committee. The female wing of the YPG is called the YPJ, Yekineyen Parastina Jin, the Women’s Protection Unit. (more…)

Old photo of Eastern Kurds, 1898

by Serhun Al, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, August 12, 2014

[Note: for the Arabic version of this article, click here.]

As the Islamic State consolidates its presence in Iraq the question of an independent Kurdish state has again become the subject of heated debate. Despite a rapidly changing situation, with U.S. airstrikes supporting peshmerga attempts to push the Islamic State back, realities regarding the prospects of Kurdish independence remain largely unchanged. Potential challenges include security hurdles, disagreement among Kurdish stakeholders, and the lack of broad international support.

As aspirations among the Kurdish population for an independent, secure, and economically flourishing state within Iraq mount, rifts within Kurdish parties stand in the way of even an agreement on whether independence is viable. Rival Kurdish groups, each fearful of losing the status quo, have proven extremely divided on the question of statehood. The quest for independence is more likely to incite these rivalries than soothe them. Massoud Barzani, the president of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), has been pushing for independence, while his main rival party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), remains unconvinced. Despite its support for independence, the Gorran (Change) movement is concerned about the potential dominance of the Barzani family and the absence of democratic and accountable institutions on which a viable state could be built. (more…)

It is getting harder for Iraqi-Kurdish vendors to find stock of genuine Kurdish handicrafts [Lara Fatah/Al Jazeera]

by Lara Fatah, Al Jazeera, April 20, 2014

Erbil, Iraq – In the heart of the ancient city of Erbil, capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, stands the Erbil citadel, or Qalat, as it is known locally. A walk along the city walls, which are currently under restoration, brings people to one of the region’s gems: the Kurdish Textile Museum.

It is here that the lost art of weaving and handicrafts is being re-taught. Shereen Fars Hussan, one of 40 women trained in weaving at the museum since 2009, sits quietly in the building’s cool upper interior as her colleagues chatter with pride at having learned these traditional skills.

Hussan, 30, remembers how she used to watch her grandmother weave carpets and kilims (tapestry-woven carpets). “She would tell us stories about the old ways of life in Kurdistan, how she would weave carpets with the patterns that her own grandmother and mother had taught her from childhood, but war and genocide meant that she couldn’t pass on the skills to my mother and me,” Hussan told Al Jazeera.

VIDEO: Kulajo – My heart is darkened (more…)

Dervish,; photograph by Sevryugin Anton (1830 – 1933), the official photographer of the Imperial Court of Iran

In the early 19th century there was a florescence of Protestant missionary interest in saving Muslim, Jewish and other kinds of Christian souls in the Middle East. This thread continues excerpts from one of the earliest accounts from the 19th century, that of Joseph Wolff (1795-1862), a convert from Judaism to Christianity. In 1837 he published a diary of his travels. Like a number of Christians visiting the Muslim world, Wolff is more impressed by Muslim sobriety and devotion in their ritual than he is by the Christians he sees:

There is also an intriguing encounter between the Christian missionary and a Kurdish Muslim dervish:

Chalk one up for the Kurdish dervish over the atheists of Europe.

In the midst of all the bad news emanating from the Middle East, here is a youtube video of traditional Kurdish music with pastoral scenes in Kurdistan.

In the social media revolution Twitter has taken a breathtaking role. The Arab Spring may still have sprung without cellphones, but the rapid ability to communicate has been an enormous aid to coordinating protests. But it seems that much of Twitter is for twits, to whit media narcissists who think the public lives to follow their quotidian banality and the full range of bigots who use Twitter to spew out hate. Take the Turkish phrase “En İyi Kürt Ölü Kürt” (“The best Kurd is a dead Kurd.”), which trended on August 9, as reported on Al Jazeera. The trend came after news coverage of an ambush of a Turkish military bus by suspected Kurdish separatists. But the anti-Kurdish sentiments may also have been heightened by Turkey’s decision in June to allow the teaching of Kurdish in schools.

Part of the trend was the response by Kurds who were angry at the racist post. (more…)

A Kurdish tribesman from southern Kurdistan, Photo by A. Kerim, 1925, published by the Hasso Brothers in Baghdad and printed by Rotophot A.G. in Berlin. Harvard Semitic Museum Photographic Archives, Virtual Baghdad Museum.

Former PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, pictured in 1992.

The PKK as a burden on Iraqi Kurds

by IHSAN DAĞI, Today’s Zaman, October 14, 2008

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) attacks from northern Iraq on Turkish targets have turned the Kurdish region in Iraq into a primary target of Turkey.

It is time for the regional Kurdish administration to stop using the PKK as a bargaining chip against Turkey; it is not a time for the Kurdish people of Iraq to side with the PKK out of Kurdish sentimentality. While the former produces no advantages and incites the animosity of Turkey and pressures of the US, the latter ignores the fact that the PKK threatens to undo the gains Iraqi Kurds have made through their long struggle.

What Iraqi Kurds have today, after decades of struggle, is certainly worth preserving and consolidating, and those gains should not be risked by protecting the PKK. (more…)