The world's largest nation without a state seeks a new home in the West

Click to follow
The Independent Online

They are the forgotten people. In their homelands in the Middle East, the Kurds are persecuted and murdered: their houses burnt to the ground, their children gassed to death. They have been the victims of ethnic cleansing by Western allies and rogue states alike.

They are the forgotten people. In their homelands in the Middle East, the Kurds are persecuted and murdered: their houses burnt to the ground, their children gassed to death. They have been the victims of ethnic cleansing by Western allies and rogue states alike.

A vast, slow Kurdish exodus is constantly moving into Europe, risking their lives in dangerous sea crossings such as that of the East Sea to escape the terror and the hardship.

The 908 Kurds found in the hold of the East Sea are believed to have originated in Iraq. The journey they made is a well-trodden one. The Kurdish-governed enclave of North Iraq - created by Western governments after the Gulf War - is one of the most isolated communities in the world, a landlocked virtual state, its borders controlled by hostile countries.

But Kurds from Iraq enter Turkey legally with visas. Although the Turkish authorities refuse Western journalists access to the Kurdish areas in North Iraq, where the Turkish army is hunting down Kurdish rebels, they freely issue visas to Iraqi Kurds. They do so to encourage emigration, say Kurdish sources, because Ankara fears North Iraq's independence encourages Turkey's Kurds to rebel. Once in Turkey, one of the main world centres of the trade in smuggling people, it is easy for the Kurds to find someone to take them to Europe, for a price.

They are refugees. The poverty the Kurds flee is part of their political repression. In Iran, Kurdish areas are kept destitute to prevent Kurdish power bases from forming. In Turkey, Kurds have watched while their entire possessions were burnt before their eyes by security forces.

North Iraq is desperately poor because it is deliberately cut off from the world by its neighbours. Ironically, the Iraqi Kurds' only major source of trade comes from smuggling Iraqi fuel into Turkey - breaking the very sanctions against Iraq that are supposed to be helping them.

There are at least 15 million Kurds; they are the largest nation in the world with no proper state of their own. They inhabited the mountains that span the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Georgia and Armenia long before those borders were drawn - by the British and French, dividing the Middle East between them after the First World War.

All the countries inhabited by Kurds fear losing territory to a Kurdish state. As a result, they are persecuted everywhere. Their plight resembles that of Kosovo's Albanians but there was no Western military intervention to protect the Kurds.

Comments