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The Kurds That Work for the Oppressor

And Strategies Used by the Oppressor to Attract Them

By @kurdistanipeople

Kurdish members of the IRGC known as "Muslim Peshmargas".
Members of the Turkish Army.

During the past 120 years of the Kurdish people’s struggle for freedom and independence, there have been many Kurds that have cooperated with oppressors against their very own people.

These Kurds are referred as “Caş” (Jash) in Kurdish culture, which literally means donkey’s son, and is a metaphor for “traitor. In this article the political parties and their leaders’ cooperation with the oppressor states of Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq won’t be analyzed and discussed, but rather the reasons why random Kurdish individuals become members of the mentioned states’ armed forces, political parties and organizations.

Location of Kurdistan

Approximate map of Greater Kurdistan.

Kurdistan, as the green belt of Middle East, is extremely rich in natural resources, especially oil, water, metals and other essential materials. As a strategic region that connects The Arabian [Persian] gulf to the Mediterranean Sea on land, Kurdistan has increasingly become a place of conflict between the occupier states and the Kurds since the 1900s, most notably after the Sykes-Picot treaty between France and Britain in 1916 which separated Kurdistan into four newly established modern states of Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria after the fall of Ottoman Empire.

This made it much harder for the Kurds to reach an independent Kurdish state and resulted in several conflicts, genocides, displacements, destructions, demographic changes, exile and murder of millions Kurds.

Sykes-Picot treaty map, 1916. (M. Izady, Columbia University)

These states have used their strongest weapons, both militarily and politically, against Kurds to keep them without education, impoverished, and unaware of their rights. Usually extremely impoverished societies deal with several social and economic issues that are all related to coping with poverty. People in such atmosphere would do anything to survive even if it is against their own people’s interests, such as drug dealing, smuggling, illegal gun trading, human trafficking, etc. But it is cooperating with oppressor states; their military, intelligence groups, and political organizations, that does the most harm to the society and its people in a long term.

During past decades there has been a systemic political, social, economical, linguistic, racial and religious discrimination against the Kurds in all parts of Kurdistan that is elaborately designed by the Persian, Turkish, and Arabic states that occupy Kurdistan. This has made Kurdish citizens do unbelievable things only as a means for survival of their families. For example, many Kurds during Saddam Hussain’s era joined the Iraqi Army and fought against their own people. Thousands of Kurds have become members of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which also commits crimes against Kurds. The reasons behind these disappointing developments will be mentioned below accompanied by some information and examples.

Eastern Kurdistan

As a very obvious and present issue, thousands of Kurds are now members of the IRGC, which is designated as a terrorist group by United States of America. The Persian-Islamic state of Iran has made the social and economic situation so hard for Kurds that it has resulted in such cases.

For example, the government offers several public services such as monthly salaries, free health care, free education, retirement salaries, free or half-priced housing, free insurance, permanent jobs in governmental organizations, discounts on automobiles and home appliances, permanent exemptions from compulsory military service, and 25% bonus for national university entrance examinations only for members of IRGC and its wings such as Basij organizations.

The family members of the IRGC members that get killed or injured during wars and conflicts enjoy the same services with better and higher qualities and are directly supported by the “Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs”. Typical citizens can’t enjoy any of the mentioned services. This group of people is the government’s priority in national hiring programs for jobs in governmental organizations. In a majority of cases, education qualifications don’t matter at all, only that the employees are members of IRGC and Basij organizations or family members of veterans.

Since an economic discrimination exists against Kurds under the Iranian state, according to the Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration’s report published in February 2020, the Iranian government does not see Eastern Kurdistan region as a part of the country. This is partly due to the fact that the majority of the Kurdish population are Sunni Muslim Kurds whereas the Iranian government and state are based on Persian-Shia Islam. From a government perspective, being Kurdish is a crime. Due to the political issues and the current economic crisis, unemployment in Eastern Kurdistan is reaching 60 percent. Over the last 10 years, the government has built 1,800 checkpoints to control the Kurds. Authorities monitor the Kurdish population through these checkpoints and arrest individuals that are suspected of being affiliated in any way to the Kurdish identity.

According to Washington Kurdish Institute’s annual report, Eastern Kurdistan endures double economic embargoes; one set of sanctions imposed on Iran by the international community and another embargo imposed on Eastern Kurdistan by the Iranian government itself as part of the discriminatory policies used against the Kurds. The Iranian government incorrectly portrays itself as having a strong economy by misreporting unemployment and inflation numbers. The Statistical Center of Iran released monthly inflation rates for November 2020 which designated Eastern Kurdistan as one of Iran’s poorest and least developed regions. The Kurdish province of Ilam saw the highest monthly increase in consumer prices at 8.8 percent while the province of Sanadaj (Sine) was ranked fourth among Iran’s provinces with a CPI increase of 7.1 percent. The unemployment rate in the Kurdistan region is among the highest in Iran with some years reaching up to 60 percent. According to the Iranian Parliamentary Research Center, the unemployment rate in the country in 2020 was 2.5 times more than what the government reported, bringing unemployment rates between 25 to 30 percent. The tremendous stress brought on by unemployment in the Kurdistan region puts Kurds at higher risk of poverty, suicide, drug use and other social issues.

Labor force participation and unemployment rates, summer 2016 according to Stanford Iran Project.
Unemployment rate in Iran and Eastern Kurdistan Provinces according to Statistical Center of Iran.

Northern Kurdistan

In the northern part of Kurdistan, under occupation of the Turkish state, almost the exact same thing is taking place. The Turkish government has tried to keep Kurds in poverty as much as possible. Kurdish regions enjoy the least investment in industrial, agricultural, financial, and touristic investments compared to western Turkish cities located on Mediterranean Sea’s coasts.

In January 2020, the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) released a list of provinces according to provincial gross domestic product (GDP). Some of Northern Kurdistan's provinces are at the bottom of the list. In fact, according to the Gross Domestic Product examined in 81 provinces, the Kurdish provinces of Wan, Agiri, Mush, Bitlis, and Hakkari, are to be found at the bottom. While the number of unemployed people in Turkey has reached 4,396,000, Wan and Hakkari are among the highest unemployment rate. In the last three places of the list, as provincial GDP levels are concerned, Dersim, Ardakhan and Bayburt are found. Taking GDP per capita into consideration, the last three places on the list are occupied by Urfa, Wan and Agiri. The highest share of the provincial gross domestic product is to be found in Turkish provinces of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. These three cities alone account for 46.2 percent of the total GDP in 2018.

Youth unemployment in Turkey and Northern Kurdistan.
Mean income in Turkey and Northern Kurdistan.

The war in the Kurdistan region carried out by the Turkish government has a strong negative impact on the region’s economy, including cross-border trade. The constant banning of access to a wide portion of lands and pastures is causing unemployment and poverty to rise. Because of this ban, tens of thousands of people who made their living with livestock lost their main source of income. Cross-border trade, which is the main source of livelihood in cities such as Wan, Hakkari, Agiri, Igdir and Shirnakh, is banned by the Turkish government and is one of the biggest reasons for unemployment. Another reason is the fact that there are no factories in Wan and Hakkari, and that most of Turkey’s budget is used for military purposes. Unemployment rose to 80 percent due to the Turkish government’s economic embargo on Wan and Hakkari. Kurdish youths who go from Kurdistan to Turkish cities to find jobs are often forced to work in construction and agriculture. Every year, dozens of Kurdish youth working in these two sectors are victims of work-related accidents, at times, fatal. People in the provinces of the region have to struggle against unemployment and poverty.

Just like the Iranian government, the Turkish government offers several public services that were mentioned above which only citizens affiliated with the ruling parties AKP and MHP are allowed to enjoy. In some cases, even Kurdish citizens who vote for the major Kurdish party HDP (People’s Democratic Party) are deprived from Governmental jobs and the most basic public services. According to the data prepared by the Legal Commission of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), 22,321 HDP members were detained from June 24, 2015 to September 25, 2020. The number of those imprisoned only in the first two years reached 3,647. According to the report of the HDP Local Administrations Commission, HDP won 65 municipalities but has currently only 6 municipalities left. Trustees were appointed to 48 municipalities, three of which are metropolitan municipalities. 84 municipal council members and 9 provincial general assembly members were dismissed. Of the 37 co-mayors detained, 18 are still under arrest. Also, the Turkish Government (AKP-MHP bloc) has been trying to suppress or even destroy the social opposition for 5 years and attacked the working class, the women’s movement and its achievements, and particularly the HDP, which is the common point of all.

Based on the data and reasons mentioned above, the disguised Iranian and Turkish laws and their benefits have led thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands of Kurdish citizens who deal with extreme poverty, unemployment and lack of other public services, to become members of Iranian and Turkish military organizations, enjoying the free services mentioned and to escape poverty.

Kurdish public opinion in the diaspora, those who are privileged to enjoy better life standards in Europe, North American and Australia, usually criticize these Kurdish citizens living inside Kurdistan for joining the oppressors, which can be an acceptable argument to some extent. However, the tough life conditions in Kurdistan must be taken into consideration as well.

Note: Since Western and Southern parts of Kurdistan known as “Autonomous Region of North and East Syria" or "Rojava", and “ Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Region “ have achieved a form of autonomy, and due to better economical, political and social conditions this issue isn’t seen there as much as two other parts discussed. However, both Western and Southern Kurdistan have a history and experience in this issue.

An approximate map of Kurdish-controlled regions in light green.



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