Southwest Asia: Population Relocation

A HUMAN PERSPECTIVE In the 1980s, Kurds living in Turkey were attacked by the Turkish military. The parents of 10-year-old Garbi Yildirim feared for their son's safety. Reluctantly they sent him from Turkey to live with relatives in Germany. When Garbi reached his 18th birthday, he was notified by the German government that he would have to return to Turkey. Upon his return, he knew that he would have to serve in the Turkish military. This meant he would have to use weapons against his own people—the Kurds. He refused to return to Turkey and was placed in a deportation prison to await the recommendation of a German court on the case. Garbi's case is an example of the problems some ethnic groups face in Southwest Asia.

New Industry Requires More Workers

Life in Southwest Asia in 1900 seemed only slightly different from life there in 1100. Some people lived in villages or cities while others moved livestock from one source of water to another.

Then, in the early years of the 2oth century, everything changed. Geologists discovered huge deposits of petroleum and natural gas under the sands and seas of Southwest Asia. Western oil companies quickly leased land in the region and supplied the technology and the workers to pump the fuel from the ground.

Many countries in Southwest Asia grew enormously wealthy from oil profits. The oil boom set off decades of rapid urbanization. Extensive road construction made cities and towns more accessible. Many thousands of people migrated to the cities in search of jobs and a chance to share in the region's newfound riches. So many jobs were available that some were left unfilled.


To fill the job openings, companies recruited people, mostly from South and East Asia. These “guest workers” are largely unskilled laborers. They fill jobs that the region's native peoples find culturally or economically unacceptable. In parts of the Arabian Peninsula, the immigrant workers actually outnumber the native workers. For example, in 1999, nearly 90 percent of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) work force was made up of immigrants.


The presence of so many guest workers has led to problems. Cultural differences often exist between the guest workers and their employers. Misunderstandings over certain customs can result in severe penalties. For example, a Filipino man was given six months in jail and expelled from the UAE for brushing past a woman on a bus. Arabs viewed his behavior as insulting to the woman.

Sometimes the workers must live in special districts apart from the Arab population. Some workers have been abandoned. Others receive no wages for months at a time. Many immigrants find themselves unemployed and without money to get back home.

The large number of guest workers is a concern to the governments of Southwest Asia. Some government officials worry that depending on these workers will prevent their nation's own workers from developing their skills.

Others worry about the intolerance and even violence that these workers face. And, finally, some fear the immigrants could weaken their country's sense of national identity. Solving the cultural and economic issues over guest workers will be a challenge to the governments of the region.

Political Refugees Face Challenges

Rapidly changing economic conditions have caused population shifts in Southwest Asia. Political conflict in the region has also caused relocation.


One of the longest conflicts has been over the ethnic group known as the Kurds. After World War I, the Allies recommended creating a national state for the group. Instead, the land intended for the Kurds became part of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. The Kurds became a stateless nation—a nation of people without a land to legally occupy. Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria tried to absorb the Kurds into their populations but were not successful. The Kurds resisted control in each of the countries. Governments forcibly moved thousands of Kurds in an attempt to control them.

In Iraq, this forced migration ruined Kurdish homes, settlements, and farms. As you read in Chapter 22, the Iraqi government used deadly chemical weapons on settlements of Kurds to kill them or force them to leave the area. In the year 2000, as many as 70,000 Kurds had been displaced from areas they called home. Many of the Kurds have been forced to live in crowded relocation camps.


Another group of people who have been displaced in the region are the Palestinians. They are the Arabs and their descendants who lived or still live in the area formerly called Palestine and now called Israel. Palestinians live in relocation camps in Israel, in other parts of the region, and throughout the world. This group of people, like the Kurds, consider themselves a stateless nation.

As you read in Chapter 22, war immediately followed the creation of Israel in 1948. Arabs in Palestine were promised a homeland. However, Israel occupied some of those lands during the 1948-49 war. Between 520,000 and 1,000,000 persons fled Israel. Fifty-two refugee camps for Arab Palestinians were established in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. The West Bank is a strip of land on the west side of the Jordan River. Jordan originally controlled the land, but it lost control of the land in a war with Israel in 1967. The Gaza Strip is a territory along the Mediterranean Sea just northeast of the Sinai Peninsula.

Israel occupied it in the same 1967 war.

The refugees have not been able to return to the areas of Israel that they claim are theirs. The number of Palestinians living in the refugee camps or in other parts of Southwest Asia has now swelled to an estimated 3.6 million persons. By 2005 there will be an estimated 8.2 million worldwide. Thousands have lived and died in refugee camps without ever being able to return to lands they claim as their homeland. Their presence and their demand to return to Palestine are at the heart of many conflicts in the region.