religion, Syrian history

Ashshams: Kurdish Watch; Anatolia, Idlib, Antioch and Aleppo, part three

The Kurdish Fantasy, a Geographical Viewpoint

I understand part three is a long time coming but I’m pre-occupied with the Kurdish propaganda machine so will begin on another cautionary note. The ‘Friends of Syria’ site published an article claiming the Kurdish militias requested help from the Syrian government to combat IS in Afrin. My response was not to trust it, as publicising the article will legitimise the claim and this could backfire in the future. Of course it may be true, as the West is less likely to side openly with the Kurdish against Turkey, than they are with the Kurdish against IS.

Many Syrian people are frightened of Turkey colonising parts of the country but perhaps should be more apprehensive about the Kurdish threat, as they extend their political power to North West Syria, which borders on Turkey’s Hatay province. I was in Gaziantep a while ago, a city that is, like Diyabakir, in South East Anatolia; it lies to the North East of Hatay and is not Kurdish. Interestingly the refugee project, the IHH, which operates in Killis, just South of Gaziantep and 30 miles from the city of Aleppo, is mainly for the Syrian Kurdish and is opposed to the Syrian regime.

The River Tigris rises in Elazig, Eastern Anatolia and skirts around the very North East tip of Syria into Iraq, whilst the Euphrates rises in Erzurum, also in Turkey and flows the length of East Syria into Iraq. The Greek name for the fertile region between the two rivers is Mesopotamia but the museum display in Deir Azzor, a Syrian town on the Euphrates, referred to it as al Jazireh (island). The Tigris flows through Diyabakir and between the Kurdish held cities of Mosul and Erbil in Northern Iraq and parallel to the Euphrates. If the Kurdish get the territory they desire they would have sole control of one of Syria’s main water sources.

The Kurdish militias in Syria are almost certainly from modern day Turkey but this will be skirted over by the West as the two factions merge and won’t make too much difference if North East Syria is annexed to East Turkey. Or won’t until the cracks show in the perceived Kurdish homogeneity. It is unclear where the demarcation line will fall but at least one Wikipedia entry names the aforementioned Erzurum as part of the Kurdish region but so far I haven’t found a break down of its population. The Erzurum region is North of Diyabakir and was once known as Western Armenia.

Wikipedia: its maps of Syria are looking increasingly like computer games as people add their blurb

Since I started writing this blog the Kurdish regions in Syria and Turkey have expanded particularly on Wikipedia sites as many of the Syrian maps are militarised and serve as propagating tools. At the end of  2013 there was barely a mention of Qamishli, or of anywhere to the East of it, on the internet. Now the fictional ”Kurdistan” is said to stretch practically the whole length of Syria’s Northern border and then through Turkey, North to the Black Sea, in short the Kurdish are claiming the whole of Anatolia. Their activities in Idlib and Afrin suggest they may have designs on the Hatay province of Turkey, which was once part of Anatolia as well as North West Syria. Thus the next part of the series traces the history of the Kurdish in that region.


Anatolia originates from the Greek word Anatole and in Turkish it means the place where the sun rises,  for a description of ancient Anatolia see

The Crusades, Steven Runciman

In  volumes one and two of his account of the crusades, Steven Runciman referred to the Kurds on several occasions as they were active on many fronts. In volume three he refers to the Kurds and Kurdistan though there is no precise location given. He wrote his very comprehensive account in the early 1950s over a period of four years, thus this entry will now consider the reasons why Kurdistan is referred to only in the final volume. Though there is no direct reference to the Treaty of  Sevre or to the Picot/Sykes Accord in Mr Runciman’s bibliography he may have been influenced by politics of the day. The 1920 Treaty of Sevre dissolved the Ottoman empire and though the deal was not finalised it made provision for an autonomous Kurdish region.

The Picot/Sykes Accord, which preceded it in 1916 provided for a comprehensive restructure of the Middle East, whereby Britain and France laid claim to the region spanning the Levant and Iraq. The treaty was purported to contain the original provision for a Kurdish protectorate, that included almost the whole of former Mesopotamia and the oil rich city of Kirkuk, which lies directly to the South of Arbil and to the South East of Mosul. There have been pitch battles in Kirkuk since the Western invasion of 2003, between Sunni Ba’athists, the Sunni Islamists and the Iraqi government, now mainly Shi’ah Muslims, which has no wish to cede the territory. The Kurdish militias play their part and helped by their Western allies controlled the Kirkuk oil revenue in 2015, BBC Radio 4. Kirkuk is now back in the hands of the government, I believe. The truth may or may not be out there but is hard to find.

Mark Sykes, categorising the Kurdish tribes

Mark Sykes, the co-broker of the Picot/Sykes Accord, made his own classification of the Kurdish in an article entitled, Kurdish tribes of the Ottoman Empire. the document, written in 1908 for The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, can be accessed on JSTOR, though readers have to sign in. Some of his terminology is insulting by todays standards but remember this is the British raj and his language is typical for his time. He would no doubt, categorise the Arabs and the Turks in the same way, as he seems to have a particular view of Shia’h Muslims, that of devil worshippers, no doubt a result of Sunni propaganda. Mr Sykes shares his interest in tribal culture with his friend HG Wells, the science fantasy writer, who does not write about the Kurdish.

Mr Sykes geographical classification may have formed the basis of britain’s notion of a possible Kurdish region, though, he refers to Kurdish tribes and families in the main. Britain was no doubt influenced by potential oil revenues and made an uneasy alliance with the Turkish and Arab nationalist movements, in Iraq and Turkey. Ignoring of the influence of Russia on this new nationalism, Britain was intent on ousting Iran from Northern Iraq and separating it from the Russian Caucuses. After all Britain had its Kurdish friends to fall back on, if it was ever rid of the perceived communist ”threat’ . Mr Sykes, though, was no doubt chosen as the advocate of separation because of his diplomatic and military skills, his knowledge of the region and of course he was a Conservative politician.

He observed that the Kurdish tribes inhabit three geographical regions, the first was the area between East Anatolia’s Lake Van to the North, West of the River Tigris and South to the Iraq Plains, possible the old Ninevah. It is worth mentioning that the map provided in the article, is difficult to discern and the maps on Wikipedia currently are unreliable. Mr Syke’s map doesn’t show a Kurdish presence in West Mesopotamia including what is now North East Syria and shows only a scant Kurdish presence in Erzurum. He does mention the tribes near Killis, referred to previously, but describes only tented encampments and states that the region falls outside the normal Kurdistan. His reference, like so many others fails to provide a definition of Kurdistan.

My source JSTOR is having problems so I have to end this entry here but hopefully can continue it soon.






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