The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Tag: Iran

The Kurdish Referendum

About thirty million Kurds live in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Armenia. These thirty million Kurds are the largest national group in the world without its own country.

At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, British Prime Minister Lloyd George was supposed to include Kurdistan on a list of proposed mandates. When someone pointed out to him that he had forgotten to include it, he quickly added it to the list and blithely noted that geography had not been his strongest suit.  Mandate status for Kurdistan might have led eventually to statehood as it did for Iraq and Syria, for example. But neither the French nor the Americans supported a mandate for Kurdistan. One American delegate who had little knowledge of the region characterized Kurds by using a racist comparison to the native peoples of his own country. “In some respects the Kurds remind one of the North American Indians….. Their temper is passionate, resentful, revengeful, intriguing and treacherous. The make good soldiers , but poor leaders. They are avaricious, utterly selfish, shameless beggars, and a great propensity to steal.” (Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. 1st U.S. ed. New York: Random House, 2002, 444)

Ultimately, the British favored including a part of the region where Kurds lived to be in the new mandate of Iraq. The status of Kurdistan was left up in the air. When Kemal Ataturk came to power in Turkey and began pushing back against efforts to shrink Turkish territory, the allied powers lost all interest creating a Kurdish state.

Fast forward to today.

Since the Paris Peace Conference, many Kurds have demanded greater rights and autonomy, and in some places, independence. But the experiences of Kurds vary from country to country. For example, in Turkey, Kurdish efforts to form an independent state met a harsh crackdown from the Turkish government, sparking a civil war that has claimed over forty thousand lives since the 1980s. Today, many Kurds in Turkey no longer seek independence, but want greater rights and political control within the borders of Turkey.

Kurds in Iraq, after suffering a genocide, ethnic cleansing, and repression at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s government, gained a greater role in the new Iraqi government that formed after the 2003 U.S. invasion. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) controls a region of northern Iraq commonly known as Iraqi Kurdistan. It has its own military and largely governs itself separate from the federal government in Baghdad. In recent years, Iraqi Kurds have expanded oil production and built a pipeline to Turkey to export oil without the approval of the federal Iraqi government. This has increased tension between Kurdish officials and the Iraqi government.

Kurds have also gained international attention for their involvement in the fight against ISIS. The United States has supported Iraqi Kurdish military forces, called the peshmerga, in the conflict. As ISIS swept through regions of Iraq, federal Iraqi officials left their posts in some places. This presented Kurds with an opportunity to expand their control over new territory.

On Monday, September 25, 2017, 92 percent of the Kurds in Iraq voted for independence in a vote that has been condemned by Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Each of these countries, with their significant populations of Kurds, is reluctant to allow Kurds to establish an independent state. All are exerting economic and diplomatic pressure on the Kurdistan Regional Government. The idea of self-determination, touted by Woodrow Wilson one hundred years ago, faces a test in 2017.  Like then, the idea of a Kurdish state faces scrutiny and skepticism.

The video features Steven Kinzer answering the question, “How did Kurds respond to Atatürk’s vision for Turkish identity?”  and is associated with our curriculum Empire, Republic, Democracy: 
Turkey’s Past and Future.

Our Man in Tehran: The Relationship between Perception and Policy

The Iran nuclear issue is dominating the news at the moment, and rightfully so. International politics, diplomacy, the threat of the proliferation of nuclear weapons are both fascinating and critical elements of security. As the merits of the plan undergo public scrutiny, I’m struck by how little many of those trumpeting their thoughts actually know about Iran, relying too often on recycled tropes about Iranian intentions and what the Iranian people are like.

This matters in an important way: perceptions affect policy.

The proposed timeframe of the deal extends out over decades. Iran is a dynamic society, and although digging for a deeper understanding complicates the picture (and I know it’s already very complicated), it can help us assess both the viability and desirability of an agreement that begins to move Iran in a new direction. The New York Times has launched a series of video reports on Iran that are fascinating. This week’s, “Big City Life,” explores tensions about the role of women,  the modern and traditional, and the cosmopolitan forces of the city.

OurmaninTehran

The video would be a perfect launching point for a discussion in a classroom and could also easily be incorporated into the free Choices lesson “Women in Iran.” The lesson helps students to:

  • Explore their perceptions of women in Iran.
  • Gather information from Choices videos about women living in Iran.
  • Practice note-taking skills.
  • Consider the possible effects of perceptions on international relations.

The lesson concludes with a discussion that asks to students to consider these questions:

  • Is veiling exclusively a religious issue in Iran or does it have any political and social significance as well?
  • What do you know about the historical relationship between Iran and the United States? What were key episodes in that history? How might history affect the United States’ view of Iranian society?
  • Tell students that policymakers may similarly be swayed by their personal perceptions of other societies. How might this affect relations among countries? Why is this significant?
  • How do women’s issues in Iran relate to women’s issues in your country or community? Are there any shared struggles or similar triumphs? Alternatively, students may compare what they have recently learned about women in Iran to women’s issues in other countries or regions of the world that they have studied.

Can We Trust Iran?

“If the nuclear crisis is ever to get resolved, now is the time for it to get resolved.”

—Payam Mohseni, Director of Iran Project, Harvard University

With the deadline for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program drawing near, The New York Times put out a video today outlining what is at stake in the Iran negotiations.

 

What's at Stake in the Iran Negotiations

 

As the video makes clear, reaching a deal on Iran’s nuclear program is a challenge, and violence is a real possibility if the negotiations fail. Domestic politics in both the United States and Iran presents huge obstacles, as do conflicts and instability in numerous other parts of the Middle East. But the video seems to claim that the core issue facing U.S. negotiators is whether the United States can trust Iran (and vice versa—whether Iran can trust the United States).

Lesley University Professor Jo-Anne Hart, an expert in U.S. and Iranian security issues, takes issue with this claim. In this video interview with the Choices Program, she argues that international agreements are never based on trust.

 

 

So which is it? Is trust the key ingredient to international relations or is it just an easy framework to latch onto when trying to understand exceedingly complex issues? What are the implications if we understand negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program as based on legally enforceable agreements instead of just on trust?

Choices has multiple curriculum resources to help students grapple with these questions. Our free online lesson Good Atoms or Bad Atoms? Iran and the Nuclear Issue pushes students to explore, debate, and evaluate multiple perspectives on U.S. policy toward Iran and its nuclear program. In addition, we have just released a new edition of our full-length curriculum unit The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy, in which students analyze the history of Iran’s nuclear program as well as other pressing issues in the region, including the significance of oil, the rise of ISIS, the U.S. relationship with Israel, and instability in Yemen.

 

The United States, Iran, and Flipping the Coin on Nuclear Non-Proliferation

For many this November, anticipating the outcomes of soon-concluding nuclear negotiations with Iran seems impossible. The idea that we could only predict the resolution (or lack thereof) with a “coin toss” is complicated by this video by Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares fund.

This concept of the interdependence of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament brings new questions about the role of nuclear countries in ensuring that Iran does not gain nuclear weapons. The questions we have been asking so far of the U.S. government and other countries at the table have been about how to deal with the talks themselves (how to create a mutually beneficial and binding agreement, how to ensure that Iran keeps its commitments as a signatory of the NPT, what to insist upon or where to compromise). What has perhaps been lacking from the conversation are questions about how the United States and other countries with nuclear weapons can create a global atmosphere where nuclear non-proliferation makes nuke-less countries feel more (rather than less) safe. According to Cirincione’s portrayal of nuclear politics, this safety comes from the other side of the coin—disarmament.

Despite President Obama’s rhetorical commitment to nuclear reduction (his Nobel Prize award was marked for his “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons”), the White House has not effectively signaled to the rest of the world that the United States is taking any serious steps towards reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world. In fact, the Pentagon recently announced it intentions of vast increases in nuclear spending. Most of this spending will be on improving the safety of nuclear equipment and training the security forces in charge of them, but the failure to attach reductions in nuclear arms to the expensive nuclear development plan means the measures signal something very different to the rest of the world.

In an article in People’s Daily (the official daily newspaper of the Chinese government), Wen Xian Wang Hongjie calls the program a “new policy on revitalizing the U.S. nuclear deterrent” and implies that it is linked to disappointments in the outcomes of military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. The article ends cynically– “It is ironic that on the one hand the American government is taking vigorous action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, while on the other hand it is preparing for a complete overhaul of its own nuclear arsenal.”

The implications of these type of viewpoints are considerable. If the United States is not showing adequate commitments to nuclear reductions but is rather (in the eyes of many other countries) increasing its own nuclear armament, the prospects for wider disarmament and non-proliferation may be severely reduced. Regardless of the true intentions of the nuclear re-vamp, the fact that it was not linked to reductions in nuclear arsenals has led to many parts of the world perceiving the actions as projected increases in U.S. nuclear power. Cirincione’s coin flip, from non-proliferation to disarmament to non-proliferation and so on, can work in reverse. As nuclear powers like the United States are seen to be increasing their arsenals, their nuclear neighbors may do the same to maintain the balance of power, and non-nuclear countries in an increasingly nuclear world may face greater security pressure to develop nuclear weaponry.

As well as asking how the United States and other nuclear countries are using negotiations to keep Iran committed to non-proliferation, should we be asking what they have done outside of the negotiation room to make an agreement possible? Is it time to flip the coin?

 

Bring some of these questions into your classroom with Choices’ FREE Teaching with the News lesson, Good Atoms or Bad Atoms? Iran and the Nuclear Issue . The lesson features videos from outstanding scholars, Jo-Ann Hart, Trita Parsi, and Joe Cirincione and includes one of Choices’ hallmark Options Role Plays. View this and other Teaching with the News lesson plans here.

 

The TWTN lesson is a great supplement to these full-length units:

The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons

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Iran Through the Looking Glass: History, Reform, and Revolution

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The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy  (new edition coming soon!)

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Modifying Choices Materials for all Students

By Richard McNeil, Special Education Teacher, Massapequa High School, NY

Why Choices?

In my eternal search for the perfect combination of informational and awesome, I found the Choices Program: a resource that covers U.S. History, Global History, and current events, utilizing many different perspectives, mediums, and opportunities to help students become active citizens. I could not pass this up. This could easily turn into a blog post about my love of The Choices Program. But I digress. In my special educator mind I realized that I could not hand this material over to my students without some modification. As a special educator it is my job to give students in my classroom the same opportunities as general education students. Through the years they have ranged in age from 12 to 21 years old and have had at least one of the disabilities listed under IDEA; many have had multiple disabilities. By opportunities I mean access to quality, rigorous content that will help to prepare my students for not just college but life as a local, national, and global citizen.

Modifications

How do I modify? The first thing I do is make a template that includes the Choices logo. I try to match the look as best I can. Choices deserve the recognition, and let’s not forget this is copyrighted material. Once my template is complete I begin to add the rich content to a graphic organizer. There are usually three columns: 1st column is the readings, 2nd is definitions, and 3rd are questions.

I try to keep the readings as intact as possible. However, if necessary one can simplify words, paraphrase paragraphs, or simply cherry pick specific sections of the text.

I then bold difficult or more advanced vocabulary. The number of terms I bold depends on the student, grade level, or the population of the class. You may also include the definition or have the students write it.

The Choices questions are placed in the third column. If there are no questions I will create them according to the text. In addition, the students are always assigned the task of creating their own questions.

If you want to expose your students in a special education classroom settings to the Choices materials you must modify. The exact modifications that you can make will change with student population, course type, and of course your own personal teaching style.

Modification Breakdown

  • Create a template.
  • Insert and modify readings.
  • Bold, Underline, Highlight key or difficult terms.
  • List vocabulary with or without definitions.
  • List the Choices/Teacher/Student questions.

See Richards Modification to Iran Through the Looking Glass: History, Reform, and Revolution. Read more about this unit at choices.edu/iran.

 

The Arab Spring

Nowruz is the name of the Iranian New Year. It occurs each year on the vernal equinox (around March 21st) and is celebrated by Iranic peoples throughout the world. Nowruz is the holiday of spring, and people come together to celebrate light and renewal by cleaning out their homes, having bonfires, and feasting. This Nowruz, President Obama delivered a message to the people of Iran, pledging support for their dreams and aspirations and for democratic change. I think that President Obama’s words are eloquent and compelling, but they raise complicated questions about the United States’ role in the many social movements of this Arab Spring. The U.S. has decided to use force to help end the dictatorship in Libya, but can military might really have a positive effect when the U.S. relationship to the region is so fraught? Is the U.S. now obligated to use force in other countries like Bahrain and Yemen? There are no easy answers, but we must continue to ask questions. I think the coming months give teachers an amazing opportunity to have conversations with their students about the Middle East–a region rich in history and tradition where so many people are standing up and making their voices heard. Many of the protesters in Egypt last month, and in Iran last year, were youth. Challenge your students to learn more about the lives and cultures of their fellow high schoolers in countries throughout the Middle East, and ask them to consider the role of the United States in democratic movements abroad.

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