The Sphinx’s beard

Notes on Kurdish Political Naiveté

By Prof. Mehrdad R. Izady, 1995

The head of Egypt’s celebrated Sphinx is collapsing. To secure the head to the chest, the fallen beard must be restored. But the beard–a nondescript slab of rock shaped like a stick of butter–is not in Egypt. It is in the British Museum, spirited off by British colonial authorities who refuse to return it. And so the Sphinx’s head is now leaning precariously forward.

The Egyptian government refuses to permit the fitting of a new beard. They believe that to alleviate the urgency of the collapsing head would be to forfeit the case for Britain’s returning the beard. In fact, Cairo would rather the Sphinx lose its head than wear a false beard. Colonialist looters must be taught a lesson even if it means the destruction of one of the most celebrated monuments of the Egyptian people. Beyond cutting off the head of Egypt’s Sphinx to spite his beard–and the British–Cairo has managed another ingenious decision that lays bare its confused priorities.

Some of us remember the 1960s by American moon landings, others by the last-ditch, Herculean effort of international teams supported with international funds to save precious Egyptian antiquities from drowning under the waters of the Nile’s Aswan dam. None of us ever stopped to think back then, or even now, of the callousness of an Egyptian government prepared to drown the country’s ancient monuments in the first place. None blamed the Egyptians for cheerfully pressing ahead to destroy in a single stroke more of Egypt’s heritage than foreign looters ever carried off to their museums and private collections. We simply assumed that Egyptians need the Aswan dam to feed themselves. Typically we failed to read the fine print that told another story.

In the articles and television documentaries that appeared at the time, foreign archaeologists, UNESCO architects and civil engineers were seen racing against time as the rising waters of the dam threatened to wash over and wash away their working sites. Near the end of operations protective sheet-metal walls had to be urgently constructed and incoming water pumped out of the work area while dam waters rose above their foreign heads. The metal walls and pumps kept the monuments from drowning as the foreigners, at great cost, proceeded with their removal to higher grounds. No one cared to ask why these foreigners were racing against time to save Egypt’s heritage. The Aswan dam is Egyptian property and the filling of the dam controlled from Cairo. Yet no one thought to ask Cairo why it did not stop or slow the filling of the dam reservoir while foreign money and foreign talent was saving Egypt’s heritage from Egyptian politicians.

Note that this breach of faith with Egypt’s past was not the work of the colonial government of the British Empire, that stole the Sphinx’s beard. Mind you, this was the work of the “nationalist” Egyptian government of the internationally-acclaimed Gemal Abdul Nasser. This was the same Nasser who, together with Nehru and Sukarno, founded the organization of non-aligned countries; who single-handedly invented Arabism; who elevated Egypt to the leadership of the Arab world, perhaps even the Third World.

Impressed by President Nasser’s fashionable rhetorical pronouncements –as we are now with those of the marginally less presidential Edward Said–we never found the courage to protest the fact that there was no need whatever to conduct this race against time to save Egypt’s heritage. There was no emergency to fill the dam, other than that created by Nasser’s impatience to wear the laurel of triumph for having tamed the Nile. And even this was done with Russian money and Russian engineers. Ultimately, what UNESCO and the ex-colonialist scientists and looters did not save, the Egyptians drowned.

Now Nasser is dead. The Egyptian monuments preserved by the labor and money of the same foreigners targeted by Nasser’s eloquent vacuities are still here on new hill-top pedestals. They bear witness to Egyptian genius–and folly. Meanwhile demands for the return of the Sphinx’s beard continue to this day. Egyptians still blame ex-colonialists, foreign occupiers, Zionist enemies and the like for their own failures and misplaced priorities. Unusual? Not really. Kurds do this all the time.

Blaming oneself for everything that goes wrong was the hallmark of traditional stoicism, until we learned from Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud that we could blame everything on others. With the withering of old-style capitalism and socialism, it may dawn on some of us that blame and credit rests on both sides–oppressed and oppressor, occupied and occupier. And some of us are even casting aside the victim mentality so that we can demand from ourselves better days–and get them. The Sphinx’s head could be held high if we permitted ourselves to-fit it with a new beard. Of course, it is good not to forget who took the old one.

In most writings, the Kurdish plight and lost opportunities for Kurdish self-determination have been squarely blamed on old empires, semi-modern colonialists, modern nation-states, multinational corporations, multi-channel media and just about everything else. Had we not lived through the past ten years, we might be forgiven for upholding this tradition, for never questioning what really happened at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, what precipitated the treaties of Sevres and Lausanne, or who bears responsibility for 80 years of lost opportunities and misplaced priorities since then.

…. while everybody asked for more, expecting to end up with a fair share, the Kurds asked for less and ended up with nothing.

The latest opportunity for self-determination and independence presented itself to the Iraqi Kurds on a platter in 1991 and 1992. They missed it. And the fault was their own. I write this to leave behind the record so that this latest missed opportunity does not get wrapped in a shroud of lies and presented to the Kurds of the year 2065 as yet another example of “colonial” treachery. Such is the fable surrounding Sevres, Lausanne and the rest.

Allow me first to tell the tale of the beard of the Kurdish Sphinx as it played out to the world of 1919-1922 before we proceed to the latest folly. At the Paris Peace Conference there appeared representatives of all who were or wished to be nations: ethnic groups, tribes and the like. It was the mart of all hopes. Woodrow Wilson was marketing “self-determination” as the commodity of choice. As the head of a young super state armed with its own tenets of “manifest destiny” to sanctify its own expansion into the Americas, he had not much to lose by promoting the political rights of the disenfranchised in European colonial empires from Morocco to Mandalay. (In Manila, however, Wilson viewed Filipino aspirations for the same self-determination as a sacrilege against American manifest destiny that had been divinely prophesied in 1845 by John O’Sullivan of New York. The fact that the Europeans also thought of their imperial expansion as destiny manifest was of no interest to Wilson. The empire of the Americans excluded, those of all others were put up for examination and everyone everywhere asked to deposit their claims and representatives at the Paris Peace Conference. And they did. Kurds, too.

Kurds quickly assumed stardom, if not superstardom, at that Conference as the only group asking for less than what the colonial powers thought they deserved! Thus while everybody asked for more, expecting to end up with a fair share, the Kurds asked for less and ended up with nothing.

Let me explain. European ethnic maps of the northern Middle East and including Kurdistan had taken on an impressive accuracy by the turn of the 20th century. A large, mufti-color sheet map drawn by the British Royal Geographic Society and published in 1906 depicted Kurdish majority areas with such accuracy that even today–93 years later–it remains virtually peerless. This map became one of the main working maps for that region at the Paris Conference.

Naturally putting first the interests of their own people before those of otters, the Armenian delegation to the conference fully ignored this map and presented one of their own for the boundaries of an independent Armenia. The Armenian delegation’s map included all of present Kurdistan of Turkey, chunks of Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan, and large areas populated by Turks, Turcomans and Arabs thrown in for good measure. This territory stretched from Adana and the Mediterranean Sea to the coast of the Black Sea and the middle of Azerbaijan. Were the Armenians serious? Yes and no. But that is what diplomacy and the art of negotiation are all about. Here, I am not criticizing the Armenian delegation. On the contrary, I am commending them for thinking first and foremost of the interests of their own people. Would that the Kurdish delegation had done the same.

Of course, the Armenian delegation knew that they were not going to get that vast territory they demanded in those preliminary stages of the Conference, nor could they have desired it. Armenians would have ended up as a small minority behind Kurds, Turks and Tarcomans had they got all they asked for. They eventually boiled down their demands to those seen in the provisions of the Treaty of Sevres of 1921: an Armenia that included the Armenian Plateau, or ancient Armenia Major. The fact that even in that “boiled down” version of Armenia Kurds still outnumbered Armenians, was of no concern. This Kurdish majority was at a manageable level; and moreover, a few mass expulsions of Kurds could have tipped the balance to a more desirable ratio. The Armenian demands were standard. Ask for a lot; get more than your fair share; immediately go to work to make it fair by remedying the ethnic facts on the ground.

Not so the Kurds. The Kurdish delegation to the Paris Peace Conference certainly used the British ethnic map; the Kurdish map of “Kurdistan” contains elements that could only have come about by utilizing the British map. But Kurdish territorial demands, reflected on the map they submitted to the conference, excluded all of north Kurdistan–from Van to Ardahan, from Mush to Maku. The Kurds had carefully excluded all the territories which Armenians in their “boiled down” version had claimed and gotten approved at Sevres. Only meekly does the Kurdish map transgress Armenian demands by including the city of Bitlis–the birthplace of the renowned Kurd, Sharaf Din Bitlisi, author of the first Kurdish history.

Here was a Kurdish delegation at the preliminary stages of the Paris Peace Conference, consciously and deliberately presenting for consideration a truncated piece of their homeland that excluded all of northern Kurdistan, all Kurds west of the Euphrates river, all Kurds of Iran (except for a narrow strip near the borders), most Kurds of Syria, and all Kurds in the Caucasus. Mind you, this during the preliminary stages of the conference when the Poles demanded Berlin, reasoning that the land was theirs 1200 years earlier, and where the Armenians asked for Antioch because Tigran the Great held that town for 8 years–some 2100 years ago!

If not base ignorance–the British ethnic map was available and was indeed used by the Kurdish delegation–what prompted this Kurdish magnanimity? Misplaced priorities, no doubt. Dispatched to defend interests, this Kurdish delegation somehow deemed it out of character with the proverbial masculine generosity of their race to deny to friends and neighbors morsels of the Kurdish homeland. Never mind that the generosity of these Pahlawans (“champs”) was achieved at the expense of their own miserable people.

Kurdish leaders would rather damn the Kurds than damage their misguided magnanimity.

This propensity for misplacing priorities and generosity continues today. Documents of the first session of the recently established Kurdish Parliament in Exile (first held in 1995 in The Hague) included a curious passage which vividly brought to mind the Paris Peace Conference. Ratified in 1995–a good 76 years after Paris–Article I of the Declaration of the Founding of the Kurdish Parliament in Exile entitled “The Peoples of Kurdistan and Religious Congregations,” reads:

“In addition to the Kurds, there are the Assyrians and the Armenians living in Kurdistan. They too have suffered at the hands of the invading forces. Subjected to the policies of divide and rule, the people of Kurdistan have, at times, fought one another and forced one another to migrate from the common homeland. These factors have kept the population of Assyrians and Armenians low. Today, in Kurdistan, they constitute a figure of some 10% of the total population. The people who live in Kurdistan have differing faiths and various religions. A vast majority of believers are Muslims. This diversity of beliefs has enabled the occupiers of Kurdistan to pit one group of believers against the other, to their mutual detriment…” [emphasis added]

Ten percent of Kurdistan’s population is Armenian and Assyrian? Say, how many would that be? In the same document the Parliament declared that 40 million Kurds are living today. This pronouncement translates into 4 million Armenians and Assyrians living in Kurdistan–today . Someone should inform the Armenians and the Assyrians of the good news! By the prudent decision of the Kurdish Parliament there are more Armenians and Assyrians living in Kurdistan than in the Republic of Armenia (and in a yet-to-be-created Assyria).

Even were we to deflate the Parliament’s figure of 40 million Kurds to a more conservative 25 million, still we end up with 2.5 million Armenians and Assyrians now living in Kurdistan. Armenian statistics indicate 75,000 Armenians in Syria, 10,000 in Iraq, 150,000 in Iran and 75,000 in Turkey (Bournoutian, 1994,183-86). This makes a total of 310,000 Armenians living in all of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Even if all of them lived on territories of Kurdistan – and most certainly they do not they would constitute about 1.2% of the total population. In reality there are less than 10,000 Armenians in Kurdistan, while Assyrians number some 250,000. Together, Armenians and Assyrians constitute about 1% of the Kurdish total and their numbers are dropping fast, thanks to the explosive growth of the Kurdish population and Assyrian emigration to the West. Where in the world did the Parliament find either evidence or justification for its ten-fold increase of these two minorities in Kurdistan at the expense of the Kurds they are supposed to represent?

But there is more. Kurdish parliamentarians go even further. They believe that even their figure of 4 million for Kurdistan’s Armenians and Assyrians is too low. Read Article I again. It emphasizes that “These factors [strife and emigration] have kept the population of Assyrians and Armenians low.” Then what is the- right figure, ladies and gentlemen MPs? 20%, 40%? Perhaps the reverse. Why not 90% Armenians and Assyrians and 10% Kurds? You see, it is not just the Egyptian leaders that would sacrifice Egypt’s heritage to save their own faces. Kurdish leaders would rather damn the Kurds than damage their misguided magnanimity.

The damage does not stop at numbers. Take a closer look at Article I wherein the Kurdish parliament pronounces that “..the peoples of Kurdistan have, at times, fought one another and forced one another to migrate from the common Homeland.” By implication, since Kurds are still where they were prior to the fights that forced others “to migrate,” it was Kurds who forced everyone else out.

Even the Armenians and Assyrians admit it was the Ottoman army and Talaat Pasha’s brutality that forced them to leave or die. Kurdish parliamentarians must be the only representatives in the world who attach guilt to their people where there is little or none. This is in a world, mind you, where all other national leaders whitewash their constituents of all sins, old and new, big and small.

Without doubt, Armenians and Assyrians have their own able leaders and vociferous organizations around the world to fend for their rights. Should not Kurdish leaders and parliamentarians fend for Kurdish rights? Or have they never heard the old maxim, “If I am not for me, who will be for me?” Instead of worrying about the rights of “4 million” imaginary Armenian and Assyrian citizens, should not the Constitution of the first Kurdish Parliament in Exile concentrate on the tens of millions of real citizens of Kurdistan–the Kurds?

Where in the constitution of the Republic of Armenia are Kurds mentioned by name? From 1991 to 1994 Armenia expelled nearly all of its Kurdish inhabitants. In the same period, the republic helped Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh to thoroughly annihilate historic Red Kurdistan in the Caucasus. These actions created 200,000 Kurdish refugees and caused an untold number of deaths, injuries and misery. But one finds not a word of remorse, not an expression of regret, nor even an acknowledgment from Armenian sources of these abuses of Kurds over the last 8 years. Kurdish parliamentarians went to great lengths to express sorrow and to apologize to Armenians for bloody events which occurred 80 years ago and left 400,000 to 600,000 dead Kurds. Armenians, Assyrians, Russians and Turks have yet to apologize for these Kurdish victims.

Exiled Kurdish parliamentarians, you are indeed worthy descendants of the Kurdish delegates to the Paris Peace Conference. But you need not look backward to 1919 and Paris. You have equally worthy counterparts today among local Kurdish sheiks, aghas and political party leaders.

Mr. Talabani said the Kurdish opposition parties no longer regarded Kirkuk as an integral part of Kurdistan.

New York Times, May 3, 1991

In 1992 a Declaration of Self-Determination was issued from Ankara by a league of Kurdish sheiks and aghas calling itself the “Mosul Vilayet Council.” That these Kurdish sheiks and aghas chose to resurrect the long obsolete Ottoman Turkish designator, the “Mosul Vilayet,” is a sure sign that they were more eager to resurrect the claims of the Turkish government than the claims of the Kurds. Furthermore, these Kurdish sheiks and aghas are ready to gift Kurdish petroleum resources in Kirkuk to “Turcoman families” and ‘Turkish citizens” of Iraq. Their declaration reads: “Noting the Iraqi Government’s devious attempt to regain the initiative and to save its most treasured booty, i.e., the Kirkuk oil fields it exploited at the expense of Kurdish tribes, some Turcoman families and some Turkish citizens as the sole apparent legal owners of these natural resources…” They subsequently proposed allocating some 30% of oil revenues to these “Turkish citizens” of Kirkuk.

By “Turkish citizens” these esteemed Kurdish sheiks and aghas are of course referring to the Turcomans of Iraq. And just how many Turcomans are in Iraq to deserve 30% Of oil revenues from Kirkuk’s fields? The number of Turcomans living in all of Iraq is some 360,000. This figure is arrived at by quadrupling their numbers since 1947, when an official Iraqi state census supervised by the British put the Turcoman population of the country at 92,000 (H. Batatu, 1978, 40). Of the current number perhaps half live in Kurdish territories. This makes for 180,000 Turcomans in all of Iraqi Kurdistan as of 1990. There were about 3.9 million Iraqi Kurds living in that state or as refugees outside in 1990. Therefore, Turcomans comprise about 4.6% of the population of Iraqi Kurdistan. The mental vacuity that moved these Kurdish sheiks and aghas to decide that this Turcoman population deserves 30% of Kurdish oil wealth mirrors that which moved the Kurdish parliamentarians in exile to conclude that their own invented figure of “4 million” Armenians and Assyrians in Kurdistan is actually “too low.”

While Kurdish clan leaders and sheiks were busy in Ankara giving away 30% of their nation’s wealth in 1991, the Kurdish political leaders have been even more generous in toying with the notion that they can give away Kirkuk oil and throw in the city for good measure. This remarkable gesture of Kurdish generosity was made by none other than Kurdish political leader, Mr. Jalal Talabani–himself a native of Kirkuk. This declaration of intent came in the New York Times of May 3rd 1991:

Mr. Talabani said the Kurdish opposition parties no longer regarded Kirkuk as an integral part of Kurdistan.”

Kirkuk not integrally Kurdish, Mr. Talabani? Should it matter that the city was built and named Arrap’he over 3,800 years ago by the Hurrian ancestors of the Kurds? Should it matter that the family archives of many merchants of Arrap’he have been unearthed, translated and published, all indicating that the city was a Hurrian metropolis, and not Semitic (as were Assyrians and Babylonians, and as Arabs are today). And the Turcomans, of course, do not appear in the area for another 3,000 years. Should you consider, as a modern Kurdish leader, that according to Sasanian sources, your ancestor Yazdankart (Domitianus), the king of Kirkuk and Sulaymania, felt sufficiently Kurdish to participate in the defense of other Kurdish federated kingdoms of Parthia against the invading Persians, losing his kingdom and his life in AD 226 defending other Kurds? Mr. Talabany, the same Sasanian records actually identify king Yazdankart a “kurt,” i.e., a Kurd.

In spite of this history, Kirkuk, the birthplace of the incomparable Kurdish satirist, Reza Talabani, and the Talabani clan itself, is thus declared by Jalal Talabani to be not an integral part of Kurdistan. Preserved among the 3,500 year old archives of ancient Arrap’he is the family clan name of “Tella” (Grosz, 1988; Dosch, 1981). Does this name sound familiar, Mr. Talabani? Try Tella-wand » Talawan » Talaban. Yes, your own family name and clan, Sir!

Now, why is it that 3,800 years of the Kurdish history of Kirkuk, based on habitation, doesn’t impress this Kurdish leader, but the claim of the Turkish Government, based purely on conquest that ended 81 years, does? It is true that the Turks did occupy Kirkuk intermittently from 1563 to 1917. But for more than half of that time, Kirkuk was outside their control and ruled by the Persians or local Kurdish princes. From the 1750s to the 1830s, Ottoman authority over Iraq was virtually nonexistent. Georgian Mamluks (mercenary soldiers) exerted hereditary rule from Baghdad, with the Kurdish principality of Baban dominating Kirkuk and other neighboring cities in central Kurdistan. (Longrigg, 1925, chaps. 7-11).

If prior conquest is to substantiate territorial claim, Turks have a much firmer claim to Athens, Belgrade, Sophia and Jerusalem which they held solidly for 500 years–Athens until 1829, Belgrade and Sophia until 1878, and Jerusalem until 1917. Turks held Kirkuk for less than half that number of years. Neither Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian nor Israeli leaders are scrambling to return their homelands to Turkish rule. Only Kurdish leaders. I fail to fathom why.

I recall the appearance in America of Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabam in August 1992. Following the requisite tour of Washington and meetings on and off Capitol Hill they arrived in New York for a press conference at the headquarters of Human Rights Watch. It was a time when dozens of new independent countries had just come into being across Europe and Asia. The Yugoslav mess had not yet begun. A new era of national self-determination had been ushered in a time of liberation, of independence for both oppressed and not-so-oppressed ethnic groups. On the borders of Kurdistan, three new republics were declared: Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, whose constituent ethnic groups also lived as minorities in both Iran and Turkey. In fact there were and are more Azeris in Iran than in the newly independent Republic of Azerbaijan.

Also in August of 1992, George Bush was running for re-election. With the faltering U.S. economy his crowning achievement to justify his ambition for a second term was his “bloodless” victory over Iraq. The memory of over a million Kurds plowing through snow fields to flee Saddam’s wrath was still very fresh in the minds of impressionable Americans. Thanks to American public sympathy, the U.S. had just set up a “safe area” for the Kurds in northern Iraq, and the Kurds’ own forces had secured over half of Iraqi Kurdistan. Mr. Bush often reminded voters how well he had pummeled Saddam and pampered the Kurds. A molested Iraqi Kurdistan was not something George Bush would permit in August of 1992–a few months before elections.

Against this perfect backdrop, I found myself in August of 1992 among the select audience in the presence of Barzani, Talabani & Co. Following their customary heaping of abuses on the head of Saddam Hussein, they called for more money for Iraqi Kurds–even those not present in the room. They spoke, and the gathering was opened for questions. As it was August of 1992, I asked what seemed to me the most obvious question: “Why aren’t you two declaring independence? Don’t you see this is the time; this is the window of opportunity that Kurds have waited for since they missed the last one in 1919.” Said Talabani, “It is not politically realistic.” Barzani, looking around to Western friends, said, “Ask them.” My composure unraveling, I said, “There are new countries declaring their independence every day. There are three right on your own borders. George Bush cannot afford to let the Kurds be slaughtered. And if he did, what could anyone do to Iraqi Kurds that hasn’t already been done in the past five years alone. Don’t you see that declaring independence will give you international standing, Will give you a voice in the UN, will qualify you for international aid, will render an attack on you a violation of international law? Autonomy has no legal or international protection. Don’t you see, there are countries that would immediately recognize you, from Scandinavia to the Caucasus, from Greece to Cyprus to Yugoslavia and the world … Hurry, you are missing this once in several lifetimes’ chance for your people. There is not much time left. Hurry, hurry…”

But the Kurdish leaders were in no hurry to declare anything like independence for their stricken people. Instead they hurried to avoid offending foreign friends. Then as now this mattered more than answering the call for freedom, a yearning transmitted to every Kurd through mother’s milk. Whatever they are to their own people, to their friends in Ankara, Baghdad, Damascus, Erivan, Teheran, Tel Aviv and Washington, these two Kurds are chums. The nature and direction of these friendships are historically documented and need no elaboration.

By December 1992 George Bush had lost the election, war in the former Yugoslavia had begun, international enthusiasm for ethnic self-determination had evaporated, and academic pundits like Amitai Etzioni had begun to generate manifestos entitled, “The Evils of Self-Determination” (Foreign Policy, 89, Winter 1992-93). Kurds had managed once more to misplaced priorities, but this time big time.

Should the people be blamed? one might ask. Was it not the Egyptian government of President Nasser that planned the drowning and took pleasure in harassing the saviors of the historic heritage of the Egyptians? The governments of Saddat and Mubarak conjured up the controversy surrounding the Sphinx’s beard. And is it not Kurdish leaders who misdirect the Kurds? Wouldn’t better leadership have avoided repeating the historical mistakes of 1919 again in 1991?

In recent years, many Kurds have come to appreciate the better organized, systematist leadership of Kurds in Turkey. Might things have been different in 1991 and 1992 had this leadership been mirrored in Iraq? Iranians have a practical answer to this question. In 1972 the Shah was asked bluntly by Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci why he did not treat the Iranians as decently as the king of Sweden his citizens. His response was equally blunt: “I’ll treat them like Swedes when they behave like Swedes.” Iranians bitterly condemned his statement. Convinced that they deserved better, they proceeded to bring upon themselves the Islamic Republic. They are now being treated as they deserve.

Benefiting from the Shah’s adage, we can be sure that switching leadership results in more of the same. Governments and leaders mirror the ethos, the level of awareness, and the unity or disunity of their constituencies. The whole is the sum of its parts. Why would a leader, a parliament or a peace delegation be better, or worse, than those they represent? The misplaced priorities of the Kurds are reflected and magnified -in the misplaced priorities of their leadership. Since 1992 less than a handful of Kurds even bothered to learn about or saw fit to protest the on-going abuse of their Kurdish kin by Armenians in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Recently I was asked by a young Kurdish activist to participate in a program of solidarity with an Armenian group protesting an array of historical misdeeds against Kurds and Armenians at the hands of others–from Turks to Azeris, from Genghiz Khan to Attila the Hun. I raised the issue of the current ethnic cleansing of Kurds in Armenia and Red Kurdistan and asked that he first demand from the Armenian group a statement of admission and condemnation from their government. This, I said, must occur before a joint anything could take place. “Yes, but will you be able to attend?” he still asked!

Perhaps the Kurds–first the citizens and only then the leaders– should try the novelty of placing their own nation’s priorities ahead of those of other peoples. It is the level of awareness of Kurdish individuals that first needs to be elevated. Once achieved, this will inevitably be reflected in enlightened representatives and leaders. For representatives are just that: they represent and reflect their people, politically, intellectually and psychologically. No nation can expect the establishment of priorities and the keeping of commitments by its leaders without first cultivating such virtues in individual citizens. Change dictated from above translates to dictator; and we know too well that dictators limit, not expand social horizons. To this effect, in 1820 Thomas Jefferson wrote: “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise that control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.”

References: H. Batatu, The Old Social Classes of Iraq (Princeton, 1978); G. Bournoutian, A History of Armenian Nation (Costa Mesa, 1994, vol. 2); D. Dosch, “Die Familie Kizzuk Sieben Kassitengenerationen,” SCCNH 1 (1981); K. Grosz, The Archive of the Wullu Family (Copenhagen, 1988); S. Longrigg, Four Centuries of Modern Iraq (London, 1925)

Source: M.R. Izady, “The Sphinx’s Beard, Notes on Kurdish political naiveté”, Kurdish Life, Number 15, Summer 1995

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