Kurdish Nationalists Should Stop Using the Treaty of Sèvres (10 August 1920) as a Rallying Battle Cry

WCA-NGO – 11/8/2020

Kurdish separatists should come to terms with the death of the Treaty of Sèvres, signed hundred years ago today. This document was perhaps the first international recognition of the Kurdish people and of their right to autonomy with the additional possibility to secede from Turkey and establish an independent state called Kurdistan (Articles 62-64). Therefore, their nationalists feel betrayed by the imperial powers of the day for making this ‘promise’ on 10 August 1920, when agreements were made to partition the Ottoman Empire into various nation-states.

For a full century, this short-lived pact has served Kurdish nationalists as a war cry, while ignoring historical and legal facts and an analogous case presenting an opposite reaction. Moreover, for a more peaceful, safer and thriving the Middle East, the time has come for the Kurdish secessionist organizations to realize the dangers of their irresponsible actions. If they fail to do so, it is the responsibility of the international community to bring them to their senses.

Historically, the Arameans are indigenous to Southeast Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, whereas the Kurds originate from Iran. The Encyclopaedia of Islam is right about the substantial increase of the Kurds in the traditionally Aramean lands in Southeast Turkey (and, one may add, in Northeast Syria) in the previous centuries, particularly in the last century: “In the early Byzantine period and the first centuries of Islam, Tūr ‘Abdīn was probably inhabited almost entirely by Christian Arameans. Later, more and more Muslims (mainly Kurds) settled there.”

Today, less than 2,000 Arameans remain in this region of Southeast Turkey (and no more than 50,000 in Northeast Syria), while most Aramean homes and lands have been occupied by Kurdish nationalists who are often inaccurately depicted by the media as the native population.

Legally, the international ratification of the Peace Treaty of Lausanne on 24 July 1923 annulled the validity of the Treaty of Sèvres. But still, in the last century Kurdish separatists have referred to this non-ratified piece of paper to justify their violent struggle for (Greater) Kurdistan. Irrespective of pledges made a century ago by Britain, France and others who have divided the Middle East into arbitrary countries, nowadays these states are obviously no longer in the position to impose new borders on today’s nation-states in this conflict-ridden region.

Analogous to the Kurds are the Aramean people who comprise of various Christian groups. Among them, the East Aramean ‘Nestorians’ were also promised a homeland by the British (who renamed them ‘Assyrians’) and they felt similarly deceived by the superpowers. Sèvres would merely assure “full safeguards for the protection of the Assyro-Chaldeans” (Article 62) – based on Britain’s invented term ‘Assyrians’ and France’s earlier one of ‘Chaldeans’, this new mishmash name did recognize the existence of the East Arameans, but only as a ‘minority’.

Since the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, several Kurdish secessionist movements have emerged. Present-day separatists such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) conduct terrorist acts from Southeast Turkey, Northeast Syria and North Iraq against Turkey, whereas its offshoot in Northeast Syria, the PYD/YPG, is stealthily carving out a Kurdish state in Syria. Although their revolts also affected the Arameans, most of these natives would eventually flee their homes without ever calling for an armed struggle against them to reclaim their homeland.

These illegally armed groups not only intensify regional conflicts by threatening the territorial integrity of Turkey and Syria. It is also reprehensible that Kurdish nationalists, who receive support from some Western states and media, continue to harass Arameans in their ancestral lands where they claim a ‘Kurdish’ homeland that historically and legally has never been theirs.

As much as the Aramean Christians have suffered tremendously, I would like to extend an olive branch to the Kurdish nation, speak to the conscience of its nationalists, who have sacrificed enough innocent Kurdish and non-Kurdish lives for their Kurdistan project, and call upon their militant groups to stop vindicating their struggle for independence. There is no historical, legal or other justification for putting human lives at risk for a self-invented homeland on someone else’s territory, least of all of the last remaining vulnerable and indigenous Arameans. If any stateless nation would ‘deserve’ a homeland, sincere pro-autonomy and pro-independence Kurds should admit that it would be first and foremost the decimated and uprooted Arameans, whose lands in these regions were known as Aram in Biblical and early Christian sources.

Ultimately, a century of reflection should be ample time for Kurdish nationalists to rethink how they can contribute more constructively to stability in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. They can choose to remain part of the problem or become part of the solution. If they truly desire or wish to build peace, security and prosperity in the Middle East, they ought to abandon their long-cherished aim to fight for an independent state of (Greater) Kurdistan and their self-given legal validity and international legitimacy to the century-old dead Sèvres Treaty signed near Paris.

Within the boundaries of the aforementioned four countries, a growing pacific Kurdish movement that genuinely embraces, lives and works on a common future together with other ethnoreligious groups who are all sharing the same lands today in this volatile region that has seen enough suffering would be an unexplored yet worthwhile path toward lasting peace.

Johny Messo presides over the World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) – since 1983 a worldwide umbrella organization of the Aramean people and since 1999 an NGO in special consultative status with the United Nations. He authored the book “Arameans and the Making of ‘Assyrians’: The Last Aramaic-speaking Christians of the Middle East.”