The history of the relationship between the Iraqi Baath party and the Faylee Kurds, an integral part of the Kurdish nation, provides ample evidence of insecurity and large-scale violations of fundamental human rights. The Baathists employed different strategical methods against the Faylee Kurds ranging from discrimination and social exclusion on the one extreme to mass expulsion and genocide on the other. They justified their systematic prosecution and repression of one of the main components of the Iraqi society on the basis of national security. The animosity towards the Faylee Kurds intensified during the rule of Saddam Hussein as they were accused of being of Iranian origin and constituting a fifth column in Iraq, and hence a threat to be removed. As a result, the Baath regime expelled hundreds of thousands of Faylee Kurds to Iran and exterminated about 22,000 of them. The Faylee Kurds have lived in Iraq for centuries and played a significant role in the history of modern Iraq, and most notably for being expelled and killed on a vast scale, yet they are still an unknown community to the outside world. This book attempts to address this shortcoming. From the introduction. Cover photo: Monument in Baghdad honouring the killed and disappeared Faylee Kurds.

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Dedicated to the killed Faylee Kurds and those who suffered at the hands of the Ba’thists in Iraq



Nation-State Formation, Homogenisation of Peoples and Nationalism

Nation and Nationalism: An Overview

The Ottoman Empire: Mass Expulsion and Genocide as Instruments of Nation-State Formation

From Ottomanism to Arabism

Sunni Arab Dominance, 1921-1932: Early Strive for Homogenisation

The Impact of Saati al-Husri

The Unsuccessful Nation-State Foundation

Post-Independent Iraq Until the Revolution of 1958: Suppression of Ethnic Groups, Arab Nazi/Fascist Inclination

The Assyrian Massacre

Kurdish Demands Unheeded

Sami Shawkat and His Legacy for the Ba’th Party

The Origins of Ba’th Ideology and its Rise in Iraq

The Impact of Michel ‘Aflaq

‘Aflaq and Non-Dominant Ethnic Groups

‘Aflaq and Violence

The Ba’th Party in Iraq: Early Years

The Origins of the Faylee Kurds: A Historical Overview

Ethnicity and Language

Posht-e-kuh During the Sasanian and the IslamicConquests

Language and Religion of the Faylee Kurds

The Term Faylee

Faylee Kurds in Baghdad

Qassem, the Kurdish Question, the Ba’thists and the Faylee Kurds

The Ba’thist Coup against Qassem and the Faylee Kurds

The Ba’thist Coup of July, 1968: The First Wave of Mass Expulsion of the Faylee Kurds

The Shu’ubiya: Its Meaning, its Use and Implications

The Nationality Question of the Faylee Kurds

National Security and New Restrictive Measures

Events Leading up to the Mass Expulsion of the Faylee Kurds

The Mass Expulsion of the Faylee Kurds, 1970-1971

Saddam’s Drive for Homogenisation, 1980-1991

Saddam’s Rise to Power

Arabisation of the Kurdish Population

Arabisation of Kirkuk and other “Contested Areas”

Nation-State Formation and Mass Expulsion, 1980-1991

Conceptual Definitions and International Norms

Reasons Contributing to Mass Expulsions:The State Security Reason: A) The Economic Position of the Faylee Kurds

B) The Political Activities of the Faylee Kurds

The Mustansiriya Bomb Attack and its Aftermath

The Second Wave of Mass Expulsion of the Faylee Kurds,1980-1991

Eyewitness Accounts

The Ba’th Regime’s Documents on Mass Expulsions

Nation-State Formation and Genocide in Iraq, 1980-1991

The Nation-State

From Authoritarian to Totalitarian Regimes: The Road to Genocide

Relationship Between War and Genocide: The Kurdish Dimension

The Concept of Genocide.

Genocide of the Faylee Kurds: Ba’th’s “Final Solution”

The “Disappeared” Faylee Kurds

The Riot at the Prison of Abo Ghraib

The Prison of Nugrat al-Salman

Ba’th Regime’s Lists of the “Disappeared” Faylee Kurds and the Year 1986

Stanton’s Eight Stages of Genocide






The history of the relationship between the Iraqi Ba’th party and the Faylee Kurds, an integral part of the Kurdish nation, provides ample evidence of insecurity and large-scale violations of fundamental human rights. The Ba’thists employed different strategical methods against the Faylee Kurds ranging from discrimination and social exclusion on the one extreme to mass expulsion and genocide on the other. They justified their systematic prosecution and repression of one of the main components of the Iraqi society based on national security. Saddam Hussein’s assuming the presidency of Iraq in 1979 without a doubt marked a dramatic turning point in the relationship between the Ba’thists and the Faylee Kurds. The Ba’th party and Saddam in person intensified their animosity against the Faylee Kurds during conflict-ridden relationships with Iran. Faylee Kurds were accused of being of Iranian origin, or tabaiya, a word the regime used for people it regarded as to be originally Iranian, and were then considered to be holding allegiance to Iran. They were therefore regarded by the regime as a fifth column in Iraq, who posed a threat to the security of the state. These accusations were on several occasions reiterated explicitly and implicitly in Saddam’s comments and speeches on the current domestic affairs accompanied sometimes by threat of “uprooting” (ijtithath) those who were deemed unfit for the Iraqi society by “purifying” (tathir), or “cleansing” (tanzif) the Iraqi population from them, or rendering it “homogenous” (mutajanis).

The extensive Arabisation campaign was also part of the Ba’th regime’s idea of eradicating differences between the Iraqi populace, and to create one single Arab nation inculcated by Ba’thist ideology. The ultimate goal of the policy the Ba’thists adopted since they took power in 1968 was to form a homogenous nation-state out of a society composed of different ethnic and religious groups. This policy found its violent expression under the rule of Saddam when hundreds of thousands of the Faylee Kurds were expelled to Iran and about 22,000 of them were exterminated.

The policy of social exclusion and oppression of the non-dominant ethnic and religious groups in Iraq was not only practiced by the Ba’thist rulers, its root can be traced back to the foundation of the modern Iraqi state. When the Ottoman Empire was dismantled after World War 1 the Allied powers superimposed the nation-state on Iraq as well as on the countries in the Middle East as a political system, disregarding ethnic, religious and social particularities. King Faysal 1, who was installed by the British in 1921 in Iraq, together with his entourage, consisting of ex-Ottoman officers, were ardent advocates of Arab nationalism. They were proponents of Iraq’s unity and undertook under the British aegis, the project of nation building which for the most part during the mandate period entailed ignorance and when necessary violent suppression of non-Arab groups’ demands. The Kurds as the second largest ethnic group after the Arabs in Iraq even though the Sèrvres treaty concluded in 1920, entitled them to an independent state, became, after the winning of the Mosul Wilayat in 1926 and thus the consolidation of Iraqi state, incorporated into Iraq. Neither the pan-Arab in power nor the British, favoured a serious accommodation of Kurdish aspirations, and this attitude, indeed, by and large, remained so until the downfall of the Ba’th regime in 2003.

Other ethnic and religious groups did not escape the same destination; such were the Assyrians, the Jews, the Christians and the Shi’ites. Despite discriminatory treatments and hostile persecutions that the Faylee Kurds experienced during different nationalist and pan-Arab regimes, they succeeded to play a significant role in modern Iraq’s history. They made themselves felt in the first place in the realms of trade, commerce and politics. Several leading personalities within the two main Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, were Faylee Kurds. They were among the founders and promoters of these parties and their commitment to the struggle for Kurdish rights attracted many Faylee Kurds to these parties. Faylee Kurds merchants and businessmen, especially those who had prospered economically in Baghdad, also provided the Kurdish national movement financial help. Faylee Kurds were also active in other political parties, mainly in the Iraqi Communist party and to a limited extent in the Da’wa party. Consequently, Faylee Kurds were viewed by the regime as a subversive group, although they did not constitute any opposition force of their own. Nor were they involved in any anti-governmental group when the regime mounted its atrocities against them in April 1980, given that at the time the regime principally had destroyed its opponents.

The aim of this book is to explore the antagonistic policy the Ba’th regime pursued vis-a´-vis the Faylee Kurds and also to explain the main driving force behind the regime’s and Saddam’s political endeavour in this regard. The theoretical framework for this study is mainly derived from the theories of Heather Rae, Mark Levene and Andreas Wimmer. Rae’s theory addresses the relationship between state building and the homogenisation of people which she calls “pathological homogenisation”. According to Rae, in the process of state building the elite employs discriminatory and violent methods against those perceived as “outsiders” and hence a threat to be removed. In doing so state-makers often adopt policies against the targeted group including deprivation of citizenship, assimilation, expulsion and extermination. The end goal of these policies is to achieve unity and “sovereign identity within the state.”1 Levene analyses the occurrence of genocide within a competitive international system of nation-states on the one hand and some types of totalitarian regimes’ atrocities against ethnic/national groups who resist their idea of national unity and social coherence on the other. Andreas Wimmer approaches the question of dominant ethnic groups’ policy towards non-dominant ethnic and religious groups which generally involves social exclusion as well as forced assimilation, ethnic cleansing and ethnocide.

The argument of the national security was paramount in the Ba’th regime’s rationalisation of its policy towards the Faylee Kurds. Indeed, the concept of national or state security is closely interlinked with the enterprise of nation-state formation. Ethnic dominant groups claim to act in the interests and for the security of the state and the people, and that it is incumbent on them to ensure the security of the state and the people from other non-dominant groups which they consider a real or potential threat. The consequence of this rationale is often rendering the state free from them by means of mass expulsion, ethnic cleansing and even genocide in order to achieve a homogeneous population. In the case of the Kurds and some other minorities in Iraq, these practices were also accompanied by cultural assimilation and Arabisation. In fact, the security of the state, and hence, of those exercising state power, is embodied in international law. As it is established by international norms, a sovereign state has the right to mass expulsion as long as it does not violate international obligations. These norms also legitimise withdrawal of citizenship and expulsion of those who the state regards as a threat to its security, for example due to their collaboration with a foreign power. The security argument was already enshrined in agreements concluded after World War II between the Allied powers. At the time the mass expulsion or as it was called “transfer” of minorities such as ethnic Germans and other minorities to their homelands was carried out to guarantee the security of eastern and central Europe states.2 On the transfer of the fourteen million Germans, Ian Brownlie argues that it “may be justified as a part of the sanctions and measures of security imposed by the principle members of a coalition which had fought a lawful war of collective defence against Nazi Germany.”3

The main concern of the Ba’thists was ensuring their own security and the preservation of their power which they sought to achieve through infringement of basic international human rights law and norms which prohibit arbitrary and unlawful practices by a state against its own people. Nevertheless, the ambiguous nature of the term security in certain international laws renders a clear-cut interpretation of it difficult. It allows for different interpretation depending on the type of the regime and the agency and the purpose thereof. It is not to say that the Ba’thists acted in accordance with interpretation of any law or were constrained by some others. Yet, they should have been cognisant that the international principles vested in a sovereign state the right for protecting national security. This might explain the silence of the regional and international governments on the Ba’th regime’s policy towards the Faylee Kurds.

I intend to carry out the study partly within the context of the political development in Iraq since the creation of the Iraqi state in 1921. In doing so, I will illustrate the attitudes of the Sunni Arab rulers towards other ethnic and religious groups as well as the influence of Arab nationalism from its inception formulated by Saati al-Husri on Michel ‘Aflaq, the principal founder of Ba’th ideology, who in his turn influenced the pan-Arab rulers in Iraq and, on a personal level, Saddam Hussein. Emphasising the rulers’ nationalist ideology has the advantage of highlighting the role of agency in targeting non-dominant ethnic groups in the process of nation-state formation. The study of the relationship between the Ba’th regime and the Faylee Kurds will hopefully be more comprehensible if it is conducted within the structure and agency framework. As it will be demonstrated in this book, structure and circumstances allowed for the policies the Ba’thists conducted against the Faylee Kurds and other dissenters in Iraq.

The study will also partly draw on theories of nation-state formation and homogenisation of people presented briefly above which will be discussed in more detail in the course of this case study. As such, emphasis will be put on the state makers’ repressive strategies during the reign of the Ba’th party from 1968 to 2003 in dealing with non-dominant groups, with prominence given to the Faylee Kurds, in the process of nation-state formation. That said, the central argument of this study is that the Ba’th regime in Iraq, particularly during the rule of Saddam Hussein, envisioned to create a homogenous nation-state through different practices such as Arabisation, mass expulsion and genocide in order to acquire national security as well as legitimacy for its authority.

The study of the case of the Faylee Kurds within the nation-state formation can contribute towards enriching the existing literature which focuses on either genocide or mass expulsion/ethnic cleansing. The latter concepts have been used by some scholars interchangeably as they deem mass expulsion as a euphemism for ethnic cleansing. The latter term has also been used by some researchers as a euphemism for genocide. The case of the Armenians which is referred to both as a genocide and ethnic cleansing serves as a good example. In this study, as has also been discussed in chapter nine, mass expulsion and ethnic cleansing are dealt with as two separate phenomena, the similarities between them notwithstanding. The case of the Faylee Kurds encompasses, apart from mass expulsion and genocide, the practice of intensive Arabisation. The latter term has also been employed as a synonym to ethnic cleansing by some Iraqi/Kurdish writers since these two policies had a common objective, to change the demographic make-up of the affected areas. Despite the atrocities against the Faylee Kurds whereby about 22,000 were eliminated by the Ba’th regime, there has not been any serious interest from researchers in the case of the Faylee Kurds. Instead the bulk of the literature on the relationship between the Kurds and Sunni Arab rulers is devoted to the Kurds in the Iraqi Kurdistan. The Faylee Kurds have lived in Iraq for centuries and played a significant role in the history of modern Iraq, and most notably for being expelled and killed on a vast scale, yet they are still an unknown community to the outside world. This book attempts to address this shortcoming, anticipating attracting the attention of foreign scholars and writers to research in the field of the Faylee Kurds.

1Heather, Rae, State, Identities and the Homogenisation of Peoples (Cambridge: 2002), pp.3-65.

2 See this study pp.135-137.

3 Ian Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law (Oxford: Charendon Press, 1963), 409.


Nation-State Formation, Homogenisation of Peoples and Nationalism

As it is explored by scholars on the subject, the rise of modern nation-states in Europe and its proliferation in the rest of the world followed two different trajectories. According to Andreas Wimmer, While the nation-states in Western Europe emerged after the decline of absolutism, in other parts of the world, there were different causal mechanisms at work; indeed, West Europeans influenced the model of nation-states as standard.4 Despite these differences, the two models often practiced a common policy, homogenisation of non-dominant ethnic and religious groups as an instrument of state-building.

Heather Rae points out that Charles Tilly’s study of the formation of national states in West Europe demonstrates that early modern states’ drive for homogenisation was to achieve “centralization, pacification and the construction of single, sovereign identities, all of which were internal to states”. It was also to ward off threats that could come primarily from united populations which preoccupied the state builders. Thus, homogenisation of populations was a deliberate policy aimed to consolidate state power.5 They were well aware of the danger inherent in a linguistically, religiously, and ideologically homogeneous people in case they challenged the coercive power of the royalty. According to Tilly, however:

homogenization had many compensating advantages: within a homogeneous population, ordinary people were more likely to identify with their rulers, communication could run more efficiently, and an administrative innovation that worked in one segment was likely to work elsewhere as well. People who sensed a common origin, furthermore, were more likely to unite against external threats. Spain, France and other large States recurrently homogenized by giving religious minorities- especially Muslim and Jews- the choice between conversion and emigration.6

As the process of homogenisation of the population was ongoing, rulers sought to shift from indirect to direct rule, which was reinforced by virtue of the French revolution and Empire between 1789 to 1815 in Europe. This occurred in two ways; by constructing a centralised government as a model which was emulated by other states, and by imposing different variations of the model in regions conquered by the French.7 The move to direct rule entailed radical changes in terms of welfare, culture and the daily lives of the peoples in Europe depending on the states of their residence. Whilst the states undertook to internally implement more centralisation and impose homogeneous languages, educational systems and military services, externally they tightened their control and surveillance on their frontiers and subjected foreigners to discriminatory treatments. Even the economic situation of the population was determined on the basis of different conditions in different states. Tilly argues:

To that degree, life homogenized within states and heterogenized among states. National symbols crystallized, national languages standardized, national labor markets organized. War itself became a homogenizing experience…demographic characteristic began to resemble each other within the same state and to differ even more widely among states.8

Thus, the process of the nation-state formation in Western Europe outlined so far gave rise to the emergence of nationalism which for non-dominant peoples implied political mobilisation to achieve national independence and appeared once they were conquered by rulers of other religions or languages. Existing national states on the other hand, employed nationalism as a means for demanding supreme loyalty and commitment of their populations. Tilly observes that the homogenisation of the population and the imposition of direct rule both encouraged the latter variant of nationalism.9 As this study deals with nation-state formation in Iraq and the policy of the dominant Arab Ba’thists against the Faylee Kurds, which was strongly motivated by Arab nationalism and the idea of creating a homogeneous nation, it is then necessary to examine the origins and evolution of this strand of nationalism. But prior to that it would be appropriate to give an overview of the different theories of nationalism and their development in Europe and in the region.

Nation and Nationalism: An Overview

There is a common belief among the prominent scholars of the modernist school that nation and nationalism are modern phenomena, developing in Europe during the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. A functionalist theory of nationalism has been formulated by Ernest Gellner, which assumes that due to the relationship between power and culture, nationalism cannot emerge in agrarian societies since the horizontally stratified ruling minority emphasises cultural differentiation rather than cultural homogeneity. On the other hand, the relationship between power and culture in industrial societies is essentially different; “A high culture pervades the whole of society, defines it, and needs to be sustained by the polity. That is the secret of nationalism”. 10 Accordingly, nation and nationalism can only emerge in industrial societies where the means for the homogenisation of culture are available. Gellner maintains that:

nation can be defined only in terms of the ages of nationalism, rather than…the other way around…rather when general social conditions make for standardized, homogeneous, centrally sustained high cultures, prevailing entire populations and not only elite minorities.11

Gellner’s definition of nationalism is that it is “primarily a political principle, which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent”. The experience of the state of Iraq since its foundation proved that the congruency between the political and the cultural unit was never accomplished despite the efforts of different governments in that respect. They disregarded the political and cultural rights of other ethnic and religious minorities and tried to transcend ethnic and religious barriers and to build a state where these minorities would finally identify with its nationalist ideology. And they used every means possible to achieve that goal; Arabisation, deportation, violence and genocide. Gellner’s opinion on the lack of congruence between these two units is that:

In brief, nationalism is a theory of political legitimacy, which requires that ethnic boundaries should not cut across political ones, and, in particular, that ethnic boundaries within a given state – should not separate the power-holder from the rest…It follows that a territorial political unit can only become ethnically homogeneous, in such cases, if it either kills, or expels, or assimilates all non-nationals.12

Similar to Gellner, Eric Hobsbawm also believes that the nation is a changeable social entity which “belongs exclusively to a particular, and historically recent, period. It is a social entity only insofar as it relates to a certain kind of modern territorial state, the nation-state.”13 In his opinion, nationalism precedes nations, and nations do not create states and nationalism, but the other way around.14 Hobsbawm holds that components such as artefacts, inventions and “social engineering” contributed to nation-building. He refers particularly to the invention of tradition in the process of nation-building, and states that he employs the term “invented traditions” in a broader sense to imply “a set of practices normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past.”15

Thus, in premodern time there was no explicit link between nation and state-territorial organisation and it was only the modern social structure that provided the context that allowed the emergence of nation and nationalism. Benedict Anderson is another prominent theorist of nationalism whose influential work on the subject examines the crucial role of the national consciousness in the creation of modern nations. He points out that print-languages laid the foundation for the national consciousness in three different ways; first, they “created a unified field of exchange and communication below Latin and above the spoken vernaculars”, second, “print-capitalism gave “a new fixity to language… which helped to build that image of antiquity so central to the subjective idea of the nation.” On the other hand, the national language had a significant role in the creation of the modern concept of nation-building. Anderson maintains that printed literature, print-capitalism, and its dissemination alongside the wide range growth of literacy, commerce, industry and communications, “created powerful new impulses for vernacular linguistic unification within the dynastic realm.”16 As a result, among other things, Arab intellectuals educated at American and West Europeans colleges were pioneer in the revival and the spread of Arab nationalism. Also, Turkish nationalism came into being when a lively vernacular press in Istanbul was founded in the 1870s. It marked the demise of “Ottoman” which was a dynastic language of officialdom of the Empire consisting of Turkish, Persian and Arabic elements. 17

As has been observed, modernist scholars perceive nation and nationalism as entirely modern phenomena, that is, as products of a dynamic historical process, beginning predominantly in Europe at the advent of industrialisation. This approach contrasts the primordialist perception of the nation formation on the longue durée. However, this is not to say that in the premodern era people did not possess any consciousness of nationality. Attachment to a certain group or region and affection to a language has always existed.

One of the leading scholars in the field of nation and nationalism is Anthony D. Smith. Essentially, Smith shares the modernists’ views that nationalism as an ideology and phenomenon belongs to the late eighteenth century. However, he situates the roots of national sentiments in earlier times, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in many states of West Europe.18 Smith distinguishes the ethnic communities, ethnie, from modern ones, the nations, defining the latter as “a named human population, which shares myths and memories, a mass public culture, a designated homeland, economic unity and equal rights and duties for all members.”19 He conceives of ethnie as a collective proper name, a myth of common ancestry, shared historical memories, and association with a specific “homeland”. 20 The political and territorial context provided the conditions for the evolution of the ethnies, as pre-existing collective cultural identities, into nations during a long period of time. Smith states at the same time that not all ethnies have evolved into modern nations, as many of them have been dissolved into other nations, fell apart or disappeared as such.21

In the process of nation-building Smith attaches great importance to the administrative, the capitalist and the educational revolutions which allowed for the territorial integration as well as to the political and cultural homogenisation as the transition from feudalism to capitalism unfolded. The process was accompanied by a strong need for the standardisation and centralisation of political and cultural lives, which were regarded as imperative for a successful state-building.22

As previously discussed, contrary to the pre-modern era, the French Revolution made possible the shift from indirect to direct rule over the people. The revolution engendered the modern nation-building and emphasised significantly more the political aspects of the nation than the cultural and linguistic ones. The nation was considered as a body of citizens with collective sovereignty, and hence, with the right to a state as their political expression. Accordingly, nation was linked to territory, since states were now delineated along territorial lines.23 State-builders who ruled within strictly defined territories set about to turn “subjects into citizens” through democratisation of politics. That was to be accomplished by the involvement of the citizens in the affairs of the country thereby made them feel that the state belonged to all. But then rulers required of their citizens loyalty and commitment, which they placed at the top of their political agenda. However, the state legitimacy lacked solid ground, since not all nationalities constituting the “nation” wanted to be assimilated or simply be eliminated by the dominant nation. As the states-nationalism required identification with its nation, it ran the risk to create “counter-nationalism” since the process of modernisation during the nation-state formation implied standardisation and homogenisation of religious and ethnic minorities. Accordingly, when the governments decided on a “deliberated ideological engineering.” nationalist movements rejected this policy and laid down political programme for national liberation.24

During the process of nation-state building in Iraq the dominant Sunni Arab minority who held power until the overthrow of the Ba’th regime in 2003, disregarded the rights of different non-dominant ethnic and religious minorities in the country. They were obsessed with the idea of creating a homogeneous nation-state under authoritarian and totalitarian supremacy. The Kurds as the second largest ethnic component in the country after the Arabs with a distinct culture and language refused to be absorbed into the culture and ideology of the state and formulated aspirations for their national rights. In the Ottoman Empire the Armenians as another non-dominant ethnic group were supressed and targeted by the Turkish state builders.

The Ottoman Empire: Mass Expulsion and Genocide as Instruments of Nation-State Formation

By the nineteenth century the European powers put the Ottoman Empire under heavy pressure to reform. The Ottoman elite realised that it was incumbent on them to effectuate fundamental changes in the Empire in order to live up to the modernising standards set by the West. They initiated a programme of reforms which was known as the Tanzimat (1830-76) thereby they stressed the importance of “thorough reform and reformation of the old regime.” They also introduced the principal institutions of the secular society into the Ottoman Empire.25 In addition, the reforms included a programme of “Ottomanization” which required that all subjects irrespective of their ethnic or religious affiliation should be equally loyal to the Empire. However, the secular and universalist tenets of the equality of all subjects was at variance with the traditional millet system based on distinct ethnic-religious identities. As a result, it undermined “centuries old norms and institutions.” 26

Simultaneously, due to the nationalist independent movements most of the Balkan Provinces seceded from the Empire by the end of the nineteenth century. The Turkish Ottoman considered these changes a threat to the legitimacy of the Empire. As such, the Armenians, despite the fact that they did not require national independence and solely demanded that legal reforms be implemented, were regarded as a threat, and were subjected to hostility.27 The worst was yet to come. Once the CUP, the Committee of Union and Progress, came to power through the revolution of 1908, they officially advocated Ottomanisation and a treatment of all the minorities in the Empire on an equal foot. However, it turned out soon that they only paid lip service to the idea of Ottomanisation and by 1914 they stiffened their tone against other minorities. They adopted an overtly nationalist policy to the degree that it was defined as “chauvinist nationalism.”28 The leaders of the CUP were not satisfied with the reformation of the existing state, rather they intended to create a new modern state modelled on European state-building. They were state-builders and decided to create the modern Turkey as a “homogeneous nation-state.” To materialise that idea, they carried out a policy of repression, but unlike Sultan Abdul Hamid who attempted to keep the Armenians “in their place” the CUP sought to solve the “problem” by removing them from the “Turkish homeland” of Anatolia through a policy of extermination.29

Thus, the genocide of the Armenians which occurred between 1915-16 was an attempt to uproot the Armenians from the Ottoman Turkey thereby reshaping what remained of the Empire into a homogeneous nation- state. However, as Rae argues, despite the fact that the state-builders were determined to eradicate the collective identity of the minority groups and inflicted upon them immense suffering, they had not the intention to annihilate them. This was “the intention of those responsible for the Armenian genocide of 1915-16. The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) that came to power in the Ottoman Empire…was animated by chauvinist strand of Turkish national state.”30

Rae emphasises the importance of the CUP ‘s continued hostile attitudes towards Armenians as it contributes to understanding the act of genocide. Although she concedes that Islam as a universal faith permeates the whole society and transcends particular national, cultural and ethnic boundaries, and was part of the cultural framework that legitimated violence towards Armenians as a non-Muslim minority, she maintains that:

certain strands in this world view were translated into a chauvinist form of nationalist ideology, which in turn provided a means of legitimation for an authoritarian regime. This ideology then provided the range of possible options for this regime as they set about the modern project of state-building.31

The Armenian genocide which occurred within a particular social-political context at the hand of the CUP, serves well to be compared with the Faylee Kurds as another targeted group under the Ba’th party in Iraq. Similar to the CUP leaders, the Ba’th leaders espoused a kind of fanatic nationalism which found expression in authoritarian and totalitarian regimes from 1963 to 2003. During the period the Ba’thists were in power the Faylee Kurds were met by the same hostile and suspicious attitudes by different leaders. Practically it implied discriminatory treatments and expulsion to Iran, since they were considered to be of Iranian origins during the first Ba’th governments, which reached its zenith under the leadership of Saddam Hussein with mass expulsion and genocide as an outcome. Ba’th leaders regarded Faylee Kurds as a threat and a source of insecurity to their project of nation-state building. They simply did not fit in the ideological underpinnings of the Iraqi society where non-dominant groups were left with no choice but to be dissolved into it, otherwise were expelled or obliterated. According to the dominant Arab Sunni regime the boundary of the Iraqi state was to be drawn along strictly ethnic and religious lines with the objective to create a strong Iraq based on a single national ideology. In its nationalistic sense the idea indeed derived from the ideology of the Arab elite who embarked on nation-state building after the creation of the Iraqi state.

However, as has already been discussed, states created as a result of the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire were strongly influenced by the standard of European state-building. The imposition of the model on Turkey and Iraq proved to be impracticable since the countries consisted of different distinctive ethnic and religious minorities which resisted to be part of the nations of these countries. Hobsbawm notes, it did not work, since most of the new states were built after the collapsed empires, and were inhabited by many nationalities:

as the old ‘prisons of nations’ they replaced… The main change was that states were now on average rather smaller and the ‘oppressed peoples’ within them were now called ‘oppressed minorities’. The logical implication of trying to create a continent neatly divided into coherent territorial states each inhabited by a separate ethnically and linguistically homogeneous population, was the mass expulsion or the extermination of minorities. Such was and is the murderous reduction ad absurdum of the nationalism in its territorial version, although this was not fully demonstrated until the 1940s. However, mass expulsion and even genocide began to make their appearance on the southern margin of Europe during and after WW1, as the Turks set about the mass extirpation of the Armenians in 1915, and after the Greco-Turkish war of 1922, expelled between 1.3 and 1.5 million of Greeks from Asia Minor…32

As Hobsbawm observes with regard to Ottoman Turkey, expulsion and genocide are direct consequences of the changes in the international power relations as well as the domestic social-political situation. As has been noted Abdul Hamid sought only to keep the unwanted populations ‘in their places’, as he did with the Armenians in 1894-1896, and a complete extirpation of them began after 1900. The main reason for that is “the transition from multi-ethnic empire to a national state in the age of nationalism.” It was only after the transition from the millet system which divided the population based on religion, to nation, that is a hundred years later, that Ottoman Turkey mounted a successive campaign against Armenians, Christian Lebanese, Nestorian Christians, Anatolian and Pontic Greeks, Kurds, and other minorities.33 During the four years following the suspension of the constitution in 1909 the Young Turks overtly adopted chauvinist policies. Rae holds:

[I]t was during this period that the concept of Turkism and exclusive nationalism captivated several prominent Young Turks, who began to envisage a new, homogeneous Turkish state structure in place of the enervated and exploited multinational Ottoman Empire.34

It was during this period that the idea of the genocide came into being35.

During the 30 years between 1894 and 1924 Turkey succeeded to get rid of most of its ethnic and religious minorities. The residual of the Empire was reshaped as a nation-state and its collective identity was redefined along ethnic lines. The Kurds, the remaining largest ethnic minority, ran the risk to either be assimilated or removed. Several Kurdish uprisings were brutally put down during the 1920s, and Turkey mounted a Turkification policy, denying the Kurds their ethnicity, and considering them until recent years as “mountain Turks.” 36

From Ottomanism to Arabism

A significant goal of the Tanzimatreforms was the modernisation of the Ottoman Empire and its transformation into a centrally administrated, integrated state of Ottoman citizens to replace the then prevailing system of indirect rule and communitarian segregation.37

However, these reforms politicized the ethnic question since the mediatory role of the sheikhs and notable tribal leaders was replaced by officials appointed by central government employing Turkish as the official language. For the Arabs the question of language became central. They were dissatisfied with these changes and advanced their claims for a better representation in the parliament and the new administrations. Andreas Wimmer points out:

The issue of ethnic representation became even more important during the implementation of educational and administrative reforms. It was the aim of the Young Turks to increase the efficiency of the new centralised language of the empire … Their attempt to replace the highly complicated and formalistic Ottoman by the more understandable and manageable Turkish was in part inspired by their belief that only the education of large section of the population in their own language could finally eradicate irrationalism and backwardness.38

Before 1900 neither the Young Turks nor the Arabs were nationalists in the sense that the they would strive to create modern national states. It was only after the independent movements of the European provinces of the empire and the ceding of the province of Libya to Italy that nationalism made its appearance.39 Anthony Smith points out in this respect that:

The Turks in Anatolia before 1900 were largely unaware of a separate ‘Turkish’ identity- separate that is, from the dominant Ottoman or the overarching Islamic identity- and besides, local identities of kin, village or religion were often more important.40

At the time Arab nationalism was non-political and focused only on the Arabic culture and development of the Arabic language which emerge as a literary renaissance. The reason according to Tibi was that “neither the subjective nor the objective conditions for a political movement existed in the Middle East in the nineteenth century. Thus, the early Arab nationalists confined themselves to emphasising the existence of an independent Arab cultural nation without demanding a national state.”41 Arabs’ primary concern before 1914 was the preservation of their cultural identity and the achievement of their rights within the political framework of the Ottoman Empire.42Bernard Lewis refers to the impact of the European political ideas which saw the seeds for Arab separatist nationalism. Before that, he contends, Arab subjects of the Ottoman Empire despite being aware of their distinctive cultural and linguistic identity had no serious intention to split from Turkey “So alien was the idea of a territorial nation-state that Arabic has no word for Arabia, and Turkish, until modern times, lacked a word for Turkey.43

The idea of achieving total independence from the Turks began to take shape after World War 1 as the Pan-Turanian Young Turks refused to recognise Arab demands for self-determination, a principle they had previously agreed upon at the Conference of Paris in 1913, and arrested and executed prominent members of the Arab national movement in 1915 and 1916 when the Turkey joined the Central Powers. In view of this, the Arabs decided to secede from the Ottoman Empire and launched the famous Arab Revolt of 1916.44

4 Andreas Wimmer, Nationalist Exclusion and Ethnic Conflict: Shadows of Modernity (Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 74.

5 Rae, (2002), p. 36.

6 Charles, Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 9901992 (Oxford: Basil, Blackwell, 1990), pp. 106-7.

7 Ibid., p.107.

8 Ibid., p. 116.

9 Ibid.116.

10 Ernes Gellner, Nation and Nationalism (New York, Cornell University Press, 1983), pp. 48-49.

11 Ibid., p. 55.

12 Ibid., pp.1-2.

13 Eric, J. Hobsbawm, Nation and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme, Myth and Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1990), pp.9-10.

14 Ibid., p.10.

15 Idem, The inventions of Traditions (Cambridge: 1983), p.1.

16 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2006), pp.42-54.

17 Ibid., p. 75.

18 Anthony, D. Smith, Nation and Nationalism in a Global Era (Oxford: Blackwell,1995), p.29.

19 Ibid., pp.56-57.

20 Anthony D. Smith, National Identity (London, 1991), p. 21.

21 Smith, (1995), p.57.

22 Smith, (1995), pp.87-91.

23 Hobsbawm, (1990), pp.18-19.

24 Ibid., pp.83-92.

25 Bassam Tibi, ,Arab Nationalism: Between Islam and the Nation-State (New York: St. Martin Press 1997), p.106.

26 Rae, (2002), p.137.

27 Rae, (2002), p. 140.

28 Ibid., p. 150.

29 Ibid., p.156.

30 Ibid., p.124. The genocide of the Armenians in 1915 was preceded by the massacre of Sassun of Armenian men, women and children, the extirpation of between one and two hundred thousand Armenians during 1985-1896, the Adana massacre in 1909. See Leo Kuper, Genocide: Its Political use in the twentieth Century (Yale University Press: 1981), p. 106.

31 Rae, (2002), p. 134-35.

32 Hobsbawm, (1990), p.133.

33 Andrew Bell-Fialkoff, Ethnic cleansing (Basingstoke:Mackmilan,1996), p. 22.

34 Rae, (2002), p. 151.

35 Ibid.

36 Fialkoff, p. 27.

37 Ibid., p.161.

38 Andreas Wimmer, Nationalist Exclusion and Ethnic Conflict: Shadows of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 164-65.

39 Yousef M. Choueiri, Arab Nationalism: A History, Nation and State in the Arab World (Oxford: Blackwell publishers,2000), p.88.

40 Anthony D. Smith, National Identity (London: Penguin, 1991), p.21.

41 Tibi, (1997),104

42 C. Ernest Dawn, From Ottomanism to Arabism. Essay on Origins of Arab Nationalism (University of ILLinois Press, 1973), pp.151-152.

43 Bernard Lewis, The Middle East and the West (London), 1964, p. 73.

44 Tibi, (1997), p. 113.


Sunni Arab Dominance, 1921-1932: Early Strive for Homogenisation

It will be recalled that unlike Europe there were other mechanisms at work in the creation of nation-states in other parts of the world. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War 1, the victorious Allied superimposed nation-states in the region with no particular consideration to their ethnic or religious components introducing an artificial state system into the Middle East. Iraq was created by the British as Faysal was chosen for the throne in 1921. The new rulers of the nascent Iraqi state constituted the close circle of Faysal. Most of them were military officers such as Nuri al-Sai’d, Jafar al-‘Askari,Yasin al-Hashemi, Jamil al-Midfai and others and were trained in Istanbul where they:

became acquainted with Arabism, the officers constituted the overwhelming majority, playing a vital rule in the development of Arab consciousness before the First World War, and an instrumental part in the Arab Revolt of their particularism, modelling themselves upon the Young Turks as a ‘Young Arab’ antitheses to the Unionists and the policy of Turkification.45

A considerable number of these officers embarked on political careers and occupied positions in the public service. Through their key positions in the Iraqi government, they undertook to impose Arab nationalism upon the new created Iraqi state and to forge a nation with an Arab identity by identifying with the Arab Revolt. A prominent figure of Arab nationalism was Sati al-Husri, who became Director General of Education during the mandate period. Like others, he was an ardent adherent of Germanophilia and attempted to inculcate Arab nationalism into the Iraqi population. King Faysal together with al-Husri and the ex-Sharifian officers who joined him in the Revolt became the de facto power holders in the nascent Iraqi state, albeit, under the British administration, 1923-1932. As eager advocates of pan-Arab nationalism, they dominated the Iraqi politics both during the mandate (1921 to 1932) and the monarchy (1932-1958).

The Sunni Arab elite anticipated that Iraq would acquire essential attributes of nationhood and be legitimised by the population during the period of British rule under the League of Nations. During this period, (1923-1932), however, there was nothing that signified political cohesion or the feeling of national identity.

During the 1920s, the Sunni Arab rulers envisaged a nation-state established on the foundation of the idea of an Arab nation, but it lacked any serious base of support, even among the Arabs of the country. Yet, the new ruling elite endeavoured to meld together people from different ethnic groups and different religions into a conscious Arab nation thereby protecting the Arab heritage. Thus, the army, a unified administration, and schools were crucial tools with which the nation-building project would be realised. Accordingly, Saati al-Husri, the founder of modern pan-Arab ideology, was appointed as head of the education system, the army introduced universal conscription, and a unified administration of the country by Baghdad-trained officials eventually, ended the indirect rule system that existed for centuries.46

Wimmer argues that the programme of the new Iraqi regime was to forcibly assimilate different ethnic and religious groups which made the bulk of the Iraqi population into the prevalent Arabism, implicitly, Sunni Islam, which was “regarded as the centrepiece of the nation’s cultural heritage and its foremost contribution to world history.”47

A consequence of the assimilation policy that the Arab elite in Iraq carried out as an instrument of nation-building alienated the ethnic non-Arab groups, particularly the Kurds.

As such, the Kurds were critical of the Anglo-Iraqi attitudes which unheeded their political and cultural demands. The efforts of the different regimes during the mandate period in Arabisation, assimilation and homogenisation of the various ethnic groups proved that the process of creating a nation-state and its consolidation politicised further the Kurdish national movement. In Wimmer’s words the imposition of the nation-state model on an ethnically fragmented society “politicizes notions of ethnic belonging in a pervasive and divisive way leading to a compartmentalization of the polity along ethnic line.”48

The Arab elite strove to eradicate ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences primarily by means of Arabisation, but when necessary also by using military force with the aim to integrate the Kurds into a single Iraqi national structure. The political structure within which the Anglo-Iraqi authorities operated allowed for discriminatory treatments of the Kurds. Under such circumstances Wimmer points out:

state resources are then viewed as collective goods exclusively available to those belonging to the ‘right’ ethnic group. The unequal discrimination of infrastructure projects over different regions, … is then perceived as ethnic discrimination, because the state apparatus is dominated by an ethnic group that excludes one’s own from its nationalist discourse.49

Although nation-states produced modern societies with their modern principles of democracy, citizenship, and popular sovereignty and thereby rendered the inclusion of large section of the population possible, they had a “shadowy side”; development of new form of domination based on ethnicity or nationality. It was vital to belong to the dominant ethnic group or nationality in order to have the right to the public goods the modern state provides for its citizens. To be a citizen and belonging to a dominant nation implied to be part of a particular ethnic community which assumed the status of nationhood. Accordingly, it was of major importance to define this community and its boundary in political terms. To belong to an ethnic group with equal right before the law and be ruled by a government representing all components of the nation was a question that politicised the ethnic community. As a result, nationalist wars break out to realise the congruence between the modern principles of the nation-state of sovereignty, citizenship and nation. The consequences of such a process is in Wimmer’s opinion:

Forced assimilation or the physical expulsion of those who have now become ‘either minorities’ and are thus perceived as politically unreliable; the conquest of territories inhabited by ‘one’s own people’; encouraging the return migration of dispersed co-national living outside the national home – these are some of the techniques employed in all the waves of nation-state formation that the modern world has seen so far. What we nowadays call ethnic cleansing or ethnocide… 50

Before the awarding of the Mosul Wilayat to Iraq in 1926, the Anglo-Iraqi authorities succeeded to put down several rebellions which seriously threatened their authorities. Such were the Shi’ite uprising in the early 1920s and the Kurdish national movement under the leadership of Sheikh Mahmud Barzanji. Although the British as Mandatory power delineated the geographic boundaries of the new founded Iraqi state after its creation through the unification of the three Wilayats of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, it was not until 1926 that Iraq’s boundaries were finally fixed when the Mosul Wilayat after a long and intractable dispute with the Turks was given to Iraq. The definition of the boundaries of the newly created Iraq was crucial in the process of its formation since it also determined the extend of its territorial jurisdiction and sovereignty. The system of nation-states which was superimposed by the colonial powers after World War 1 was accompanied by the dilemma of dealing with the question of national self-determination of the peoples living within the boundaries of the former Ottoman Empire. The Arabs believed that the: