by Dr. Jack Wheeler
September 29, 2006

Among the most fascinating folks in the world are people known as the Kurds.  They are older than history.  The Land of Kurda is mentioned in Sumerian clay tablets – the world’s oldest writing – over 5,000 years ago.  The Land of Kurda – Kurdistan – was ancient five millennia ago.

The Kurds had been living there for thousands of years before 3,000 BC – and they are still living there today, in the mountains of what is now northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, and southeastern Turkey.

They number in the tens of millions – five million in Iraq, ten million in Iran, three million in Syria, between twenty and thirty million in Turkey.  They are by far the largest ethnic group on earth without their own country.

This has always made them a threat to the countries that divide up their homeland of Kurdistan.  Always.  The Kurds have been fighting the Persians for 2,500 years, the Arabs for 1,300 years, the Turks for 500 years.  Western governments look upon the Kurds as a problem which threatens to break apart the fragile map of the Middle East into chaotic pieces:

Map of Kurdistan

Now at last, the time has arrived to look upon the Kurds as an opportunity rather than a threat, not as a problem but a solution.  The emerging reality is that the Kurds are the key to peace, freedom, and democracy throughout the entire Middle East.

I am writing this in the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world – Arbil in northern Iraq.  Unlike other claimants to that title such as Damascus and Jericho, Arbil has been continuously inhabited for millennia by the same people, the Kurds.  (“Arbil” or “Irbil” is the name on the map, it’s Saddam-era Arabic name.  The original Kurdish name is Hewlar, pronounced how-lair.)

Every day in the newspapers there are headlines about “the civil war in Iraq.”  There is no civil war here, in Iraqi Kurdistan.  There is no terrorism, no IED attacks, no car bombings, no suicide bombers, no gangs of Shia murderers slitting the throats of Sunnis and vice versa.

In their place is a construction boom.  Everywhere you look in Arbil ( a city of close to two million) and Iraqi Kurdistan’s second largest city, Sulaymanieh (over one million), you see built or being built beautiful new homes, office buildings, hotels, car dealerships, and shopping malls.

The “civil war” is taking place in the Sunni and Shia regions of tripartite Iraq.  It is the third part, Kurdish Iraq, that is holding Iraq together.  The Kurds are alreadythe key to keeping Iraq intact.  When is it going to dawn on Washington that they are the key to solving the Middle East’s other intractable problems?

It won’t until it somehow acquires the wisdom to support Kurds in Iran – there are twice as many Kurds in Iran as in Iraq – struggling to liberate Eastern (Iranian) Kurdistan from the nightmare tyranny of the Mullacracy in Tehran.  Kurds like Hussein Yazdanpanah, leader of the Revolutionary Union of Kurdistan (RUK) whose guerrilla fighters have been conducting anti-mullacracy activities for a generation.

I am writing this in his home.  I am looking at a photograph on the wall of his dining room.  It was taken in 1980, after Ayatollah Khomeini declared a Holy War on the Kurds for not accepting his dictatorship.

An execution squad of Khomeini soldiers are kneeling and firing their rifles point blank at a line of Kurdish captives.  Several of the Kurds have just been hit, and you see their knees buckling and their bodies thrown back with the shock of the bullets.  They are Hussein Yazdanpanah’s relatives.

His family has been fighting the Mullacracy since its inception in 1979.  But actually, his family has been fighting for Kurdish freedom for the last 500 years.

Note what they and Kurds in general have not been fighting for:  Islam.

Kurds are reluctant Moslems, who recite to their children stories of how Islam was forced upon their ancestors by Arab conquerors in the 7th century.  They pay literal lip service to Allah, mouthing prayers in Koranic Arabic they don’t understand.  The ancient Kurdish language is far, far different from Arabic – thus while many Kurds also speak colloquial Arabic, very few of them read the classical Arabic of the Koran.

It is the month of Ramadan right now, a time of fasting and religious observance, but many young Kurds are ignoring it.  That’s here, in Iraqi or “South” Kurdistan (southwestern Turkey is North Kurdistan, while eastern Syria is West Kurdistan).

In Iranian or East Kurdistan, belief in Islam is collapsing.  The mullacracy has disgraced Islam in the eyes of young eastern Kurds and are thus rejecting it en masse.

More and more, they are returning to their original religion of Zoroastrianism.  “Zoroaster” is the Anglicized pronunciation of Zardasht, a religious teacher from the Urumia area (now in Eastern Kurdistan near where Turkey, Iraq, and Iran come together) who lived around 1200 BC.

He taught that the earth was the battleground between the forces of good, represented by the god Yazdan (also named Ahura-Mazda), and the forces of evil, represented by the god Ahriman.  The way to overcome evil and to take the path to heaven, he counseled was Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.

Cyrus I (590-529 BC), founder of the Persian Empire, adopted the worship of Zardasht or Zoroaster and declared it to be the state religion of Persia.  The Three Magi who visit the infant Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem in the Book of Matthew were Zoroastrians.

In the mid-7th century AD, the invading Arab hordes forced the Kurds and Persians to abandon their religion and accept Islam at the point of a sword.  After 13 centuries, that sword has lost its edge for the Kurds as they return to their ancient faith.

One of them is Hussein Yazdanpanah, whose name means “Under the shadow (protection) of God.”

Yes, there are mosques and minarets and muezzins calling people to prayer here in Iraqi Kurdistan.  You see older women (although never the younger) wearing a nun-like black cloak called a hijab.  But Kurds take their ethnic identity as primary.  Their religion comes in second.

Thus the Kurds have a long, long history of religious tolerance.  Adherents of a religious sect formed of a mix of paganism, Zoroastrianism, and Islam known as the Yezidis flourish among them.  Their often-odd beliefs such as proscriptions against wearing the color blue and never eating lettuce are easily accepted.

The descendants of the Empire of Assyria that reached its peak in the 7th century BC adopted Christianity in 3rd and 4th centuries AD.  The Christian Assyrian community has been a part of Kurdish culture ever since.  There are a number of Christian churches of varying denominations here in Hewler (Arbil) and elsewhere in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Yet for all of this, just about no one in Washington seems able to apply it to Iran.

It’s not just the invertebrates of the State Department allergic to regime change in principal – it’s even astute folks like Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes who say on Fox News they don’t know of an alternative to the only choices they see:  militarily attack Iran or capitulate to the Mullacracy and make the best deal we can.

They, like most everyone else, are unaware of the potential of the Kurds to liberate Iran.  It’s not just that Eastern or Iranian Kurdistan is exploding with dissent, or even that liberation movements like the RUK and KDPI (Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran) are organizing that dissent.

It’s that the Eastern Kurds are not demanding secession from Iran, but autonomy within a federated Iran – just like what the Southern or Iraqi Kurds have achieved in Iraq.

They realize that the dream of an independent, united Kurdistan – North (Turkey), South (Iraq), West (Syria), and East (Iran) Kurdistan all in one sovereign nation carved out of the map of the Middle East, is just that – a dream.

The reason is Turkey.  The Kurds of Iran, Iraq, and Syria are grossly outnumbered by the Kurds of Turkey and have no wish to be dominated by them.  In a fully united Kurdistan, they would be.

Worse, the Kurds of Turkey are plagued with a totalitarian Marxist terrorist organization called the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party.

Everyone here in Iraqi Kurdistan, every liberation movement in Iranian Kurdistan, hates the PKK.  Originally set up by KGB agent Yevgeni Primakov in the 1970s and sponsored by the Soviets to destabilize NATO-member Turkey, the PKK is now sponsored by the Mullacracy of Iran.  The main base of the PKK with several thousand PKK guerrillas, is near Urumia in Iran near the Turkish Border.

A liberated Iran would end this support, and the Iraqi and Iranian Kurds could then help the Turkish Kurds eradicate the PKK and bring autonomy to a Turkish Kurdistan within a fully democratic Turkey.  (Turkey doesn’t even recognize the existence of their Kurds, calling them “Mountain Turks.”  All attempts to have Kurdish schools, newspapers, and other expressions of Kurdish identity are brutally suppressed.)

Even with that eventuality, Iranian Kurds have no intention of merging with Turkish Kurds who outnumber them so greatly.  Thus support from the United States – money, military and political training, supplies – for them represents the third alternative, the way out of the dilemma to attacking or capitulating to the Mullacracy.

In an attempt to find out how viable this third alternative is, I am about to be taken inside Iran with a group of RUK guerrillas.  Surreptitiously crossing a heavily-guarded border with armed guerrillas is not something to be undertaken lightly.  But it is the only way to see for oneself.

Next week, I’ll tell you what I experienced, and then we can discuss further how the Kurds are the key to achieving freedom in Iran and democracy in the Middle East.  In the meantime…. Wish me luck.


— Dr. Jack Wheeler is editor-in-chief of To The Point News and is widely credited as the architect of the Reagan Doctrine.