This month itâ€™s becoming clear that a long-suffering people in the Middle East are finally coming closer to getting a state of their own.
As we mark the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks on the United States, letâ€™s give attention to one of the least reported and most significant results of the ensuing American response: the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which led directly to autonomy for a portion of the Kurdish people on their own land.
The 30-some million Kurds are the largest people group in the world without a state. But since 2003 the approximately six million Kurds in northern Iraq now have the freedom and enough control over their own resources to begin building a state. After all that the Kurds have suffered at the hands of their neighbors they are religiously moderate and overwhelmingly support separation of mosque and state. Theyâ€™ve even been willing to tolerate the emergence of openly-functioning congregations of Muslims who have become followers of Jesus.
Not surprisingly, the vast majority of Iraqis who come to Israel for heart surgeries are Kurds. I well remember going to the home of the first child we helped and how timid I was about suggesting that they could come to Israel, longtime arch-enemy of Iraq. â€œIsraelâ€”no problem!â€ the gathered elders told me. (You can watch this story on video here). Since then Iâ€™ve learned that many Kurds actually admire the Israelis as another oppressed minority in the region, and desire to emulate them in their drive for independence.
The Kurdish territory was carved up by British and French mapmakers in the 1920s between Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. Close to half of the Kurdish population lives in Turkey, which makes the tension emerging this week between Turkey and Israel even more interesting. The Turkish prime minister Erdogan has expelled Israelâ€™s ambassador and threatened to send Turkish warships to break the blockade on Gaza and limit Israelâ€™s exploitation of the vast gas fields recently discovered in the Mediterranean. Now Israelâ€™s tough-talking (though not always respected) foreign minister has floated a trial balloon suggesting Israel might respond by giving support to the fight of the Kurds in Turkey for freedom.
Add that to the potential that the revolution now slowly and inexorably unfolding in Syria could result in the disintegration of the central government and freedom for the two million Kurds living in Syria. Then the only remaining Kurds in the region are those in Iran, a country which may also face sudden and surprising change as the showdown looms over its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Long-fixed realities are changing for the Kurds on every side, and their relationship with Israel may be a key to what unfolds.