Kurdistan and the 1920 Treaty of Sevres
The Kurds are a people who live in the mountainous area that forms the borders of
Iraq, Iran, the Soviet Union, Turkey and Syria. Around 3 million Kurds live in Iraq, about
3.7million live in Iran and around 8.5 million in Turkey.
The Introduction to the 1975 Minority Rights Group Report on the Kurds began:
"The Kurds are the fourth most numerous people in the Middle East. They constitute
one of the largest races, indeed nations, in the world today to have been denied an
independent state. Whatever the yardstick for national identity, the Kurds measure upto
In 1918, the aspirations of the Kurds, as a people, were recognized in President
Woodrow Wilson's program for world peace, which stipulated that the non Turkish
nationalities of the Ottoman empire would be 'assured of an absolute unmolested
opportunity of autonomous development'.
The Treaty of Sevres, imposed by the victorious allies on Turkey in 1920, provided,
amongst other matters, for the recognition of Kurdistan. But in the share out of power
that followed the ending of the first world war, the Treaty of Sevres was not honoured.
During the 1920s and the 1930s there were several Kurdish uprisings against governments
which had nominal control over the Kurdish areas. The British fought the Kurds in Iraq
from 1919 until their mandate expired in 1932. In Iran, the Kurds revolted in 1920-
23,1930, and 1931. In all cases the Kurdish revolts were successfully put down - and not
least because there was no unity amongst the Kurds themselves.
World War II brought renewed opportunities for Kurdish rebellion. It also witnessed the
emergence of Mulla Mustafa as a Kurd leader. As the end of the war approached the Kurds
made vain attempts to gain recognition by the United States and the Soviet Union for an
In December 1945, the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad was established in the Kurdish area
of north western Iran with extensive Soviet support, including the protection of Soviet
occupation troops in northern Iran. But in less than a year, the Soviets withdrew their
troops and the Republic collapsed in the face of Iraqi and Iranian attacks.
Mulla Mustafa with 500 to 800 of his men retreated to the Soviet Union where he
remained in exile for 12 years. The Kurds learnt that it was not enough to capture
territory - it was also necessary to hold that territory against enemy counter attack.
Twelve years later negotiations with the Iraq government
Twelve years later and a few days after the revolution of July 15 1958, which overthrew
the Iraqi monarchy, the new head of state, General Quasim, promulgated a 'Temporary
Constitution' which referred specifically to the Kurds as co partners within the framework
of Iraqi unity.
Mulla Mustafa came back from exile and it was confidently assumed that the equality
thus proclaimed would mean a considerable measure of administrative devolution, a fairer
share than before of development projects and social services, and enhanced status for the
On this assumption the various Kurdish organisations, in Iraq and abroad, rallied to
the support of the new regime. But there was never any serious attempt by the Quasim
government to implement the promises to the Kurds, implicit in the Temporary Constitution.
In 1960, the Democratic Party of Kurdistan of which Mulla Mustafa had been elected
President was declared illegal.
Renewed fighting in 1961 and ceasefire and talks in 1963
Fighting broke out in July 1961 and continued until 1963 when a cease-fire was agreed
to following the overthrow of Quasim at the hands of a military junta headed by General
In March 1963, General Yahya visited Mulla Mustafa and the Iraqi government issued a
proclamation recognizing 'the natural rights of the Kurdish people on the basis of
The Iraqi scheme of decentralisation suggested that Iraq should be divided into six
regions and that in one of them, Kurdish should rank as an official language together with
Arabic. A Kurdish delegation was sent to Baghdad and it published a statement of
Kurdish claims for home rule, which was intended as the opening move for further
negotiations. But the statement was never discussed.
In June 1963, the Yahya government arrested the Kurdish representatives, issued an
ultimatum demanding the surrender of Mulla Mustafa and launched an offensive against
Second ceasefire and talks again
In November 1963, there was yet another change in the composition of the Iraqi
government and President Arif assumed more direct control. This change of government was
followed in February 1964 by a second cease fire and negotiations between President Arif
and Mulla Mustafa.
The main points of the Kurdish demands put forward to the Arif regime were that:
1.full autonomy be granted to the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq, whose geographical
boundaries should be defined and recognized in the Iraqi constitution
2.the Kurdish Language be the official language of the autonomous region and the second
official language of Iraq
3.the regime in Iraq should be democratic,
4.the vice president and deputy prime minister should be Kurds,
5.besides the central Parliament, a local assembly would be elected in Iraqi Kurdistan,
6.the Kurds would be represented in pro portion to their population in Parliament, in
the government and in the central administration,
7.foreign affairs, defense and finances would remain under the control of the central
government, all other matters would be transferred to the competence of the autonomous
8.Kurdish army units would remain under Kurdish command and would be placed at the
disposal of the autonomous government,
9. the budget of the autonomous region would be derived from taxes levied in the
Kurdish region plus a just share of the revenue derived from oil royalties,
10.any questions arising in the future concerning the status of the Kurds would be
solved democratically through mutual agreement.
Talks that failed again
Arif's representatives began negotiations in February 1964 with Mulla Mustafa's
representatives. The Kurds insisted on their demands for autonomy, while the Iraqis were
not prepared to make any concessions on this point claiming that Kurdish autonomy would
inevitably lead to the secession of the northern region of Iraq.
Arif proposed that the Kurds waive their demand for autonomy, in exchange for which he
revived proposals for the decentralisation of the Iraqi provinces, the same proposals that
the Kurds had rejected two years earlier in 1963.
No progress was made and full scale fighting broke out again in April 1965, and the
Iraqi government committed even larger forces than before against the Kurds.
Kurds appeal to United Nations
In February 1966, Mulla Mustafa sent a memorandum to the United Nations Secretary
General asking for a UN Commission of Inquiry to be sent to northern Iraq. He alleged
that the Iraqi government was conducting a scorched earth policy and deporting thousands
of Kurds from their homes after bombing their villages in an attempt to exterminate the
Kurdish people. Despite the Iraqi's concentrated military effort and some initial set
backs, the Kurds gradually assumed the initiative toward the middle of 1966.
Arms supplies from Iran to the Kurds
"During the time frame we have been examining, Iran emerged as the largest
supplier of outside aid to the Kurds. The Shah of Iran permitted Mulla Mustafa's forces
a limited amount of refuge in the Iranian border area adjacent to Iraq. Humanitarian
relief was supplied to Kurdish refugees fleeing from fighting in Iraqi Kurdistan."
"The Kurds also received military supplies from Iran, including rifles, medium
range artillery, anti aircraft guns, and ammunition but no airplanes or tanks. The Shah
was anxious that Kurdish enthusiasm for an independent or autonomous Kurdish state did not
spill over to affect the Kurds in Iran. After all the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad had once
existed on territory claimed by Iran. "
"The Shah, however, did want to see the Iraqi army occupied with the Kurds for
as long as possible, primarily in order to prevent challenges to Iranian hegemony in the
Persian Gulf" (from Judy S.Bertelson's excellent study in 'Nonstate Nations in
International Politics, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1971)
Third ceasefire, talks and 12 point settlement of 29 June 1966
In May 1966 the Iraqi army suffered its worst defeat of the entire war when two
battalions were nearly wiped out by Kurdish forces. After a period of intensive
retaliatory bombing, the third formal cease-fire was agreed to in June 1966 and a new
civilian Iraqi Prime Minister broadcast a 12 point programme which was accepted by Mulla
Mustafa as a starting point for discussions.
The main points of the 29th June declaration were
1.recognition of the 'Kurdish Nation' to be confirmed in the permanent constitution
2.enactment of a Provisional Administration Law providing for decentralisation and the
transfer of wide powers to locally elected councils
3.use of Kurdish language for administration and public instruction
4.representation of Kurds in all branches of the public service in proportion to their
5.the appointment of Kurdish officials to Kurdish districts
6.a general amnesty 'when violence ends' to include all persons already convicted
7.reappointment of absentee officials as far as possible to their previous posts
8.formation of a special ministry to supervise reconstruction and compensation for
sufferers in the 'north' and to coordinate administration in the Kurdish districts
9.resettlement of persons evicted from their homes, release of all political prisoners
The original Kurdish demand that only foreign affairs, defense and finances should
remain under the control of the central government, and that all other matters should be
transferred to the competence of the autonomous government, was now, not surprisingly,
diluted to a Provincial Administration Law which would provide for the rather familiar
"decentralisation and the transfer of 'wide' powers to locally elected
Also, significantly, the June 29 declaration made no reference to the original
Kurdish demand that Kurdish army units would remain under Kurdish command and would be
placed at the disposal of the autonomous government - a demand which had clearly
recognized that the in the end, the implementation of any settlement was not unrelated to
the power that flows from the barrel of the gun.
But June 29 settlement obstructed by frequentchanges of regime in
But a settlement even on the basis of the June 29 agreements was obstructed by frequent
changes of regime or cabinet within the Iraqi government during the period 1966 to 1968 -
again, perhaps, a not unfamiliar scenario to the Tamil people. In July 1968, the Arif
regime was overthrown and General al-Bakr took control. By February 1969 the Iraqis had
launched another, even larger, full scale offensive.
Failure of Iraq offensive, talks and the 1970 Peace Treaty
By the end of 1969 it was evident that the Iraqi army had again failed to suppress
the Kurds and in November peace talks began. Again the Kurds demanded full political
autonomy. Once again, the Iraqi government regarded the concession to such demands as
constituting a major step towards secession.
Eventually, Mulla Mustafa was able to convince Kurdish 'hard-liners' to sign a treaty.
The March 11, 1970 peace treaty between the Kurds and the Iraqi government was not
published, but its main points were included in a special proclamation by the Iraqi
1. Recognition of the Kurdish nation. To this end the provisional constitution of
Iraq was to be amended by a section sta ting that the republic of Iraq consists of two
main nations, Arabs and Kurds.
2. Recognition of the Kurdish language, in the form of a constitutional amendment
laying down that both Kurdish and Arabic will serve as official languages in those
districts in which the Kurds are a majority
3. The legal powers of the districts are to be increased by legal amendment. A new
Kurdish district would be formed, with the same enlarged administrative powers and a
4. A Kurdish vice president will be appointed, and the Kurds will enjoy proportional
representation on all executive and administrative bodies, including the government and
5. Administration officials in districts with a Kurdish majority must be Kurds or at
least speak Kurdish
6. The national right of the Kurds to the development of Kurdish culture is recognized
in every aspect, including the establishment of a Kurdish University, the publication of
Kurdish books, Kurdish language broadcasts and telecasts, and the recognition of Kurdish
customs and holidays
7. All Kurdish students will be permitted to return to their studies and their
educational standards will be improved
8. The Kurds will be permitted to establish youth and adult organisations
9. A general amnesty will be proclaimed for all who have taken part in the Kurdish
rebellion, and Kurdish public servants and soldiers will be reinstated in office
10. All Kurds who have left their villages would be permitted to return, and for those
unable to return for different reasons, new housing would be provided
11. Kurdish soldiers would be granted pensions, and dependents of fallen Kurds would be
12. A Committee for the Rehabilitation of the Northern Districts and Compensation of
War Damage would be established and an economic development plan for the Kurdish region
would be drawn up and implemented with all possible speed
13. Steps would be taken to assure the speedy implementation of land reform in the
Kurdish regions. Also all land debts of Kurdish farmers for the last nine years would be
14. The arms held by the Kurdish fighters would be surrendered to the Iraqi government
during the final stages of the implementation of the treaty. The same applies to the
secret Kurdish broadcasting station 'Free Kurdistan'
15. A high commission consisting of representatives of the central Iraqi authorities
and of the Kurds would be established to supervise the implementation of the treaty.
Four year armed truce, but settlement was not implemented
There was to be a four year interim period during which the provisions of the agreement
were to be implemented. In practise the ensuing four years became an armed truce. The
Iraqi government carried out few of the terms of the agreement. Some economic development
in Kurdistan was begun; a Kurdish University was opened; however essential Kurdish demands
- political autonomy in Kurdistan and a Kurdish share of power at the centre - remained
The March 1970 Peace Treaty, constituted the beginning of the end of the struggle of
the Mulla Mustafa led insurgency. An agreement which spelled out a four year period for
implementation was necessarily weighted in favour of the party which occupied the
established seats of power.
A resistance movement tends to be weakened by a prolonged truce as it becomes
increasingly difficult for the leadership to retain its influence on a rank and file which
recognizes that despite the rhetoric, the direction of the future is one of compromise and
The March 1970 Peace Treaty failed to spell out any binding 'international guarantee'
for the implementation of the agreement despite the covert involvement of the Soviet
Union, the United States and Iran in the Kurdish struggle and that was a failure that
Soviet aid to Iraq
Whilst Iran supported the Kurds, by 1974, Iraq had become the Soviet Union's principal
ally in the Persian Gulf area. The Soviet Union had by that time supplied Iraq with 188
combat aircraft, 1300 artillery guns and 20 small naval ships.
In March 1974, Soviet Defence Minister Marshall Grechko visited Iraq and openly
condemned the Kurdish 'revolt'.
The Kurd leader, Mulla Mustafa who was once an exile in Moscow was no longer in favour.
He was a victim of the changed geo political interests of the Soviet Union in the Middle
United States and Iran assist Kurds
On the other side, Iran was the primary supporter of the United States in the Persian
Gulf. In May 1972 President Nixon visited Iran. The Select Committee on Intelligence of
the U.S. House of Representatives (under the chairmanship of Otis Pike) disclosed, on
November 1 1975, that the Shah had been able to convince Nixon during the visit that the
United States should provide covert aid to the Kurds.
After the visit Nixon ordered the CIA to deliver millions of dollars worth of Soviet
and Chinese arms and ammunitions (some of which were collected in Cambodia) to the Kurds.
The Pike Committee Report charged:
"The President, Dr. Kissinger and the Foreign head of state (the Shah) hoped
our clients (the Kurds) would not prevail. They preferred instead that the insurgents (the
Kurds) simply continue a level of hostilities sufficient to sap the resources of our
ally's neighbouring country (Iraq). This policy was not imparted to our clients (the
Kurds) who were encouraged to continue fighting. Even in the context of covert action,
ours was a cynical enterprise."
Massive Iraqi attack on the Kurds in April 1974
In early 1974, despite the terms of the March 1970 Peace Treaty, the Iraqi government
proclaimed its new constitution and said that they would impose it unilaterally, with or
without the consent of the Kurds.
In April 1974, the Iraqis launched another offensive sending seven Iraqi divisions,
including two armoured divisions, supported by 200 bombers and fighter bombers, into
Kurdish territory along three fronts.
On March 6 1975, the Shah of Iran concluded the Pact of Algiers with the de facto
ruler of Iraq, Sadam Hussain.
Following his return from Algiers, the Shah summoned Mulla Mustafa to Teheran and
told him that Iran was withdrawing all aid to the Kurdish resistance and recalling all
arms and sup plies; the Shah ordered Mulla Mustafa to halt all military operations against
On March 18, 1975, 16 years after his return from exile in Moscow and after three cease
fires and interminable 'negotiations' Mulla Mustafa gave the order to the Kurdish army to
abandon the struggle. This time round, Mulla Mustafa obtained refuge in the United States!
The Shah, in return for withdrawing support from the Kurds, had received a favourable
settlement from the Iraqis on Iranian navigational rights on the Shatt al Arab waterway.
Once again, the Kurds of Iraq found that they were the victims of the changed geo
political interests of their allies - this time, the United States and Iran.
In her study on Non state Nations in International Politices, Judy S. Bertelson
"The Kurdish strategy for attaining their basic goal of autonomy within Iraq was
to fight the Iraqi central government until the resulting stalemate might cause a change
to a regime in Baghdad more favourable to an agreement with the Kurds.
At the same time the Kurds tried to gain as much external support as possible from
international organisations and from nation states opposed to the Iraqis."
"This strategy had several effects on the international context. First of all, the
inability of the Iraqis to put an end to the 'Kurdish problem' for 14 years contributed to
the instability of the central Iraqi government in Baghdad. This instability, combined
with the constant need to deploy a major segment of the Iraqi army against the Kurds,
severely limited the Iraqi government's actions in the international arena and also
diverted funds from Iraqi development projects."
" For other nations, Iraq's 'Kurdish problem' allowed them a certain amount of
leverage in their dealings with the Iraqi government. If the Iraqi government acted in a
belligerent fashion toward Israel, Kuwait, Syria or Iran, then these national governments
could retaliate by aiding the Kurds."
"In the end the Iraqis had to concede to Iran navigational rights on the Shatt al
Arab waterway (a major point of contention in Iranian Iraqi relations for years) in order
to stop Iranian aid to the Kurds...
The Shah of Iran was never willing to go as far as he could have for the Kurds, even
in terms of weapon supplies. Kurdish nationalism in Iraq was in the long run,
disadvantageous for Iran.
For Iran the Kurdish fight against the Iraqis was a convenient way of keeping Iran's
chief rival off balance. When it became advantageous for Iran to come to an agreement with
Iraq, the Kurds were abandoned"
Some lessons for the Tamil struggle as well
The story of the Kurds of Iraq has some lessons for the Tamils of Eelam whose leaders
have been persuaded by the Indian government to participate in discussions with the Sri
Lankan government at Bhutan.
- Let us learn that the struggle of the Tamils of Eelam cannot and will not be permitted
to take its course in 'mid air'.
- Let us learn about and understand the international frame of that struggle.
- Let us learn that each state has its own interests and that it is those interests that
it pursues, whether overtly or covertly.
- Let us learn the importance of identifying the nature and content of the interests of
those states that are concerned with the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.
- Let us learn that the interests of a state are a function of the interests of groups
which wield power within that state and that 'foreign policy is the external manifestation
of domestic institutions, ideologies and other attributes of the polity'.
- Let us learn from the failure of successive Iraqi governments to deliver on the promises
that they had made.
- Let us learn that they failed to deliver, not because these governments were constituted
by evil men but because the reality of the power structure in Iraq prevented them from
acceding to the 'just and reasonable' demands of the Kurdish people - demands which had
been so recognized by President Woodrow Wilson in 1918.
- Let us learn that power centres always act in ways which perpetuate or enlarge their own
- Let us learn that the pious declarations in the 12 point programme of 1966 and the 1970
peace treaty, about the 'recognition of the Kurdish nation' remained just that - pious
declarations, and that they paved the way for the annihilation of the Kurds in 1975.
- Let us learn from the failure of the Kurds to secure international guarantees for the
implementation of the Peace Treaty of March 1970.
- Let us also learn that the eventual success of any struggle is, not surprisingly, a
function of the capacity of a leadership to mobilise its own people and its own resources
at the broadest level. A leadership which fails to do so cannot lead and must inevitably
The international frame of the Tamil struggle
Let us therefore first turn our attention to the international frame within which the
struggle of the Tamils of Eelam must necessarily take place.
"Structural and other attributes of the international system shape and constrain
policy choices to such an extent that this is the logical starting point for most
analyses." (David J.Singer - The Level of Analysis Problem in International
relations - World Politics, 1961)
Geography plays a basic though often silent role in the affairs of a people. It was
many years ago - sometime in 1956 or so that the late Krishna Menon was addressing an
English undergraduate audience. The United States Navy was patrolling the waters around
Taiwan and it was a period of some international tension.
A youthful questioner stood up and asked: "Mr.Menon, Sir, what are your views on
the position of Taiwan?" Krishna Menon's response came in a flash: "The position
of Taiwan is that it is a few hundred miles from China and several thousand miles away
from the United States of America." The audience dissolved in laughter. The visit of
President Richard Nixon to China twenty years later underlined the significance of that
which Krishna Menon had said.
The position of Sri Lanka is that it is a few miles from Tamil Nadu and the Indian
sub continent and several thousand miles away from the United States of America. Its
influence on the outside world and in turn the influence of the outside world on the
affairs of the people of Sri Lanka is a function, not so much of its size, but of its
location near the large land mass of the Indian subcontinent and in the centre of the vast
expanse of the waters of the Indian ocean.
"Situated almost in the midst of the Indian Ocean, the island of Sri Lanka has in
India the nearest land mass across the 23 miles of the shallow waters of the Palk Straits.
The next nearest land mass, whether in the south, east or west is hundred of miles away.
And though the technological revolution has minimised such distances to a considerable
extent, the fact of such geographical proximity of India to her southern neighbour cannot
be ignored altogether.
In 1971, for instance, when Sri Lanka was rocked by the youth uprising and then Premier
Mrs.Bandaranaike sent an SOS for help to several countries, Great Britain was the fastest
to move from its base in Singapore to be followed within hours by India, whose navy, in
consultation with the Sri Lankan government, virtually cordoned the coastal areas to
prevent the possibility of outside help to the insurrectionaries..." (Urmilla
Phadnis - India Sri Lanka Relations in the 1980s in Strategic Environment in South Asia,
edited by D.D.Khanna)
Bipolar world structure
We live in a bipolar world dominated by two super powers, the United States of America
and the Soviet Union. If history serves as a guide, the confrontation between these two
powers would have, in the ordinary course of events, led to war and the supremacy of one
or the other as the sole world power. In time, ofcourse, the hegemony of the emergent sole
world power will itself decay and give way to a multipolar power structure, leading again
to a bipolar world and so on.
However, the years after the end of World War II did not lead to direct war between the
two super powers. The nuclear deterrent prevented direct conflict. But the confrontation
between the two super powers continued unabated after 1945. It was a cold war - sometimes
less cold and sometimes more so.
The Prussian military theorist Clausewitz remarked in the 19th century that war is a
continuation of politics by other means. Nikolai Lenin, some years later,
characteristically and brilliantly restated the proposition and said that politics is a
continuation of war by other means. 1984 appears to bear witness to the emerging Orwellian
truth that war is peace and peace is war. It is this that is sometimes called 'detente'.
Wars by proxy in the third world
In the years after the second world war, the two super powers, whilst avoiding direct
armed conflict have fought many wars by proxy, in the third world and elsewhere and have
sought to influence and direct the actions of many 'independent' states, indirectly, some
times by exerting economic pressure and sometimes by engaging in under cover activities
intended to de stabilise unfriendly governments. The bipolar world lives in seeming
peace, but, often, war continues by other means.
Again, given the nuclear deterrent, and the avoidance of direct armed conflict between
the two super powers, a movement towards a more diffused multi polar power structure has
already begun. New power centres have arisen in Asia, Africa, South America and for that
matter in Europe as well. Both China and India are 'big' powers in the Asian region and
have the potential of becoming increasingly influential powers of the world of tomorrow.
"The strength of our defence is that we have been good learners; we have
sophisticated our equipment to a great extent without remaining too long dependent on
foreign advisers. The very fact that 90% of our requirements can now be produced in India
gives us confidence. This factor of defence production is crucial..." (Jagat
S.Mehta, Foreign Secretary, Government of India at National Seminar on Defence Studies,
Allahabad University, March 1978)
But today, even India and China find the need to lean toward either the Soviet Union or
the United States from time to time.
The international frame which Sri Lanka has sought to manage
These are some of the realities of the international frame which the Sri Lankan
government has sought to manage so that it may be left in peace to 'deal' with the Tamils
of Eelam. On the one hand the Sri Lankan government has sought to reassure the Indian
government that the Sinhala people have no conflict with New Delhi. After all relations
between New Delhi and Colombo were reasonably cuddly during the thirty years after
independence in 1947.
"Till India has a centre strong enough to keep its States under control, the
secession cry of a segment of Tamils in Sri Lanka may not find its echo in Tamil Nadu. In
the event of the centre becoming weak and centripetal tendencies asserting themselves in
India, this may not be so.
It is in this context again that any government in Colombo will perceive the regime
stability in Delhi as a vital factor for its own survival as a unified state.
on the Indian side too, an unstable Sri Lanka may well portend threats to security -
stability parameters in the south..."(Urmilla Phadnis - India Sri Lanka
Relations in the 1980s in Strategic Environment in South Asia, edited by D.D.Khanna)
More recently, Indian Foreign Secretary Romesh Bhandari declared in a magazine
"...a united Sri Lanka is in our national interests. We have no reason to
encourage secessionist forces...the greater the instability in Sri Lanka, the more it will
look to outside powers. That is exactly what we do not want..."
Sri Lankan National Security Minister, Lalith Athulathmudali, in a speech he made at
the 87th Mahapola which was held at the Sinhala Vidyalaya, Kahatagasdigliya stated to a
Sinhala audience on the 27th of May 1984:
"If victory was to be achieved, it could not be done by uniting all opposing
forces but by dividing them and creating dissension among them... Sri Lankan Kings never
opposed the entirety of India. When there was conflict with the Pandyans, they sought the
aid of the Cholas and acted against the Pandyans. When the Pandyans and Cholas combined,
they sought the aid of Kalinga. Sinhala Kings had that high intelligence and knowledge of
Both Delhi and Colombo have a shared interest in managing a rising Tamil
consciousness and President Jayawardene is presumably not unaware of the Kurds of Iraq and
Consequences of 'open economic policy'
At the same time, President Jayawardene's reliance on an 'open economic policy' had
certain necessary consequences. It was an economic policy which led to and which was at
the same time the result of an increasing polarisation amongst the Sinhala people
themselves and the creation of a new economic elite which was dependent on and linked with
foreign capital - a scenario not unfamiliar to many Third World countries.
"...To participate actively in the world economy as a late comer, it is necessary
to enter on terms that serve that wider market at the expense of the domestic population.
If the world economic situation is buoyant and the domestic political framework reasonably
honest, then there may be enough of a capital surplus generated by economic growth to
combine satisfying the greed of the rich, while taking some action to alleviate poverty
But the logic of the global market is such that a Third World country...has little to
offer other than commodity exports (that generally divert productive resources from the
domestic economy) and cheap labour (that attracts foreign investment). This cycle has
dreadful political effects as well; the export compulsion capitalises agriculture at the
expense of marginal peasants and domestic demand, while the investment compulsion both
depresses real wages and represses the efforts of workers to resist.
In such a context a Third World leader is necessarily alienated from his people,
serving interests that are primarily external to those of his country, a situation that is
psychologically salvaged by personal aggrandizement, including a sharing of payoffs with a
tiny indigenous elite that gets rich whilst the masses are drawn ever more forcefully into
a maelstrom of poverty and intimidation..." (Richard Falk in Development Debacle -
The World Bank in the Phillipines, Institute of Fodd nad Policy, San Francisco 1982)
The fruits of 'development' did not filter down and were it not for massive
earnings from expatriate Sinhala workers in the Middle East, which helped to inject wealth
at middle and lower income levels, the government may have been hard pressed to retain its
already tenuous hold on the seats of power. But even with such earnings, the Sri Lankan
government had become increasingly dependent on aid and investment loans from the Western
With trade and aid came new political alignments
Again with trade and aid, came political alignments and the Sri Lankan government had
in recent years, taken stances, more in line with Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore rather than
with the late Indira Gandhi's India.
"...the sheer volume of aid, investment loans and trade with countries like the
United Kingdom and the U.S.A. is massive and the political spill over effects of such
dependence have already been felt in some cases.
Thus Sri Lanka's soft pedalling on the issue of Diego Garcia at the Non Aligned summit,
its response on Falkland islands supporting the British case, its rather subdued response
on the controversial map published in a US Joint Chief of Staff pamphlet showing
Trincomalee as one of the ports available to the US Navy personnel for rest and
recreational facilities, its grant of certain significant facilities to the Voice of
America under the renewed agreement of 1983, making Sri Lanka in the process an important
'listening post' of the United States, do seem to be political pay offs for economic
'I seek to make foreign policy', stated Foreign Minister A.C.S.Hameed, as early as
1977, "an effective instrument of economic advancement.'.."(Urmilla Phadnis -
India Sri Lanka Relations in the 1980s in Strategic Environment in South Asia, edited by
The evolving Indian - US Axis
President Jayawardene recognized that India may be moved to destabilise his
government not so much because of the political pressure of the Tamil electorate in Tamil
Nadu but by the increasing presence and influence of the United States in the Indian
region - a presence and an influence which India may regard as a threat to its own role in
the Asian region.
President Jayawardene was aware that too close a linkage with the United States may
provoke that which he sought to avoid. Again, although the political move towards the
United States was facilitated by the open economic policy of the Sri Lankan Government
which had linked Sri Lanka with the Western world, President Jayawardene was mindful that
in terms of market size, India afforded much greater opportunities to the United States
than little Sri Lanka.
"Indeed, American arms manufacturers have seen India as the better prospect in the
region, and put pressure on the U.S. government in 1972 to lift an arms embargo as much to
gain access to India as to Pakistan." (Stephen P.Cohen and Richard L.Park - India
Emergent Power, National Strategy Information Centre, New York 1978)
In an interview with an Indian magazine in early April 1984 President Jayawardene said:
"...I know the whole situation. No country in the world would like India to be
annoyed with it. Because you are 800 million people, you are a big market for trade
purposes. It is not just the British who are shopkeepers. The Americans are shopkeepers
Clearly, President Jayawardene was not unaware, that for him, the United States was not
so much a 'resource' which he could use but an 'environmental factor' on which he was
dependent and which in turn could use him to reach to and manage India.
Matrix of the power balances in the Indian region
Again, the role of India in the region must be necessarily related to the balance
struck between the two super powers. In the ultimate analysis, the United States would
balance the benefits of Sri Lanka's strategic location against the predominant role that
India must be accorded in the Indian region, if the United States was intent on securing
not so much India's support but its strict 'non alignment' in the continuing confrontation
between the Washington and Moscow.
"At the minimum, the United States can and should do nothing to challenge India's
regional leadership. This does not imply the abandonment of equally legitimate (though
less important) U.S. interests embedded in its relationships with other regional states...
even smaller states such as Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka would not appreciate
an American policy that unqualifiedly rested upon a recognition of India's hegemony in the
That India now holds regional dominance nevertheless is the starting point for any
rational U.S. policy for the 1980s...At the maximum, the U.S. must consider the
alternative of actively sustaining India's regional leadership - although again, the
legitimate ambitions and goals of other regional states need not be ignored...
a wise Indian leadership will recognize that America's concern for India's
neighbours does not represent - and for many years has not represented - an attempt at
containment or harassment. Such an activist diplomacy will also identify many areas of
mutual cooperation and support..."(Stephen P.Cohen and Richard L.Park - India
Emergent Power, National Strategy Information Centre, New York 1978)
The Tamils of Eelam must recognize that we may well be seeing today such 'an
activist diplomacy' which has identified the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict as one of the
areas for 'mutual cooperation and support' as between the United States and India. And
there may be other areas as well.
Let us at the same time recognize that though the interests of India and the United
States may 'converge', their interests are not identical.
The Soviet presence in Afghanistan and the role of Pakistan cannot be separated from
the geo political frame of the Indian region. Again it would be in the interests of
Pakistan to encourage the influence of China in the region, as a way of protecting itself
against the day when the United States may veer too much towards India. Further, India
will seek to interpret a 'strict non alignment' policy as a way of securing its own
influence and power in the Indian region.
The evolving matrix of power balances in the Indian region constitutes the
structural frame within which the Tamil national struggle must, of necessity, take place.
It is a structural frame which is therefore, a logical starting point for any examination
of the rationalities relating to that struggle and those who choose to ignore it will do
so at their peril.
India's foreign policy objective in relation to Sri Lanka
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi seeks to manage the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka in such
a way as to further the foreign policy objective of securing India's influence and power
in the Indian region - a policy objective which is sometimes expressed as securing a 'non
aligned' Indian region.
India knows that the subjugation of the Tamils of Eelam by a Sinhala government will
pave the way for Sri Lanka to make its own alliances with one or the other of the super
powers in the years to come and to that extent India has a need for the Tamils of Eelam.
To put it bluntly: to secure its foreign policy objective of securing the return of
Sri Lanka to the 'non aligned fold', India needs to exert pressure on Sri Lanka through
the threat of a continuing 'Tamil problem'.
On the other hand India also recognizes that the creation of a separate Tamil Eelam
state would destablise the Indian region and that even apart from the effect on
neighbouring Tamil Nadu, there may be difficulties in securing that such a new state would
not, immediately or at some future date, align itself with one or the other of the two
super powers and thereby increase super power presence and influence in the Indian region.
Again, India knows that any 'via media' which involves a 'just' solution to the ethnic
conflict short of the creation of a separate Tamil Eelam state, would depend on the
willingness of a Sinhala government to accept such a solution.
Here, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi presumably recognizes that if India seeks to
pressurise the Sinhala government beyond a point, this may result in an increasing United
States presence in Sri Lanka, rather than a decreasing one. The point beyond which he may
not go may be a function of the foreign policy objectives of the United States in the
In this, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi may be more of a pragmatist than his mother, the
late Indira Gandhi. The actions of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi appear to reflect the need
of a 'regional power' to recognize that in the end its role tends to be limited by the
policy objectives of the super powers. But this again, is a dynamic relation and not a
static one. The 'political space' within which India may act is also a function of its own
India is not Iran
It is not surprising, therefore, that unlike the Shah of Iran in 1975, Prime
Minister Rajiv Ghandhi in 1985, has not, ordered the guerilla leaders to call off the
struggle, unconditionally. He seeks instead to engage both the Tamil militant
leaders and the Sri Lankan government in a 'talking process' to work out a 'just' solution.
He is also not unmindful that any perception that India has abandoned the Tamils of
Eelam will in the long term tend to alienate the Tamils of Tamil Nadu from the Indian body
politic and revive Tamil separatism, not openly, but as an underground movement whose
nucleus may well be the Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka.
Such an underground movement would gather momentum if India fails to find answers to
the basic economic problems confronting its peoples in the coming years, because in a
multi national state, there will an increasing tendency for those faced with economic
deprivation to attribute that deprivation to the failure of the centre to give wider
powers to the nations which constitute the several states of the Indian Union.
The 'talking process' is both a way of 'massaging' the reaction in Tamil Nadu and
also a way of managing the return of Sri Lanka to the 'non aligned fold'. The reality
therefore is that India's commitment to a 'just' solution must be taken seriously. It is
not only that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is not the Shah of Iran - India is not Iran and
the Tamils are not Kurds led by Mulla Mustafa.
And so, by all means let us talk at Bhutan
Therefore, by all means, let us talk at Bhutan. The Tamils are not an unreasonable
people. But please, let us not talk endlessly. Let us talk with some purpose and
Let us not talk endlessly about the so called 'devolution' of power. Devolution means
that power 'devolves' from some higher body, legitimately clothed with the power of the
state. Devolution means that the power that is so devolved is subject to the control and
direction of that higher body.
The Tamils of Eelam do not seek a so called 'devolution' of power which is subject to
the control and direction of a Sinhala government - but let us say that we are certainly
prepared to sit and talk, as equals, about the way in which power may be shared in Sri
Lanka. We are not an unreasonable people.
At the very outset let us ascertain the good faith and the political will of those who
seek to talk with us. Let us ask: with whom do you say that you wish to talk? Do you
accept that you are talking with the representatives of the Tamil nation? Or do you say
you are talking with some 'bandits and terrorists' with whom you seek to do a 'deal' to
overcome a temporary difficulty that you face in your attempt to 'absorb' and 'integrate'
the Tamils of Eelam? Let us ask, loudly and clearly : do you recognize the existence of a
Tamil nation in Sri Lanka?
Let us call for open recognition of the Tamil right to self
Let us openly call upon those who have sought to assist us so that we may secure
justice, to declare their own position on the question whether the Tamils of Eelam
constitute a nation. We recognize that as a sovereign state, India would be reluctant to
espouse the division of another sovereign state and therefore we can understand though we
may not agree with, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's declaration that he does not support the
creation of a separate state for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. We can also understand
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's declaration in the light of India's own foreign policy
objectives in the Indian region.
But that which we ask from our friends in the international community today is not a
declaration in support of the creation of a separate state: we repeat - we ask them to
state their position on the question whether the Tamils of Eelam constitute a nation.
We do not plead for fairness. We do not beg for justice. Too many Tamils have given
their lives to permit us to do that. They have died so that we, who have survived may have
the courage to stand up for that which is right and just. And so we patiently and
respectfully request our friends in the international community to make their position
Do they agree that the Tamils of Eelam constitute a nation and that there is a need for
the representatives of the Tamil nation and the representatives of the Sinhala nation to
sit together and discuss a constitutional structure where the two nations may live
together in peace and in harmony? Do they take the view that the Sri Lankan government
today, accepts that which was implicit in its own 1978 constitution which provided that
Sinhala and Tamil shall the two 'national' languages of Sri Lanka - namely that there were
two nations in Sri Lanka, at least in 1978?
Or is it that the provision in relation to the two 'national' languages was a mere
window dressing, and that the Sri Lankan government, which made constitutional provision
for two 'national' languages, denies the existence of two nations in Sri Lanka? And is the
position of the Sri Lankan government as that stated by President Jayawardene's brother,
Mr.H.W.Jayawardene on his return recently from Bhutan:
"It is clear that a political settlement of the Tamil question cannot be made...on
the basis of the claim to be a separate nation or nationality, distinct from other racial
groups that are citizens of Sri Lanka..." (Sri Lanka Sunday Island, 18 July 1985)
If it is the case that the existence of a Tamil nation in Sri Lanka is denied then
it must follow that the constitutional structures that are suggested on the basis of such
denial, are intended to secure the evolution of a single homogeneous Sinhala identity,
whether under the cloak of a so called single 'Sri Lankan nationality' or otherwise.
We are entitled are we not, to ask the Sri Lankan government and the international
community - 'please, what does your reason say? What does your conscience declare?'
How many more martyrs should be born before it is recognized that the togetherness of
the Tamils of Eelam is the expression of a matured national consciousness? Does anybody
believe that a resolution of the conflict is ever possible except on the basis of the
recognition that Sri Lanka, today, is a multinational state ? By all means, let us talk
but let us about the essentials - let us not get lost in sub clauses and sub sections of
rules and enactments because in the end all these rules and enactments will be worthless
without the political will to recognize the existence of two nations in Sri Lanka.
To those who doubt the existence of the Tamil nation in Sri Lanka let us talk about the
togetherness of the Tamil people. Let us talk about the time in the life of a people, let
us talk about the stage in their history, when they become increasingly aware of the links
that link them together, of the bonds that bind them together - and let us say that the
Tamils of Eelam living in many lands and across distant seas, have today, become
increasing aware of their togetherness. Let us talk about a togetherness which is rooted
in a common history, a common culture and a common language.
Let us say that it is a togetherness which springs from a common past, but that it is
not a function of the past alone. It is a togetherness which has been pressed into shape
by the discrimination and oppression of a continuing present, a discrimination which
sought to treat separately and which has inevitably nurtured that which was separately
treated, an oppression which sought to annihilate and inhibit but which inevitably
consolidated and strengthened that which it sought to oppress.
Let us say that the togetherness of the Tamils of Eelam is not a function of the past
and the present alone. It is all that and more. It is a togetherness which is given
purpose and direction by a growing resolve and a growing determination that we, as a
people , will build a future where we, and our children and our children's children will
have the opportunity to grow to the fullness of our potential and where we may return not
only to a home but also to a homeland. It is a togetherness which has slowly but surely
matured and which seeks to cry out openly and aloud, in pain and in joy: 'Yes we live in
many lands and across distant seas, but we, too, are a people.
But we are not chauvinists
But let us also say that we are not chauvinists. Neither are we racists. The
togetherness of the Tamil people is not the expression of an exaggerated nationalism. We
do not say that our language is the sweetest in the world but we do say that our language
is sweet to our ears. We do not say that our culture is the oldest in the world but we do
say that it is a culture of great antiquity and that it has made a rich contribution to
the world. We do not say that our thinkers are the most influential that the world has
known but we do say that their thoughts have left the world with a greater understanding
of itself. We do not say that we are the chosen people but we do say that we, too, are a
people, and that we are entitled to live our lives in the way we choose.
The growing togetherness
of the Tamil people,
is but a step in the growth of a larger unity. We know that in the end, national freedom
can only be secured by a voluntary pooling of sovereignties, in a regional, and ultimately
in a world context. Let us say that we recognize that our future lies with the peoples of
the Indian region and the path of a greater and a larger Indian union is the direction of
It is a union that will reflect the compelling and inevitable need for a common market
and a common defence and will be rooted in the common heritage that we share with our
brothers and sisters of not only Tamil Nadu but also of India. It is a shared heritage
that we freely acknowledge and it is a shared heritage from which we derive strength. And
so, let us talk about the larger regional context of the Tamil national question.
The larger regional context of the Tamil national struggle
Let us remember the fate of earlier agreements with Sinhala governments and request
those who have come to assist us: 'How can you guarantee that that which is agreed will be
implemented? How can you guarantee that that which happened to the 1970 Iraq - Kurd peace
treaty does not happen to any agreement at Bhutan?'
Should we not ask: 'Is it not the reality that competing Sinhala political parties have
nurtured a chauvinist mythology around the latent fear that the Sinhala people have for
the Tamils of Tamil Nadu? And is it not the reality that so long as that latent fear
exists, sections of the ruling Sinhala elite will always use that fear in their efforts to
jockey themselves into positions of power.
Is it not true that it was only an year ago in April 1984, that President Jayawardene
declared in a magazine interview: "How can I say I want regional councils when
everybody else is against them?... I am a prisoner...of circumstances, the law, the
constitution and the political parties. I cannot throw my weight about and say: do this,
do that. I am not a dictator".
Is it not the reality that the 'circumstances' will not change unless answers are
sought in a larger regional context? Let us ask whether the time has not come to openly
recognize that the Tamil national question cannot be resolved except in an international
To negotiate and negotiate with dexterity is the only rational
So, by all means, let us talk at Bhutan and if the need arises elsewhere as well. After
all we are not an unreasonable people and we are not afraid to talk. Let us have regard to
the words of the Basque political leaders many years ago:
"To negotiate, and negotiate with dexterity and foresight is the only rational
course that the Basques must follow in order to salvage from ruin the sacred objects of
their cult [Maximiano Garcia Venero: Historia del Nacionalismo Vasco, Madrid 1945]
But let us remember that Bhutan is not a mere exercise in skilful advocacy. Let us
learn that at the end of the day, we must secure our own strength in order that we may
secure that which is right and just. Justice is not an empty platitude and perhaps there
is no need to reiterate that particular truth amongst those of us who trace our origins to
the land of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
To give justice the thick edge of action, there is an urgent and immediate need to
identify and mobilise the entire resources of the Tamil people - and if circumstances
compel us then this must be done whilst the talking goes on and the talks themselves must
be directed to bring about this mobilisation
We must recognize that it is only in this way that we can handle the reality of the
evolving matrix which constitutes the international power frame in the Indian region and
within which, our struggle must inevitably take place Unity is strength but let us
recognize that unity will not come from pious pleas for unity. Unity will grow around that
which is perceived as the right direction.
Where no way forward is seen, all ways are right. But, as a struggle progresses and
matures, more and more begin to see the right way and it is around that 'right way' that
unity can and will be built. Today, the struggle of the Tamils of Eelam for justice and
fair dealing has reached a watershed.
It is not enough to have and claim a right. We must know the direction in which we mean
to exercise it. There is a compelling need for Tamils everywhere to move to create a forum
where the 'rationalities' may be examined and thereby assist in giving direction and
cohesion to a struggle for that which is right and just. Let us learn from the experience
of the Kurds of Iraq. It is said that fools fail to learn even from their own experience.
Wise men learn from the experience of others. We are a people - not without wisdom.