Profiteering: war & invasion, Syrian history

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

Mark Sykes, Categorising the Kurdish Tribes, cont

Mr Sykes’s classification of the Kurdish in Anatolia and Northern Iraq acknowledges the existence of other cultural groups inhabiting the same territory and goes into detail about some of their possible heritage but, by and large, attributes to them Turkish or Arabic nationality. He refers to the other populations as ”foreign” and supposes the majority of tribes are of Kurdish origin, his focus is on the plains and the mountainous regions, thus there is no mention of the city populations of a region, which incorporates parts of Iraq, Mesopotamia and Anatolia. He wrote that some of the Nestorian Christian populations are considered by some ”Kurdish notables” to be Kurdish rather than Aramaic, though they deny this.

Remember Mr Sykes wrote, in 1908 and there was competion between the different cultural and religions populations for the land that might be allocated to them when the Ottoman empire finally disintegrated. Arab and Turkish nationalism hadn’t come into its own and the whole area remained in Ottoman hands, though the drive, by Britain, Russia and their allies to break it up, was almost complete, see /2017/11/11/part-2-the-background-earlier-massacres-armenians-turks-kurds-arabs-persians-decline-of-the-turkish-empire-russia-and-british-colonialism/ &  /2017/11/14/part-3-the-armenian-revolutionary-movements-turks-kurds-arabs-decline-of-the-turkish-empire-russia-and-british-colonialism/

The British Raj takes Stock

The Syke’s article shows the number of families in each of the tribes, it discusses the various dialects spoken, the variation in their  mode of dress and their physical characteristics. He categorises their way of life broadly as settled agriculturalists or bedouin, though the theory had been rejected by Mr John George Taylor in his assessment of the Kurdish. Mr Taylor was a political agent for the East India Company and Consul-General for Kurdistan at Diyabakir and Erzurum from 1859. Prior to this, from 1851 to 1858, he was Vice-Consul to Basra, just like his father, who held the position from 1818 to 1822. Mr Taylor describes the term Kurdistan as a convenient geo-geographical designation for the lands inhabited by the Kurds, though he considers it to be a general term as the Kurds did not form the majority population of the countries they inhabited. For an account of his evaluation, supplemented by that of its compiler see the The 1902 Encyclopaedia Britannica,

Mr Taylor notes how some of the settled Kurds of Anatolia were conscripted into the military by the Ottomans. The Encyclopaedia Iranica see, bears this out as it too notes how many of the Turkish Kurds are settled and have lost their tribal identity. The website—1870/Taylor-1865/ quotes Mr Taylor when it says the Ottoman official title for Diyabakir was Kurdistan, though it stopped using it at some point in the mid to late 1800s, Britain, though, continued to use the name until 1890. It would be pointless to regurgitate the content of these entries but both the observations of Mr Sykes and Mr Taylor demonstrates Britain’s interest in a potential alliance with the Kurds.

Britain’s and Russia’s Other Cold War

The re-allocating of the territories, post Ottoman empire would have been of paramount importance, as the powers sought to guarantee future trade routes and access to the oil that would be excavated in the coming decades. It should be noted once again, that Britain was in a cold war with Russia in the latter half of the 1800s, as both powers moved through the Balkans, Caucuses, Anatolia and Iraq/Mesopotamia to establish superiority, to offer carrots to the competing cultural populations and to determine future alliances. In many ways this culminated in the Picot/Sykes Accord, when Britain made gains in Middle East and Russia in the Caucuses and resulted in a physical separation between Russia and Persia.

On the bases of this it is no wonder Russia came to rescue of Syria, it was powerless during the Gulf war in 1990 and again at the time of the 2003 invasion, as the Western initiative to eradicate the last bastion of communism left it impoverished. Syria’s alliance with Russia results more from the communist roots of Ba’athism than from links established in the 1800s but the world geography is under reconstruction and discourses about borders centre more on neo-colonialism than freedom. A fact that escapes the so-called activists who go to Syria to fight for a Kurdish ”homeland”, which never before included Syria, as the Kurdish population there is small to this day.

As you may have gathered this entry is as much about the activities of the colonial powers in the 1800s, as they slowly but surely broke up the Ottoman empire, as about the Kurds. For the people who say the Kurdish are being used by the west, the answer is yes to a point but no-one can be used if they really don’t want to be. It is ironical that the activists who now invade North East Syria on behalf of their governments attribute the Syrian uprising to disputes arising from the Picot/Sykes Accord. What they fail to acknowledge is the current line in the sand arose from the events of the late 1880s, which contributed to the same accord, history like the world goes round and round. If the Kurdish get the territories they covet, they will be far from autonomous and who knows when the rug will be pulled once again.

NB Though this entry focuses on Britain and Russia there were other European powers involved in the struggle.














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