The Deportation of the Faili Kurds From Iraq. By Ismet Chériff Vanly

Ismet Chériff Vanly

The « forgotten » Faili Kurds

Britain was invested by the Allied Supreme Council of San Remo, in April 1920, with the mandate over « Mesopotamia and the vilayet of Mosul» . By Mesopotamia was meant Southern Mesopotamia, also said Desertic or Lower Mesopotamia, as Arab Iraq was known in Europe. Arab Iraq was composed of the two Ottoman vilayets of Baghdad and Basra, which were occupied by Britain during the WW1. In its diplomatic correspondence of 1915 with the Sherif Hussein ben Ali of Mekka, Britain promised him, as the price for the Arab revolt against the Ottomans, the creation of a large Arab State including most of Arabia , most of Syria , with Palestine and Lebanon, and Arab Iraq, the latter excluding the Mosul vilayet (1). This latter vilayet , roughly corresponding to the southeastern part of Ottoman Kurdistan (2) , was for its largest part occupied by Britain after the Moudros armistice of 30 October 1918. Then the Mandatory Power , interested by the oilfields of Southern Kurdistan , to the south of Kirkuk , in the Mosul vilayet, planified to put together the three vilayets – Mosul, Baghdad and Basra – to create a new state to which they gave the Arab name of Iraq. Lord Curzon, chief of the British delegation to the Conference of Lausanne, explains in the Conference meeting of 23 January 1923 that « a little later on, however, the name of Iraq was given because of its greater local familiarity to the country which we had hitherto called Mesopotamia » (3) . The Treaty of Sèvres of August 10, 1920 provided for an autonomous or independent Kurdish state in Ottoman Kurdistan , including « the part of Kurdistan hitherto included in the Mosul vilayet » (Art. 64 in fine). At the Conference of Lausanne , 1922-1923, the Mosul vilayet was disputed between Britain , speaking for « the Arab king of Iraq » , and Turkey, pretending to speak on behalf of the Kurdish people. Lord Curzon said that Southern Kurdistan would enjoy autonomy if the Mosul vilayet was to be attached to Iraq (4) . Such was eventually the decision of the Council of the League of Nations on December 16, 1925. The ancient vilayet of Mosul was dismembered in the kingdom of Iraq into four provinces : Sulaimaniya, Kirkuk, Arbil and Mosul. But the Kurds of these provinces had to fight by arms against Baghdad for their promised autonomy. The British Royal Air Force sided with Baghdad against the Kurds (5).

In all that it was forgotten that Southern Kurdistan did not consist only of the major part of the former Ottoman vilayet of Mosul. More southern than the Kurds of this vilayet were the Kurds comprised within the vilayet of Baghdad , in the Kurdish districts of Khanaqin and Mandali , to the south of the Diyala river (Sirwan in Kurdish) , near the Persian border. Still more southern than Khanaqin and Mandali were the Faili Kurds , who lived in the districts of Badra and Zurbatiya and within the Basra vilayet, close to the border of Persia. A number of Faili Kurds also lived in Mandali and Khanaqin, together with Sorani Kurds. Neither in the Treaty of Sèvres nor in the talks at the Lausanne conference it was question of these most southern Kurds . They were just left to their own devices. The Faili Kurds indeed had no problem with the Arabs in Iraq. They are Shi’a Muslim, like the Arabs of the Basra vilayet.

Geographical and historical data on the Faili Kurds

The homeland of the Faili Kurds is the fairly hilly area called Pusht-i-Kuh in Iran, on the western bank of the Saymara river , tributary of the Karkha . Covering the southern part of the Kurdish Iranian province of Ilam and the northwestern part of Khuzistan , also hilly, Pusht-i-Kuh means « the Area Beyond the Mountain » , the mountain in consideration being the difficult range of Kabir-Kuh, which constitutes a barrier separating Pusht-i-Kuh from Pish-Kuh (the « Area Before the Mountain ») and from the rest of Iran . But Pusht-i-Kuh is open towards the lowlands of Arab Iraq , with no geographical obstacle to cross the border into the Iraqi plain. The Ottoman-Persian border in this area is inherited from the 1639 Kasré-Shirin treaty between the two empires . A part of Pusht-i-Kuh is in the plain, on the Iraqi side of the border, with the Faili Kurdish towns of Badra and Zurbatiya, facing Mehran on the other side.

The designation of Faili Kurds was originally used only by the Arabs of Iraq, to distinguish them from the other Kurds to the north speaking south-Kurmanji (Sorani) or north-Kurmanji. This designation was unknown in Kurdistan and Iran. In Pusht-i-Kuh the Faili Kurds call themselves just Kurds (without Faili) . Curiously enough, the adjective Faili is not Arabic , but an Arab corruption of the ancient Iranic name of Pahli, whence Pahlawi and Pahlawani . In the pre-Islamic time, under the Sasanians, the Iranic Pahlawi language was used in most of what was to become Arab Iraq consecutively to the Arab conquest, including in Ctesiphon, the Sasanian capital (al-Madayin in Arabic, today in ruins, to the south of Baghdad). Differences between the southeastern Kurdish dialects are progressive . The Faili dialect, the most southern Kurdish dialect, is somehow halfway between Sorani Kurdish and Persian. The oldest origin of the Faili Kurds should go back to the Kashshi people of the great antiquity, who inhabited the present Kurdish country from Kirmanshah to Mehran, through Ilam, together with the province of Luristan and the area of Pusht-i-Kuh, in Iran . The Kashshi invaded Babylonia, rather peacefully, in Lower Mesopotamia, where they created the kingdom of Karduniash , which lasted for nearly six centuries in the second millennium BC ( from 1747 to 1171.)

From their homeland in Pusht-i-Kuh the modern Faili Kurds used to immigrate pacifically into nearby Arab towns in Iraq , Kot, Amara, Ali-Gharbi, Ali-Shargi, al-Hay, Basra , Baghdad, into Khuzistan, and into the Kurdish towns of Khanaqin and Mandali. They are traditionally much appreciated by their Arab neighbours for their hard work as porters , their honesty as merchants or their savoir-faire as businessmen. According to the Iraqi census of 1947, the number of the Faili Kurds in Iraq represented 6 % of the total population , which amounted to 4'564'000 inhabitants in that census. It is generally admitted that the growth rate of population is practically the same in Iraq for the Arabs and the Kurds. The population of Iraq was 6'822'000 in 1960, 9'414'000 in 1970 , and 13'233’000 in 1980 (6). This should allow to estimate the number of the Faili Kurds in Iraq at 564'000 in 1970, and at 794'000 in 1980 , the year in which they suffered the largest deportation campaign by the Baathist government.

The deportation of the Faili Kurds under the Baath

Baghdad had a Faili Kurdish community of workers and flourishing merchants going back, for many of its members, to the Ottoman time. It received new Faili immigrants in the 1930s and the 1940s. Most of them had Iraqi identity papers, some others Iranian papers. The Iraqi citizenship bill which goes back to the 1920s considers as Iraqi the inhabitants of Iraq who had Ottoman citizenship. Some of the Faili Kurds in Iraq, to escape military duty under the Ottomans, had declared themselves Persian citizens and were registered as such in Iraq. Some Iraqi Arabs did the same.

The first anti-Faili measures go back to the WW2 when the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali al-Gailany was Prime Minister . But that was a parenthesis. In February 1963 military officers for the most Baathist seized power in Baghdad, and General Abdul Salam Arif , who was not a Baathist, was made president of the Republic. A propaganda campaign was soon launched against the Faili Kurds. Hundreds of these were expelled to Iran. About six months later the Arif brothers eliminated the Baathist . But the Baath party seized again power , this time alone, in the coup of 17 July 1968 and established their dictatorial rule from then till today. They resumed the anti-Faili campaign , with selective expulsions . After the Islamic revolution of February 1979 in Iran, the campaign became racist, the Faili Kurds were said to be « foreigners » , Iranian citizens , spies and agents of Iran.

On April 7, 1980 , as a prelude to the Baathist aggression against the Islamic Republic of Iran , in September of the same year, 480 merchants of Baghdad , the wealthiest among them, were convoked to the Chamber of Commerce . The government discovered that one third of them were Faili Kurds. These , dispossessed of their properties, their belongings and their papers, were expelled almost barefooted to Iran. The Baath leadership plundered them.

On the same day, and during the next months and the following years, when the first Gulf War was raging between Iran and Iraq , The Baathist authorities committed mass deportations of the Faili Kurds from the Arab cities of Baghdad, Basra, Kot, Amara, Ali-Shargi, Ali Gharbi, al-Hay, Musayyib, and others, as well as from the Kurdish towns of Badra, Zurbatiya, Mandali and Khanaqin. That was done according to a brutal plan. The deportees, men, women and children were awaken up when sleeping at home, and, dispossessed of their properties , their belongings and their papers, were transported by lorries to the Iranian border and asked « to go home » into Iran, on foot, without food, sometimes across mined land. The Iraqi Arab population , unfamiliar with such inhuman methods, were unhappy , but powerless to stop it. Many Shi’a Arabs too were expelled to Iran, with the same brutality.

The number of the Faili Kurds thus expelled from Iraq and despoiled of their properties in a couple of years is generally estimated at about 300'000 people. They were Iraqi citizens, to the exception of a minority who had Iranian papers. Most of these were members of the Faili community in Baghdad, but fully integrated in the Arab society. If the total number of the Faili Kurds in Iraq was about 794'000 in 1980, as mentioned above, that makes 37,8 % of them who were deported. Expelled to Iran as Iranians, they were considered in Iran as foreigners, and kept for years in poor refugee camps . Some of these are said to have managed to return back to Iraq , but they have not recovered their properties . About 7000 other Faili Kurds, all young men between 15 and 25 old, were arrested and kept in Iraqi jails , but their fate remains so far unknown , save for about 2000 among them who were detained in the prison of Nuqret-al-Salman , situated in a desert area and known for the practice of torture. There is enough evidence that these 2000 young men were killed in 1887 , within the Baath campaign of « prison cleansing » . Their bodies were reportedly buried somewhere in the desert near the Saudi Arabia or Jordanian border (7). With a total Iraqi population of 22'676'000 in 2000, the Faili Kurds would have numbered some 1'360'000 in Iraq had they not suffered ethnic cleansing.

The Faili question part of the Kurdish genocide in Iraq

The deportation of the Faili Kurds from central and southern Iraq is part of the policy of ethnic cleansing practiced , in northern Iraq, against « the Kurds inhabiting that part of Kurdistan which has hitherto been included in the Mosul vilayet » (Art. 64 in fine of the Sèvres Treaty, as said above) . The murder, in 1987, of 2000 young Faili Kurds , and probably of all of the group of 7000 young Faili Kurds who were then kept in jail , was the prelude to the genocide perpetrated against the Kurds of the former Ottoman vilayet of Mosul, in the well known Anfal Campaigns of 1988 (8) .

On the general policy of ethnic cleansing still practiced against the Kurdish people in Iraq , in the provinces of Kirkuk (said now Tamim), Nineva (Mosul), and in the Kurdish part of the Diyala province, see our enclosed paper entitled « Ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Kurdish people in Iraq » , also dated 16 August 2001.

Claims for compensation on behalf of the Faili Kurds

This paper was written to respond to a resolution by the General Assembly of the Kurdistan National Congress, seated in Brussels, which speaks on behalf of the Kurdish people and includes Faili Kurds as members.

On behalf of the Faili Kurds in Iraq , in particular, and of all of the Kurdish people we request the international organisations , national governments, NGOs and all those attached to human rights to do so that :

The Faili Kurds deported from Iraq be authorized to return back to Iraq , reinstated in the properties and rights which were theirs , compensated for the moral and material wrong which they have endured, and guaranteed security for their future ;

an investigation be open, if not by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), then by decision of the UN Security Council, with a view to punish those Iraqi persons responsible for – and authors of the genocide committed in Iraq against the Kurdish people, including the Faili Kurds.

Ismet Chériff Vanly
President of the Kurdistan National Congress
16 August 2001

1. See the letter of the Sherif Hussein of Mekka dated 15 July 1915 to Sir Henry MacMahon, the British ambassador to Cairo, and the latter’s reply of 24 October 1915.
2. See Sir Mark Sykes, « The Caliphs’ Last Heritage », London, 1911, about Ottoman Kurdistan.
3. See « Lausanne Conference on Near Eastern Affairs, 1922-1923 : Records of Proceedings and Draft Terms of Peace », pub. By the British Government, 1923 : page 352.
4. Idem, p. 380 , and p. 384.
5. See Colonel Arnold Wilson, « Layalties Mesopotamia», vol. II, London, 1923.
6. See US Census Bureau, IDB Summary Demographic Data for Iraq.
7. See Ali Babakhan, « Les Kurdes d’Irak, leur histoire et leur déportation par le régime de Saddam Hussein » , Paris, 1994.
8. See « Genocide in Iraq : The Anfal Campaigns Against the Kurds », by Human Rights Watch, Division of Human Rights, 1992.

Kurdistan Center for Democracy in the Middle East