“Fatally Tied Together”: The Intertwined History of Kurds and Armenians in the 20th Century

In: Iran and the Caucasus
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  • 1 University of Michigan

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More than a century years ago Talât Pasha declared famously that in the Eastern Provinces “The Armenian question does not exist anymore”. Today, far from being resolved, the former binary coding (Armenian/Turkish) is even further complicated by a third element— the ongoing Kurdish question (doza Kurdistanê). While most research and journalistic works frame the Armenian issue and the Kurdish issue as two separate events that merely coincide(d) in the same geographical space, this work explores their interdependence and the historical trajectories of two peoples fatally “tied together” across a spatio-temporal scale.

In my paper I identify two opposing lines of continuity through which both peoples are tied together: friendly and fatal ties. With regard to the first (friendly ties), I turn to the SSR Armenia and her role in fostering Kurdish culture and advancing Kurdish nationalism. Hereby, I argue that a marginalized community of Kurmanji-speakers—the Yezidis, previously othered as “devil-worshippers” (şeytanperest)— emerged as the vanguard in forging a novel, secularized Kurdish national identity. With regard to the latter (fatal ties), I link the irrevocable erasure of Ottoman Armenians to the emergence of an imagined “Northern Kurdistan” stretching over large parts of historic Armenia. This, finally, raises the question of Kurdish complicity in the Armenian Genocide—as state-mobilized regiments, tribal members and ordinary residents—in a geography where, as Recep Maraşlı put it, the descendants “are the children of both perpetrators and victims alike”.

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