The Kurdish exodus of 1991 – the plight
that transformed Kurdish destiny
April 16, 2013
Triumph at time of great adversity – how
national despair gave birth to the Kurdistan Region
This week marks the 22nd anniversary of the great
Kurdish exodus of 1991 that was triggered by a
cold-hearted retaliation by Saddam Hussein,
resulting in a humanitarian plight that Kurds will
After popular uprisings in both Kurdish and Shiite
areas in the aftermath of the First Gulf War,
encouraged and then quickly abandoned by an idle
U.S., Saddam used the full-force of his arsenal to
rapidly quell the uprisings, ruthlessly killing
thousands and driving two million Kurds to the
Turkish and Iranian borders.
Thousands of Kurds died of starvation, disease and
harsh conditions, if not the military might of
The timing of the latest act of mass repression
against the Kurds could not be more ironic. It was
merely weeks after the US led coalition swiftly came
to the aid of their oil rich friends in Kuwait, days
after President George Bush encouraged Iraqis to
take matters into their own hands and to compound
the misery of the Kurds, it was just three years
after the great genocide of Halabja in 1988.
The already ill-fated Kurdish plight undoubtedly hit
a fresh low in 1991 and reinforced the feeling
amongst Kurds that they have no friends but the
mountains. Indeed it was those mountains that were
the source of refuge in 1991 when in spite of the
growing international media coverage on the Kurdish
disaster, the world’s powers laboured far too long
It’s hard to forget that for their short-sighted
strategic interests, the West played a blind-eye to
the atrocities committed against the Kurds and in
spite of his unforgivable crimes against humanity,
kept Saddam in power.
In spite of the immense evidence at the time, the
United Nations Sub-Committee on Human Rights
inexplicably voted in August 1988 not to condemn
Iraq for human rights violations.
All the while, Saddam was further strengthened with
the West providing new war planes, more advanced
scud capabilities and not forgetting the ingredients
for the very chemical weapons that were used against
The thousands of Kurdish refugees were an unwelcome
site on the borders for Turks battling their own
restive Kurdish population and Kurds endured further
pain that they should never have faced upon arriving
to what they saw as safety. How ironic that Kurds
evicted from their own homes,www.ekurd.net
were treated like foreigners and unwanted guests in
the other parts of greater Kurdistan, the lands of
At times greatest of triumphs come at times of great
adversity and so it proved for the valiant Kurds.
The bravery in the face of the Kurdish uprising of
1991 and the tough conditions for the millions that
fled soon after with crucial international spotlight
that followed is now a milestone in the Kurdish
renaissance and the ushering of a new era in their
Of course, great credit must still be placed to the
coalition forces and in particular the then UK Prime
Minister, John Major, who despite common objection
to his stance broke ranks and played a great hand in
realising his vision of a Kurdish Safe Haven and the
effectively the birth of the Kurdistan Region.
However, as much as Kurds will always be grateful
for the ousting of Saddam, at any time for that
matter, it cannot be overlooked that for far too
long Kurds were left to fend for themselves and in
cases such as the Algiers Accord of 1975 fed to the
The Iraqi liberation of 2003 came years too late for
the Kurds. It was the strategic interests of the
West and the Arab world that led to the mass support
for Saddam, particularly in the bloody Iran-Iraq
war. Saddam was viewed as a secular bulwark against
Islamist revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini and the
resurgence of a powerful Iran.
The moral of the story is that as grateful as the
Kurds are to the Americans, the U.S. had more
pretext to liberate Iraqi in 1991 than 2003 and they
only toppled Saddam after the monster that the West
created could no longer be contained.
Fast forward 22 years since the great exodus, and
Kurdish fortunes could not be more different. The
sacrifices of those who fled and of the Peshmerga
who bravely battled Saddam were not in vain and
indeed it was exactly those actions that make the
Kurdistan of today possible.
2003 may have heralded the start of the golden age
for Kurdistan but it was 1991 that was the true
spark and the “Spring” that transformed the destiny
of Kurdistan. It is Kurdish sacrifice, spirit,
bravery and desire that pushed the Kurds over the
line, more than coalition forces ever did.
Now 2013 marks a new passage in the history of the
Kurds and the beginning of a fresh dawn. The Spring
Equinox or Newroz always had a special place in
people’s hearts and in the numerous milestones it
has heralded in recent years. The talk in the
Kurdistan Region of today is about economic boom,
new construction, oil infrastructure and prosperity.
Meanwhile, the talk in Turkey is about peace,
breaking taboos and finally taking bold steps to
resolving the age-old Kurdish problem. All the
while, the Syrian Kurds, breaking from the shadows
of their Kurdish brethren, are now key components of
both the Syrian and Kurdish national and political
Times have changed and with the onset of the Arab
Spring and the unravelling of the Middle East, the
Kurds have risen in prominence.
The Kurdish determination and never-say-die spirit
is the very reason for their resurgence today and
the fruits of the labours of Kurds in all respective
parts of Kurdistan.
But lofty heights and new dawns must bring a firm
acknowledgment and great appreciation of the past.
The Kurds cannot and will not ever forget the
tragedies and travesties of yesteryears.
The Kurdish best friends remain their own brethren
and indeed their mystical mountains.
It is all the more ironic that having played such a
great role in the repression of the Kurds, some
Arabs in Baghdad remain unrepentant and indeed
despise the Kurdish economic and strategic drive.
Even America, who stood idle for so long while the
Kurds were persecuted, now look to growing Kurdish
power and autonomy with weariness, only not to upset
their Iraqi friends and the balance of their
interests in the Middle East.
The growing energy ties between Ankara and
Kurdistan, promoted just this week by Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is viewed as the
source of Iraq’s disintegration, while America and
the West can clearly see it is the policies of
Baghdad and specifically Nouri al-Maliki that has
been the real wedge in Iraq.
The Kurds must take lessons from their past and
ensure their destiny remains firmly in their own
hands. The dependence on Baghdad for oil revenues
and oil exports is one last umbilical cord that
Kurds must cut.
The building of new pipelines and new energy deals
with Turkey are protected by Iraq’s constitution.
Kurds must not follow policies to suit their
American allies or the wishes of Baghdad but those
that benefit the Kurdish nation.
After decades of repression, destruction of
thousands of villages and chemical bombings, while
much of the world’s powers remained idle, Kurdistan
deserves that much.
Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel is a London-based freelance
writer and analyst, a regular
contributing writer for Ekurd.net website. Ismaeel whose primary focus and
expertise is on the Kurds, Iraq and Middle Eastern
current affairs. The main focus of his writing is to
promote peace, justice and increase awareness of the
diversity, suffering and at times explosive mix in
Iraq and the Middle East.
Most recently he has produced work for the
Washington Examiner, Asian Times, The Epoch Times,
Asia News, The Daily Star (Lebanon), Kurdish Globe,
Hewler Post, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), KurdishMedia, PUK Online and OnlineOpinion.
He has achieved seminar recommended readings for Le
High University (Pennsylvania) and Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. His work has been
republished extensively elsewhere on the Internet.
He is a longtime contributing writer and columnist for Ekurd.net. You
can visit Bashdar's website at (www.bashdar.co.uk)
and reach the author via email at:
First published on Kurdish Globe
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