Editors' PickFlashpoints IssueMiddle EastSyria

Kurdish Disunity In Historical Perspective

By Michael M. Gunter

Kurdish nationalism is challenged not only by the more developed counter-nationalisms of the states in which the Kurds live (Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria) but also by the problem of Kurdish disunity and infighting. The seventeenth-century Kurdish poet Ahmad-i Khani, for example, lamented in Mem u Zin (the Kurdish national epic): “If only there were harmony among us, if we were to obey a single one of us, he would reduce to vassalage Turks, Arabs, and Persians, all of them. We would perfect our religion, our state, and would educate ourselves in learning and wisdom.” A century ago the Wigrams (Christian missionaries who chronicled their travels through Kurdistan) concluded that although the Kurds “are a very ancient people,” they ‘have no national cohesion,” and “a ‘United Kurdistan’ is a…Utopian conception.” Jonathan Randal (the then senior foreign correspondent of the Washington Post) jocularly “suspect[ed] a rogue chromosome in Kurdish genetics causes…fissiparous tendencies.”…

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