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Kurds between warring nations again !!
BayBak, Azerbaijan | 2478 days ago | Thursday, 10th August , 2006 , 14:05 [pm] | Articles
Since it is not my intention to dwell on these causes, it suffices to say that the power struggle in Baku and its demoralizing and divisive impact on the National Army units made military victories by Armenians a fairly easy task. After the capture of Lachin, the other Kurdish districts followed the suit. Kelbajar, Gubadli, Zengilan, Cebrayil were occupied by the Armenian troops in a very short time during 1993.
The occupation of Kelbajar which carried no less strategic importance than Lachin has also been a subject of long discussions among Kurds. An unconfirmed hypothesis has it that Elchibey left Kelbajar defenseless on purpose to â€˜kill two birds with one stoneâ€™. First, Armenians would be presented to the world as having committed genocide in Kelbajar secondly victimizing Kurds would not
By Nizameddin Rzayev
After the Soviet leader Gorbachovâ€™s political reforms, called glasnost and perestroika , most of the minority nations in the Soviet Union started asserting their national aspirations and demanding more cultural, political freedoms including schools in native languages, more autonomy in the management of their internal affairs, repatriation to their homelands to redress the injustice of Stalinâ€™s deportation policies towards Kurds, Krim Tatars, Volga Germans, Chechens, Mesheti Turks etc. Soviet Kurds having heavily suffered from Stalinâ€™s brutal deportations (1937, 1944), forced assimilation, and abolishment of Kurdistan Autonomous Province(1923-1929) were among the most vocal minority nations in their demands to redress the wrongs done against them in the past. The list of the wrongs committed against Kurds in former Red Kurdistan also included the manipulation of population figures, settlement of non-Kurds in the Kurdish lands, abolition of Kurdish as a medium of instruction, closing down of all the Kurdish publications and schools by central Azeri government during Stalinâ€™s repressive political era and afterwards.
Large demonstration by Kurds from all over Soviet Union took place in Moscow on May, 1988. More than ten thousand Kurds from Azerbaijan sent their passports to Moscow demanding to replace â€˜Azerbaijaniâ€™ with â€™Kurdâ€™ in the â€˜nationalityâ€™ section. The Soviet officials in their turn displayed considerable interest and sympathy towards the demands of Kurds.
Chebrikov, a member of the Soviet Politburo responsible for nationalities, met the Kurdish leaders and intellectuals advising them to form a single organization representing all the Soviet Kurds. Shortly afterwards, Kurdish activist leaders founded â€˜Yekbunâ€™, M. Babayev, a Kurd from Baku and former high ranking public servant at Ministry of Agriculture was elected as a chairmen. Influential Kurdish intellectuals and leaders such as Academician Nadir Nadirov, Ph.D Shakero Mihayi, poet Ali Abdul Rahman, Tosen Rashid, a police colonel and engineer were elected as the Committee members for Yekbun. Shortly afterwards, the General Committee of the Communist Party approved Yekbunâ€™s decision to hold a conference on Kurds in Moscow titled â€˜The Kurds of Soviet Union: The Past and Presentâ€™ to be held on July 20, 1990 The conference was undoubtedly one of the most significant events in the recent history of Soviet Kurds first because it encompassed all the Kurds of former Soviet Unions. For instance, it witnessed to very emotional moments such as Moslem and Yezidi Kurds embracing each other, declaring that their religious differences can not break the strongest bonds of belonging to the same Kurdish nation.
Secondly, 18 influential Kurdish politicians and leaders from all the parts of Kurdistan proper were among the active conference participants, giving the Soviet Kurds once in-life time chance to discuss the problems of Kurds with their brethren out of their reach for such a long time under the closed communist system. Among those were Dr. Kamal Fuad as a representative of Jalal Talabani, Dr. Mohamad Salih Guma as a representative of Masud Barzani, Dr. Mahmud Outhman of the Kurdish Socialist Party, Dr. Said Sharaf Kandi as a general secretary of PDK-Iran, Salah Bedreddin from the Western Kurdistan, Mahmed Ali Osman representing Northern Kurdistan, Kendal Nezan from The Instut Kurde de Paris.
The Conference resulted in a letter to M. Gorbachov and final resolution calling for redressing the above-mentioned wrongs against Soviet Kurds.
The most interesting developments occurred after the large scale demonstrations of Kurds where strong demands were voiced to restorate Kurdistan State created in 1923 (former Red Kurdistan) and return all the deported Kurds to their native homelands. Shortly afterwards, Moscow invited the influential members of Kurdish communities and high ranking officials of Azerbaijan to discuss the status of Kurdish lands. The Soviet leader Michael Gorbachov is said to have shown a keen interest in the restoration of Kurdistan. From the very outset, the officials representing Azerbaijan Republic expressed their objection to the idea of Kurdish state, claiming that Kurds would not be able to manage their affairs on their own. They went as far as threatening to invade Kurdistan if Kurds decided to break away from Azerbaijan Republic. Azeri officials offered to allocate a semi-desert area â€˜Ceyran cholâ€™ for creating Autonomous Kurdistan State which caused strong uproar and laugher among the Kurds.
At the same time, Yagub Mamedov, an acting Azeri president, promised to address the Kurdish issue after they settled the Upper Grabakh conflict which had broken out with the demands of Nagorno Garabakh Armenians to secede from Azerbaijan. By â€˜addressingâ€™ the Kurdish issue, they most likely meant giving Kurds more cultural rights or possibly reinstating the former autonomous status of Kurdistan in the future. As a result of lengthy and heated discussions in the Soviet Parliament (the then Soviet Supreme Council) the decision was made to restore Kurdistan State encompassing the Kurdish lands between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the near future. But as ill luck would have it, the whole situation changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union a few months later and all the constituent 15 Republics declared their Independence. In the meanwhile, Garabakh war had entered into its full swing pushing the grievances and demands of Kurds to the background.
After Azerbaijan Republic declared its independence (October 18, 1991) Azerbaijan Peoplesâ€™ Front, a popular movement established in 1989 mainly in response to Karabakh conflict with populist national agenda usurped the power, ousting the then pro-Russian and unpopular Azeri president, Ayaz Mutallibov in March, 1992 mainly due to the military setbacks of the newly formed Azerbaijan Army in the Karabakh War.
Abulfaz. Elchibey, the leader of the Peopleâ€™s Front, was officially elected president in June 1992. From the very outset, Elchibey, an Azeri ultra-nationalist, declared his allegiance to Turkish nationalism, displaying strong anti-Russian, anti-Iran, and pro-Turkey political stance; He immediately demanded the removal of remaining Russian troops from Azerbaijan territories. That further strained the already tense relations between Russia and Azerbaijan which was blamed on Russiaâ€™s military support for Armenians in the conflict. Elchibey government later paid a high price for their short-sighted policies with regard to Russia and ethnic realities of Azerbaijan on the ground. Of course the diverse ethnic composition of Azerbaijan with huge Kurdish, Lezgin, and Talish communities provided no fertile ground for Elchibeyâ€™s pan-Turkish ideologies which Turkey worked hard to import to Azerbaijan. Obviously Russia had a good reason to have growing worries about anti-Russian policies of official Baku.
A short while after the dissolution of Soviet Union, Russian state officials again called Wakil Mustafayev and a few other influential Kurdish activists to Moscow, promising them a Russian support if Kurds decided to establish their own independent state. They also informed Wakil Mustafayev that they have discussed the issue with Armenian leaders and got their pledge of support. The tacit Russian and Armenian support for Independent Kurdistan in the Caucasus was completely understandable and did not stem from any altruistic consideration on their part. First of all, independent Kurdistan would provide a safe passage between Armenia and Nagorno Garabakh since the Kurdish territories served as the only bridge between Nagorno Garabakh and Armenia. Secondly, an Independent Kurdistan would prefer to be the sphere of influence for Russia and enjoy good relations with Moscow in order to ward off the growing threat posed by Azerbaijan and Turkey which was already massing troops on the borders with Armenia in support of Azerbaijan Republic. As agreed, an independent Kurdistan government would allow Russia to deploy its troops in strategically vital Kurdish lands both to safeguard the endangered Russian interests in the Caucasus and ensure the security of Kurdish population against possible retaliations by Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Taking these promises seriously, Kurdish activists started forming propaganda groups and launching propaganda work for independence among the Kurdish communities in Lachin, a capital of a former Autonomous Kurdistan Province. The now independent Azeri government anxiously following the political developments in Kurdistan quickly responded by organizing anti-propaganda units made up of intelligence agents and brainwashed Kurds. These groups visited the Kurdish communities in Lachin and Kelbajar, warning the population of the grave consequences awaiting them in case they participated in the planned uprising by the activists to start the Kurdish independence movement. The challenge before these Kurdish intellectuals and activists to involve as sufficiently broad base of Kurdish population as to put up an effective independence front was formidable for a multiplicity of reasons a few important of which deserves a mention here.
First, long years of brainwashing policies by Azeri government, loss of national identity and religious affinity with Azeris disposed many Kurds towards viewing breaking away from Azerbaijan as an unrealistic option and even â€˜betrayalâ€™. An extreme example of how far some Kurds had strayed from their national roots was Iskendar Hamidov, well-known ex-interior minister of Azerbaijan under Elchibey Government. Himself being from a famous Kurdish tribe â€˜Kolaniâ€™, he established â€˜Grey Wolvesâ€™ party in Azerbaijan, preaching ardent Turkish nationalism.
Besides, the rapidness and unexpectedness of fundamental changes Soviet Empire underwent necessitated the passage of certain time span for Soviet Kurds to strengthen the national awareness among all the segments of largely â€˜brainwashedâ€™ Kurdish population and prepare comprehensive independence strategy, crucial steps to be taken for launching a successful Independence movement. In addition, the full-fledged war raging on the borders of Kurdistan had disrupted the daily lives of Kurdish population.
Another factor was the lack of required resources and access to Kurdish Diaspora abroad and â€˜mainlandâ€™ Kurdistan to draw any tangible support or international attention to the plight of Kurds in the Caucasus.
On the contrary, Karabakh Armenians received extensive financial, military and manpower support from both Armenians abroad and Russia which proved to be crucial to their military successes over Azerbaijan. The promise made to Kurds by Russians was a far cry from a real, tangible support.
But I would like to dwell shortly on one interesting factor which has to do with Iran. One of the interested participants in these events was no doubt Iran since the southern border district, Zengilan of future Kurdistan, bordered on Iran. The Kurdish independence group had managed to hold several meetings with Iranian officials as an interested party with an Iranian promise of neutrality in the event Caucasus Kurds declared independence. Despite Iranâ€™s declared neutrality in the matter initially, Iran afterwards displayed its vehement objection to the idea of adjacent Independent Kurdish State on the ground that it would give its restive Kurdish population a considerable leverage to cause Iran further political troubles. Some Iranian officials even declared that they would join their forces with Azerbaijani Army to crush the Kurdish Republic.
Iranian disapproval was probably one of other most important reasons why Armenians later withdrew their promise of support for Kurds. Armenia blockaded by Azerbaijan and Turkey looked on Iran as a life tube for its economic and political survival. The economic and political relations with Iran were crucial for a resource-poor transitional country whose economy was paralyzed by the disintegration of the soviet economic system.
Surrounded by Azerbaijan and Turkey, Armenians definitely did not want to risk their badly needed relations with Iranian Regime. Meanwhile, some Armenian officials tried to convince Kurds to declare a joint Kurdish-Armenian federation called â€˜Garabakh and Kurdistan Federationâ€™ which was firmly rejected by Kurdish activists.
Thus, despite these unfavorable circumstances, the Independence Committee officially declared the independence of Lachin Kurdish Republic in May, 1992. It was decided to form a Kurdish government two months after the Independence Declaration. In the meanwhile, Russian TV stations spread the news that Kurds had ejected Azeris from their country and declared their independence.
Of course the verbal independence declaration was a very premature thing since most of the population in Kurdistan was not even familiar with the activities of Independence Committee to participate in these events.
The Committee members had only been able to talk to the Kurdish communities in Lachin city and a few neighboring villages during such a short period of time. Ironically, as residents of Kelbajar, the biggest district of Kurdistan, we heard the news of declaration of Lachin Kurdish Republic from Russian TVs instead of being active participants in such an important undertaking. There would be no organized armed resistance to defend Kurdistan against possible Azerbaijan or Turkey intervention since very little or nothing had been done in this regard.
The Independence Committeeâ€™s request for military support from Ocalan was shortly turned down. In the meanwhile, Armenians fighting from both Armenia proper and Garabax were scoring important military successes over unorganized Azerbaijan Army. Most of the war was being waged in the territories of Kurdistan as a strategically important border area.
Armenians, encouraged by their military advances against Azerbaijani Army had completely forgotten their initial promise of supporting Kurds to declare independence. Now, they were intent on occupying all of the Kurdish lands both to ensure the annexation of Nakorno Karabakh to Armenia and get more bargaining power in future negotiations with Azerbaijan over the status of Nakorno Karabakh.
A few days after the declaration of Lachin Kurdish Republic on Armenian troops succeeded to capture Lachin city and all the villages that made up Lachin district on May 17, 1992 driving all the 64.000 Kurdish population out of the district to establish a safe corridor between Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. The occupation of Lachin marked a major turning point in the conflict for future military victories against Azerbaijan since it allowed Armenians to lift the blockade of landlocked Naogorno Karabakh and annex it to Armenia. The unarmed Kurdish population of Lachin was in no position to defend the district against the militarily superior Armenian troops armed with the most sophisticated Russian weapons. The unorganized Azerbaijani troops in charge of defending Lachin withdrew without putting up any significant resistance. The root causes of Azerbaijanâ€™s military defeats in the Karabakh war are still discussed widely in Azerbaijan, each political group often blaming the other for the disastrous consequences of war that resulted in the occupation of 18-20 percent of Azerbaijan Republicâ€™s territories including Kurdistan. Since it is not my intention to dwell on these causes, it suffices to say that the power struggle in Baku and its demoralizing and divisive impact on the National Army units made military victories by Armenians a fairly easy task. After the capture of Lachin, the other Kurdish districts followed the suit. Kelbajar, Gubadli, Zengilan, Cebrayil were occupied by the Armenian troops in a very short time during 1993.
The occupation of Kelbajar which carried no less strategic importance than Lachin has also been a subject of long discussions among Kurds. An unconfirmed hypothesis has it that Elchibey left Kelbajar defenseless on purpose to â€˜kill two birds with one stoneâ€™. First, Armenians would be presented to the world as having committed genocide in Kelbajar secondly victimizing Kurds would not be such a bad idea in strengthening the â€˜Turkishâ€™ image of Azerbaijan. But Armenians left a safe passage for fleeing Kurdish population of Kelbajar via a rugged mountainous road which was the only exit left from Kelbajar to the rest of Azerbaijan, eventually not falling into the â€˜trapâ€™ prepared by â€˜far-sightedâ€™ Azeri leader. This view got mostly strengthened by the fact that Elchibey replaced the general Zaur Rzayev in charge of defending Kelbajar and known for his significant military achievements in the Kelbajar-Agdara front with an incompetent commander, putting Rzayev in a strategically less important front line. There were also more obvious facts on the ground.
Suret Huseynov, the commander of 705th Brigade pulled his troops off the front line-Agdare/Mardakert in protest to his dismissal by Elchibey. In the meanwhile, Nogorno Karabakh troops taking advantage of the situation was turning back the captured villages of Agdere/Mardakert and advancing very fast towards Kelbajar.
The remaining Azeri troops were retreating in chaos and disorder from Kelbajar without any resistance. The Army units were fleeing the war ahead of the unarmed Kurdish civilians instead of putting up any defense.
Suret Huseynov eventually forced Elhibey to run away to his native village Keleki of Nakhchivan after the fall of Kelbajar. Thus, all the population of Kurdistan was driven out of their lands by Armenian Army in a very short time during 1993. Most of the Kurdish refugees afterwards settled in temporary â€˜refugeeâ€™ towns and different corners of Azerbaijan.
After Elchibeyâ€™s fall, Haydar Aliyev, a former leader of Soviet Azerbaijan and ex-vice prime minister of Soviet Union came to power on June 15, 1993. He negotiated a ceasefire with Armenians on May 22, 1994 and saved Azerbaijan from civil war and break up that had engulfed the whole country at that time which is a subject of another article.