Minority peoples in the world

A number of people live in minority situations around the world, notably in Europe. But perhaps the most emblematic cases are certainly those of Tibet, Kurdistan and Chechnya, which demonstrate the diversity of the minority phenomenon on our planet. Actually, even if it is easy to draw a parallel between these three territories a priori, their history, their position with regards to the central state and their means for recognition are very different in all aspects.


For a start, according to the Tibetans, Tibet is made up of a homogenous linguistic territory, which the government call “great historic Tibet”. Indeed, even if Tibetans have their own territory within the Republic of China, it is divided. Two other regions (Qinghai and part of Xixhuan) make up part of historic Tibet, where a little more than 6 million inhabitants live. More than 150,000 Tibetans currently live in exile, mainly in India, in the same manner as the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader, who fled in 1959 at the time of the revolts, which claimed many tens of thousands of victims. Before the invasion of the country at this time by China, Tibet alternated between many regimes classified as feudal by the opposition. Currently, the slightest opposition to the Chinese regime or autonomist or separatist demonstrations are repressed, often violently.


Since the Middle Ages Kursdistan (Kurdewarî) is a vast divided territory between which Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria presently lie. The Kurds are arranged in these different countries according to totally different statuses. In Iraq in 1987, the Kurds obtained considerable autonomy which allowed them to express their culture, their language and to benefit from the natural resources of their territory. This status was obtained following considerable repression by the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, which was hidden from the outside world under the guise of granting rights to the Kurds. This repression resulted in the death of more than 200,000 people. After the First World War and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the creation of a Kurdish state was forecast, a project that was quickly aborted. The Western states, dominating the region at the time, crushed every revolt. In Turkey, the situation has not been much better. Indeed, since the 1920s it led a policy of repression while carrying out massive deportation and the “Turkishisation” of the region. Opposition political movements were formed, notably the creation of the PPK (The Kurdistan Workers’ Party) in 1978, which leads guerilla warfare operations. This situation rouses anti-Kurd sentiment on the Turkish side, leading the government to arrest and abuse representatives (deputies, mayors of big towns) for simply having used the Kurdish language in public. These dealings tarnish the image of Turkey and have been denounced many times by international organisations including the European Union. Indeed, by overwhelming the Kurdish people, aggressively assimilating them and giving them no place in public debate, Turkey does not grow in stature by such practices. Unfortunately, the Kurds are the main victims.


Of the three examples of minority peoples in the world, much has been written about Chechnya. Equally, many lives have been lost. The Chechen Republic, named Ichkeria by the independents, is a territory under Russian administration in the Caucasus. This part of the world gathers a great number of people of very diverse origin (Caucasians, Indo-Europeans, Turks and Mongols). This mosaic places a number of conflicts in the glare of the world’s media: Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia formally under Georgian rule, Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan and Chechnya in Russia. Although the region was only independent for a short time in 1995, the Chechens have been fighting against Russian rule since the 18th century. The autonomous region was founded in 1922, changing status over the course of decades of political upheaval in Russia and the USSR. Culturally and linguistically Chechnya is very close to neighbouring Ingushetia, a region with which its fate has often been linked. Its Muslim culture and clans are the basis of society. Indeed, clan alliances (Tieps) punctuate political and social life. The two conflicts that marked the end of the 1990s commenced with the unilateral declaration of independence by Chechen authorities setting up a sharia regime (Islamic law) and an alliance with the Taliban power in Afghanistan. There were many tens of thousands of deaths and 350,000 people were displaced. The autonomy of Chechnya was not called into question after the conflict and the ability of the local authorities is very strong despite the vassalage with regards to the regime in Moscow. Chechen fighters continue to fight against Russia and also against the Chechen authorities currently in place, i.e. the Kadyrov clan.