The First World War, the End of the Ottoman Empire, and Question of Kurdish Statehood: A ‘Missed’ Opportunity?


Historians who have examined the ‘failure’ of the Kurds to obtain statehood in the immediate aftermath of the First World War have, understandable, closely examined the lobbying efforts engaged in by the Kurdish elites in Istanbul, specifically those activists associated with the Society for the Betterment of Kurdistan (est. 1918). These efforts culminated in the summer of 1920 with the inclusion of clauses within Treaty of Sèvres which provided Kurdish-inhabited regions of the dying Ottoman Empire with a pathway to independence. Yet, only a few years later, Sèvres was replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), a treaty which made no provisions for Kurdish self-rule. This reversal of fortunes is accounted for in a number of ways, divisions amongst the Kurdish nationalists, the military success of Mustafa Kemal Pasha’s ‘nationalist’ forces in the Greco-Turkish War (1920–1922), and the ‘betrayal’ of the Kurds by perfidious European powers. However, often overlooked in this story is the geopolitical legacy of the First World War. It will be argued here that the failure of Kurdish nationalists in the immediate aftermath of the war can in large part be explained by developments that occurred over the four years of conflict.



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