The 1980s are a dark period in Kurdish historic chronicles since they are so characterised by massive repression and wholesale destruction carried out by the states against any sort of Kurdish resistance, be it armed or peaceful, but also against the Kurdish populations as such: in Iranian Kurdistan, the revolutionary days of 1978-1979 were replaced by a “jihad” launched by Ayatollah Khomeiny against Kurdish society as a whole; in Iraqi Kurdistan the destruction of the countryside rises to a crescendo, leading, at the end of the decade, to a policy of outright genocide, while in army governed Turkey Kurdishness itself is criminalised or considered a pathology to be cured by increased doses of Kemalism and torture.
Founding the Kurdish Institute of Paris, made possible by a political change in France, was thus as much due to an urgent need to save this people’s culture — which everything seemed show was doomed to irreversible destruction — as to the will to bring together Kurdish intellectuals driven abroad by political repression on top of an atrocious war between Iraq and Iran that was to cause over a million deaths.
Thirty years later, while the Middle East is going through a new period of violence in many countries, it is time to draw up a balance sheet. It is self-evident that this assessment cannot be just one of the Kurdish Institute or of the Diaspora, that has strenuously influenced by the changes in Kurdistan over these decades. Indeed, it is essential to take stock of some considerable transformations that have resulted, inter alia in the emergence of a Kurdish Federal Region in Iraq, and to reflect on the socio-economic consequences of the rapid urbanisation that Kurdistan has experienced between 1980 and 2010. This has brought, in its wake, the emergence of a youth, now partly at the helm, whose sociological profile is radically different to that of the nationalist intelligentsia of the 1950-1970 period.
Taking into account the generational phenomenon in Kurdistan’s recent history is all the more crucial as a large part of the public figures who had dominated the political and cultural landscape such as Abdurrahman Ghassemlou, leader of the KDP-Iran, the film director Yilmaz Güney, the poets Cegerxwin or Hejar or scholars like Noureddine Zaza or Ismet Cheriff Vanly are now part of the Kurdish national Pantheon. While, in the 1980s, the Kurdish Diaspora still remained the only area where a peaceful intermingling of Kurds from different countries was possible, the internal integration of Kurdistan, not only economic but also cultural and even political, has considerably accelerated in the 1990 – 2010 period. Inter-state borders, already made porous by new communication technologies, are now further weakened by population movements. We are forced to note that the linguistic and cultural areas have, over the last two decades, experienced a renewal, unprecedented in Kurdish history. In contrast with the 1980s, when the very word “Kurdish” frightened many universities, Kurdish Studies in Europe and in the United States are really soaring with dozens of theses on Kurdish history and society being presented every year.
The “present” always consists of this space-time continuum and invites us today to evaluate the past and to project ourselves into an as yet undetermined future. This Symposium to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Kurdish Institute is intended as a response to this double challenge.