Iraq and Rupert Hay's Two Years in Kurdistan

Between 1918 and 1920, the British Indian government dispatched political officer Capt. Rupert Hay to Iraqi Kurdistan which, with the World War I-occupation of Ottoman Mesopotamia, had suddenly become a British territory. Like many contemporary officers stationed on the frontiers of empire, Hay saw his mission as much an anthropological as a military undertaking. Hence, the first six chapters of Two Years in Kurdistan discuss everything from flora and fauna, to the structure of village life, the roles of women in society, tribes, agriculture, and trade. The next eight chapters are both diary and travelogue, as Hay travels to Altun Kepri, Erbil, Ranya, and Rawanduz, as well as smaller towns and districts.

Hay's mission was to establish civil administration as the British took control of Iraq from Ottoman authorities. Even though World War I was over, Ottoman authorities remained in control, if only on the local level, until Hay and his column relieved or co-opted them. Hay revitalized government, working to increase the influence of allies and decrease those of adversaries in society. He pensioned families of Turkish soldiers who had perished in the war, subsidized mullahs, appointed district governors, and played tribal politics. What took dozens of U.S. officials to carry out in 2003 and 2004, Hay did largely by himself eighty-five years before, meeting with tribal sheikhs and urban notables, entertaining, negotiating, and when necessary, commanding.

The final chapters of Two Years in Kurdistan chronicle a revolt among some Kurdish tribes against the order Hay constructed. The revolt pitted Kurd versus Kurd, and tribesman versus city-dweller. For Hay, though, there was a happy ending: Key tribal allies remained loyal, and the instigators failed to conquer Erbil.

Not only historians should value Hay's memoirs of his time in Kurdistan: The many Western policymakers and journalists who pass through Iraqi Kurdistan today see the region's progress but fail to understand its turbulent, pre-Saddam history. They may have heard of the 1994-97 civil war fought between forces loyal to Kurdish strongmen Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani but do not realize that such intra-Kurdish fighting is the norm rather than the exception in modern times. Indeed, this context makes it easier to understand the resentment so many Kurds feel toward Barzani and Talabani. Likewise, Hay's account reminds policymakers that Iraqi Kurdistan has always been a region in flux, that Kurds have not always dominated the city Kirkuk, and that blood feud rather than arbitrary alliance shapes Kurdish society.

The editor's introduction adds basic context but does not seek to dominate. His mission is to reassert Hay into the canon of Kurdish studies, and this he does masterfully.

Michael Rubin is a resident fellow at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Rubin

What's new on AEI

In year four of Dodd-Frank, over-regulation is getting old
image Halbig v. Burwell: A stunning rebuke of a lawless and reckless administration
image Beware all the retirement 'crisis' reports
image Cut people or change how they're paid
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Monday, July 21, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Closing the gaps in health outcomes: Alternative paths forward

Please join us for a broader exploration of targeted interventions that provide real promise for reducing health disparities, limiting or delaying the onset of chronic health conditions, and improving the performance of the US health care system.

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Comprehending comprehensive universities

Join us for a panel discussion that seeks to comprehend the comprehensives and to determine the role these schools play in the nation’s college completion agenda.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 8:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Who governs the Internet? A conversation on securing the multistakeholder process

Please join AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy for a conference to address key steps we can take, as members of the global community, to maintain a free Internet.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Expanding opportunity in America: A conversation with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan

Please join us as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveils a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Is it time to end the Export-Import Bank?

We welcome you to join us at AEI as POLITICO’s Ben White moderates a lively debate between Tim Carney, one of the bank’s fiercest critics, and Tony Fratto, one of the agency’s staunchest defenders.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.