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Τρίτη, 25 Δεκεμβρίου 2018

Kurdistan: If or When?


Kurds, the largest stateless ethnic group in the World, estimated around 35 million, are living half of them in Tukey and most of the rest in Iran, Iraq, Syria and European countries as their diaspora.  Either we evaluate Kurds’ land in the aftermath of the demise of Ottoman Empire in 1914 or in 2017 in the curtail drop of Cold War’s it has always been a site of great-power competition. A fatal embracement of West and Russia civilizations along with a Christians and Muslims co-existence challenge ending up repeatedly in defining successive history times of World Order.  From 1514 with the battle of Caldiran and Sunni Ottoman’s legitimacy prevail, as defenders of the faith of Islam, towards Ismail’s Safavid Shiite dynasty to 1847 with the destruction of the Emirate of Bohtan, the last autonomous Kurdish principality, the Sunni Kurdish tribesmen it was accepted to be the key to security in the marchlands of Eastern Anatolia. (1)

In the 1920, Talcott Williams, Dean of Columbia University School of Journalism, was wondering in his article “The American Idea in the Near East”: “Shall the United States accept a mandatory for the entire Turkish Empire or a trusteeship for Constantinople, and for Central and Eastern Asia Minor, and the elevated plateau of “Armenia” in which Kurds, still primitive in their rude culture, are in majority one-half of this area?” (2) He concludes: “For the US to become unselfish trustee of humanity and civilization in raising the people and territory of the entire Ottoman Empire to security, self-government, self-rule, mutual respect and peace were the happiest harvest that could grow from the red furrows of war watered by the blood and the lives of 10,000,000 men shed in the past five years. This once done the World would have before it lasting peace”. (3)

The post-Ottoman Empire, dominant with Turkish, Iraqi, Syrian and Iranian national formations have conceived the Kurds as severe threat to their national unity and sovereignty and established formal and secret alliances to deal with their respective Kurdish issues. Paradoxically, it is more appropriate nowadays to say that – rather than the Kurds- it is these Turkish, Arab, and Iranian nation-state formations that are the problems in need of solution. (4). In the last two decades the status quo that marginalized the Kurds in the Middle East since the end of WWI has been gradually falling apart. (5) In Iraq either referring to them as the Kurdistan region of Iraq or “Northern Iraq” for those unwilling to recognize the constitutional reality, the Kurds now exist as a discrete unit, with the capability to engage in partnership with neighbors inside and outside Iraq and with the ability to self-determine, to a degree not previously seen their future. (6)

But who are really the Kurds, how do they change and in what direction? How do young Kurds identify themselves nowadays? Which identity is predominant to the Kurds in Kurdistan: national, tribal, Islamic or local? Do they feel Iraqis and if not, what are the reasons that don’t allow them to become an independent state in the modern World? Do these reasons remain still strong enough to forbid Kurdistan formation in 21th century as well? What are other great and regional nations’ stances towards Kurds?

Indeed, the spectre of Sykes-Pycot re-emerged and the idea of a domino effect through the different Kurdish regions made redrawing the map of the Middle East a real possibility. An existing federal entity in Iraq, nascent self-rule in Syria, renewal of activity by the PKK in Turkey and by Kurdish political entities in Iran the last years were all signs that Kurds are moving towards achieving additional rights from their respective governments. (7) 

Is Kurdistan going to be soon the 194th nation of UN in this World or is only a World Order dream never to be materialized? What interests forbid 35 million of humans to have their own country based on their will in this 21th promising for global human rights prevalence century? Is it their fault or others’ power to blame for? How much Russia, Israel, Turkey and US take responsibility for this Westphalia Treaty’s deadlock? Is oil the reason above all that hinders an independent state for Kurds? Finally, how much Syria uprising changed the regional balance and how much Kurds youth may institute a crucial factor in the tittering of the global and regional balance towards or against an independent Kurdistan in 21th century?

The above wonders are some of the quests that this research will try to seek for ending with the most likely and most productive way ahead for Kurds based on a peaceful, stable and decent Middle East in 21th century.

The Kurds

Mehrdad Izady believes that the Kurds can be traced back more than 50,000 years. From the 5th century BC to the 6th century AD would be “the homogenizations and consolidation of modern Kurdish national identity”. The Kurdish population occupies the territorial limits of the Zagros Mountains, inhospitable area that has provided a geographical “buffer” from the political interests of the Great Empires of the past leaving the cultural space in the Kurdish language and culture to evolve. (8) The nationalization of identity, territory and sovereignty in the late 19th and early 20th centuries reconfigured and fueled up power struggles among the former subject of Ottoman Empire inhabiting Anatolia and Mesopotamia. As Hisyar Ozsoy, from The university of Michigan-Flint argues: “It was true that the Kurds have fought many rebellions in the last two centuries, yet this is due neither the nature of their “rebellious culture” nor the Kurds’ having “no friends but the mountains. Rebellions have served as costly means of cultural and political survival to find themselves within the labyrinths of modern power in the Middle East”. (9)

In Iraq, Kurds suffered an internecine conflict between their two major political parties, they control a landlocked territory, and the neighbor they depend on most as an outlet to the World, Turkey fears that the Iraqi’s Kurds experiment with self-rule would inspire its own Kurdish minority. (10) No matter this, Kurds have made it clear since a long time that they would stay committed to the new Iraq only if it is federal and democratic and only if treated them as full partners, not as a minority to be kept pacified in a semiautonomous region. (11)

Kurdish Nationalism in Iraq

Ethnie, derived by Greek term ethnos, is defined by six dimensions such as a homeland, common myths of ancestry, shared memories, shared culture and measure of solidarity, at least among the elites. All the previous may be considered in relation to the Kurds generally and in modern Iraqi Kurdistan specifically. (12) According to Hobsbawn “Proto-nationalism” describes an ethnic group’s development towards nationalism. (13) For Hugh Seton-Watson “A nation exists when a significant number of people in a community consider themselves to form a nation, or behave as if they form one.” (14) Anderson argues that “historically speaking the possibility for the communities to imagine themselves as a nation only occurred when three fundamental cultural conceptions” of fraternity, power and time collapsed during the rise of capitalism in the late 18th century”. (15) Lastly, Smith points out that “the decline of cosmic religions and monarchies happened at the points when new conceptions of time and “print capitalism” made it possible to imagine nations moving through linear time”. (16)

There is no universal theory of nationalism. It seems that the theoretical explanation for the origins and development of nations that best fits the Kurdish case is that proposed by Anthony Smith and the historical ethno-symbolist school of thought.(17) Smith rightly judges nation-formation to be a long-term process subject to a great variety of influences: political, economic, social and emotional as conditions in respective communities evolve and the elites are continually called upon to adjust their means and goals accordingly to maintain their power and to keep the populace thinking towards nationhood.(18) Several factors have played a role in consolidating a sense of Kurdish national identity. These include national, territorial, political and linguistic factors. Nationalism with its concepts such as common culture, shared history, common myth, traditions, national essence, the flag, the national anthem, language, spirit of people a folklore, all imaginary creations that provide a group with a sense of “togetherness” have been present for at least half a century in Kurdish people giving to them the most effective answer to their identity. (19) Today, professional civic and ethnic allegiances proliferate involving especially educated youth. Tribal affiliations and religious loyalties no longer exercise a major influence in post-1990 Iraqi Kurdistan.

On 10 August 1920 under Article 64 of the Treaty of Sevres signed by the Constantinople (Ottoman) Government and by Allied powers the Kurds would be granted independence within a year. Only Greece ratified the Treaty and the provision for Kurdish autonomy never became reality. The Treaty of Sevres redrew the political map of the Middle East largely in accordance with the European interests. There were several concerns, such as fears over the Soviet Union’s undue influence over newly formed states and Britain’s concerns that there was no obvious choice of a Kurdish leader who could be counted on to put national concerns above tribal interests that kept Kurdish independence an elusive dream. (20) Nevertheless, from Ottoman Aghas to British Sheiks in 1920s and through the two main currents of ideologies in the 1930s and 40s communist with socialist ideas and pan-Arab nationalism that formed secular urban strata by 1960s, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) emerged and managed to reach the agreement of 11 March 1970 that provided in its 13 articles full recognition of Kurdish nationality; autonomy with four years; a Kurdish Vice-president of the Republic; five Kurdish Ministers in the Cabinet; Kurdish official language as Arabic; formation of Kurdish political parties; integration of the peshmerga Kurdish fighters into border guard and Army units; and a census and plebiscite to determine the status of Kirkuk. (21) Ba’th regime chose the imposition of hegemonic power over the state and 1970s till 1990s were marked by Kurds persecution, regimes atrocities like Anfal campaign (1987-8) and use of chemical weapons in Halabja on 16 March 1988 along with Kurdish political split. After 1992 a great transformation in Kurds political culture took place due to the decline of Ba’th hegemony and the disappearance of its dominant authoritative apparatus. Kurdistanism meaning the promotion of Kurdistan in its civic and traditional ethnic conceptions prevailed and the new generation views themselves nowadays as Kurdistani rather than Iraqi.

Nationalism for the Kurds can be regarded as a state-seeking and nation-building movement, especially in the past 1990-era. (22)  Although Iraqi Kurdistan it is not impossible to consider it as state or stately “entity” because it possesses the attributes of: population, territory, governmental and administrative institutions and significant informal and formal international relations it still lacks a formal standing army; it is not recognized by the UN and it doesn’t collect taxes from its citizens. (23) The political and administrative experience of the last three decades have made it clear that Iraqi Kurdistan is institutionalized politically as a de facto Kurdish state. Findings indicate that the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) does not at present posses a broad-based democratic culture of fully developed civil society. This leaves unanswered the questions about the prospects for the emergence of a de juro Kurdish political state in the future. (24) One cannot help but notice that the Kurds have been entering a new era of nation-building since the 1990s. (25) In the post-1990s era Kurdish children have been brought up without having to learn Arabic history or language. For the Kurds in Kurdistan and elsewhere independence become the ultimate dream. In recent years the KRG has appeared to carry more political weight with the US and the international community than ever before. (26)

Kurd Youth

Universities have played a central role in political, social and cultural movements around the world in the last two centuries. Youthful social movements have impacted governments and have been known to change the course of history. In the Kurdistan region there are 17 public and private universities nowadays. Young educated generation of the post-1990s in Iraqi Kurdistan come predominantly from the major cities, are mostly from the middle class and tend to live in extended families. Their parents have high levels of illiteracy compared to international standards. The Kurdish family is still male-oriented, but it is hoped that with movement towards civic and democratic values, the status of women in society at large will rise and women will be more empowered to contribute in the family setting and overall to help Iraqi’s Kurdistani productivity. According to Mahir A. Asiz and his study in the three largest Kurds’ universities students in the 18-25 age group it is Kurdistanism rather than Iraqiness which is the focus of national aspirations. (27) Kurds new generation’s conception of national identity and its attitude towards Iraq are different from those of their parents and grandparents. They were never taught or educated in the Arab Iraqi school system; hence they lack the knowledge of Arabic or even extensive knowledge in Iraqi’s geography and history. They did not witness the important political development of Iraq that enabled Iraqi Kurdistan to be self-government. 

96,8% of Kurdish youth identify themselves as “Kurdistani”(73,1%), “Kurds”(17,3%), “Kurdistanis but not Iraqis”(5,1%) while rest “more Iraqi than Kurds” (2,2%) and “Iraqi not Kurd” (0,89%). Those that they don’t consider themselves Kurds are expected to be Turkmen, Chaldo-Assyrian or Arabs. (28) The national, territorial and linguistic factors are most crucial in consolidating Kurdish national identity than political, economic and educational that follow. (29) 88,89% feel very proud to be a Kurd or Kurdistani and 87,33% not very proud (7,78%), not at all proud (3,56%), while regarding the strength of Pride as an Iraqi feel not Iraqi (76,00%). (30) 84,2% does not belong to any tribe. It appears that overall the tribe and tribal affiliation is not as salient in the minds of the young educated strata as it might have been for past generations. (31) 81% strongly disagreed that Islam is a vital factor for Kurdish unity while another surprising finding is that the further away from the city you go, the less you are likely to feel Islam is the key to unity (32) 62% make use of Internet, 19,3%TV, 12% Newspaper, 1,3 Radio and 5,3% all the above. (33)


Vast reserves of crude oil and natural gas lie beneath Kurds territory. It is not secret that 95% of Iraq’s national income comes from oil. (34) Since the establishment of the Kingdom of Iraq in 1921 up to 90s the Kurds never controlled their economy. In the 1990s KRG started receiving 13% of the oil revenues garnered from the Oil-for-Food Programme under UN Security resolution 986. The stability of the Kurdistan region has allowed it to achieve a higher level of development than other regions in Iraq. In 2005 the Sunni-Shiite street war erupted and no matter the ‘surge” of US troops in 2007 the Kurds began exploiting their most prominent asset: the vast reserves of crude oil and natural gas. ExxonMobil, Chevron, Total, and Gazprom have signed exploration contracts with KRG giving a whopping vote of confidence in the latter’s nascent economy. The region has attracted medium-sized companies from around the world, including US ones, such as Hunt Oil, HKN, Marathon Oil, Murphy Oil and Hess. (35) Kurds faced soon the reality that the only way to get their product to market is to send it through an existing pipeline that runs outside the Kurdish region’s boundaries from the city of Kirkuk to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan (36). Turkey urgently needs access to Iraqi’s energy resources to fulfill its regional policies. (37) KDPs leader Barzani offered Turkey powerful incentives to turn away from Baghdad: a possible regular flow of 1 million barrels of oil a day through a set of direct pipelines, a stable Sunni Kurdish buffer on Turkey’s southeastern border against Shiite-dominated Iraq’s government and the KRG’s help in blocking Kurdish rebels from expanding more into Kurdish areas of Syria. 

As latest events showed Kirkuk seems the pearl to acquire for all regional and international players. Historian Juan Cole in 2007 urged caution ‘the Kurds are trying to annex oil-rich Kirkuk province to their Kurdistan provincial confederacy. Turkmens and Arabs do not want to be annexed. Turkey does not want to see it annexed.” (38) Though federal Bagdad government has retaken the oil fields that the last three years were handled by KRG with rumors the Kurdish faction of PUK party led by Talabani family proposed jointly governing Kirkuk with Bagdad, still all export infrastructure from the city goes through Kurdish-controlled territory. (39) Meanwhile Turkey though supports the KDP, it doesn’t want it to become strong enough to assert independence, thereby encouraging Kurdish groups across the Middle east – including Turkey to follow suit. (40) If Barzani and the KRG back away from declaring independence Turkey could resume its support. Iran as reported strongly backs Iraq’s operations in Kirkuk. Given the possibility that Iran-backed militias will be able to hold their ground in Kirkuk after the Kurdish withdrawal many Kurds fear that Iran will be able to capitalize on the territorial shifts. (41) US were caught between Arbil and Bagdad. They try to appease both sides, drawing on the deep security and economic relationships it has with each. When it comes to choosing, the US back Bagdad deepening the sense of betrayal the Kurds feel towards the US. The fact is as the fight against the Islamic State moved away from Kurdish-controlled area, the US has less need for the Kurdish peshmerga. (42) 

Syria Kurds

In July 2012, Kurdish political parties took control of most Kurdish towns and regions in the north of Syria. The idea that systematic abuses of human rights could not be sustained in the present climate without international intervention in some form convinced the Kurdish people and parties in Syria to take greater risks to achieve higher aims. 33SK Most Kurdish sources put the number of them up to 3 million or around 15% of the total pre-war Syrian population of 22 million. Until after the start of the Syrian uprising in 2011 there were more than 300,000 Kurds in Syria who were completely stateless and denied rights with Syrian citizenship as a result of a one-day census that was conducted back in 1962 in the predominantly Kurdish province of Hasaka. The census after the collapse of Syria’s union with Egypt in 1958 was based on the ‘Arabization’ of Syria. That artificial demographic change, and the denial of the Kurdish existence in Syria defined their relations with the Ba’th Party Syria state. (43) These despair stateless Syrian Kurds either ajanib or maktumiin became subjects of severe exploitation that played important role in the Syria uprising in a time when Kurdish parties movement was amid a crisis but Kurdish national consciousness at its higher level.(44)

In 1927 Kurdish intellectuals, leaders of tribes, skeikhs and rebel fighters from Turkey, Syria and Iraq established the Xoybun League to unify their political efforts and turn their struggle towards so as to liberate the Kurds from Turkish “claws”. (45) After a revolt in Ararat the French and the British, under the pressure from Turkey, imposed heavy restrictions on those involved in Xoybun. (46) In 1957 after the rise of the left in Syrian national politics Kurds established their first political party Partiya Demokrat a Kurd li Syriye. Many others followed all characterized as illegal, causing factionalism due to diverse reasons such as internal party dynamics, personalities of the leadership as well as external factors such as the intrigues of the Syrian security services, involvement of Kurdish parties of other areas of Kurdistan and diaspora, or changes in international relations. (47) The evidence suggests that the fragmented state of the Kurdish political body is not a deliberate or conscious strategy of the parties; nonetheless only a factionalized body could have survived the political environment in Syria. (48) In Syria without mountains and with divisions between Kurdish areas, there were few options available. (49) Both the passive and the more confrontational approaches of the different parties towards the regime contributed to incapacating the Kurdish national movement and prevented effective social mobilization with political objectives. No matter their limited freedom of operating they were the ones in the absence of any other traditional forms of nationalist leadership or organization that have stepped in to promote, maintain, reproduce and organize Kurdish cultural identity through decades.

The change of Syrian Kurds towards their political parties was due to four primary factors: the withdrawal of intellectuals from the party ranks, the development and availability of information technologies, the growth of generational differences within Kurdish society and the rise in popular consciousness amongst the Syrian Kurds.(50) With attention focused on Syria’s major cities and its campaign against the Sunni Arab rebel opposition forces in these areas the regime did little to prevent the Kurdish regions. (51) The Kurds found themselves caught between the regime and the Arab opposition with little option but to entrench in the Kurdish regions developing both political (Supreme Kurdish Committee, SKC) and defensive mechanisms with the mediation of Iraqi Kurds and its KDP leader Barzani in an unprecedented way since 1957. As Syria instability goes on, the Syria opposition remains in general divided and Kurds concertation focuses on unity and on securing and managing Kurdish regions by all parties and organizations within the Kurdish bloc, unresolved fault lines are left within Kurdish political movement and between Kurdish and Arab opposition groupings. (52)

The Others 


The Ottoman Empire has long served as a barrier to Russia’s southern competition. The notion that imperial Russia could hold appeal for Muslim tribesmen has always been difficult to comprehend for Europeans. That Russia could command fear and demand respect was understandable but what of positive value could Russia offer? There was limited projection only in a unidimensional projection of military and diplomatic power excluding Baku’s oil industry impact on migration patterns in Iran, wider influences of socialist movements in the Caucasus and more challenging Russia’s relationship with Kurds. (53) When the new force in Ottoman politics the Committee of Union and Progress tried to impose centralization by subduing and displacing the tribal elites in 1908 the Kurds had an alternative by applying in Northern Iran for Russian subject status and a path to civilization through Russia. (54) Russia’s interest dated back as early as 1787 and Catherine the Great who had commissioned the publication of Kurdish grammar. Russia’s interest was threefold. First, Kurd’s existence in southern Caucasus, second Britain, France and Germany were all jockeying for advantage in the area and third because Kurds represented the flip side to the Armenian Question and the latter’s possible empowerment after Ottomans Empire “failed state” danger.

Whereas the Great powers of Europe were distant and unreliable, Russia was nearby and could wield its power to liberate Kurds. “It will be easiest for us to do this inside Iran. If we succeed in doing this, then I will quickly raise a rebellion in Turkish Kurdistan. Then the Kurds will ask the Russian emperor to take them under his patronage and secure their independence” as Abdurrezak Kurdish leader argued (55). Russia’s proximity guaranteed that it would continue to exert influence over the future of the Kurds. Soviet Union took up sponsorship of Turkish and Iranian Kurdish organizations in the 1920s. In the 1940s Kurds under Soviet tutelage formed the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad. In the mid-1940s when the short lived Kurdish republic of Mahabad in Northern Iran was destroyed Mula Mustafa Barzani with 2000 fighters fled to Soviet Azerbaijan where offered political asylum. In 1957 his refugees having undergone training in Tashkent formed a Commando Brigade and secretly deployed in the Kurdish-populated areas of Iraq. (56). In mid 1960s, a series of armed clashes between Kurds and Iraqi troops began breaking out in the Kurdish-populated territories of Northern Iraq. Not only the clashes evolved into open guerilla warfare, but they also spilled into the neighboring Turkey, Iran and Syria. Some historians maintain the Soviet Union was one of the masterminds behind that clashes. (57) That popular movements of liberation throughout non-Western world aligned to Soviet Union suggests that the Kurdish patriot and Russophile Abdurrezzak perhaps should be seen not as a quixotic figure from the terminal age of empire but instead perhaps as a prototype of a new kind of actor in the global politics of the later 20th century. (58) 


            Recently, a group of Israeli experts published the results of research based on genetic analysis, which claimed that most of the Jews are distant ethnic relatives of the Kurds. The scientists believe that Jews and Kurds descended from a common ancestral population that inhabited the border regions of modern Iraq and Turkey. (59) Some estimates have the total number of Kurdish Jews in Iraq by the mid-20th century at 40,000-50,000. (60) Almost the whole of Jewish community of Iraq (120,000) one of the oldest in the Diaspora was evacuated in 1950 under the Operation Ali Baba via neutral Cyprus following the so called Palestinian War or the Israeli War for Independence of 1948-49 as Jews had become subjects of brutal persecution by the Arab government. As Israel’s primary information source, Kurdish Jews always shaped Israel’s policies on Kurds. Probably nowhere in the world is the Kurdish ethno-political factor subject to such scrutiny and political planning as in Israel. (61)

            The national security strategy of the Jewish State has traditionally been based on two essential tenets. “Determinism” assuming the support to Israel by a leading superpower and “Peripheral Strategy” of security cooperation with the non-Arab regional powers. The Kurds have always been featured in Zionist thinkers’ plans on the Middle East.  (62) Israel had covertly established quite close contacts with the leaders of the Kurdish movement. It kept military advisers at the head-quarters of the Iraqi Kurdish leader Mula Mustafa Barzani from 1965 to 1975, training the insurgents and supplying them with light arms, artillery and anti-aircraft guns. The US also took part in that campaign. (63) Israel’s support to the Kurds was perceived as threatening the very sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Iraqi state. For Iraq this support was no less an attempt to establish a “second Israel” in the Northern Iraq. (64) In 1982 Israel Minister of Foreign Affairs Oded Yinon in his article “A strategy for Israel in Nineteen Eighties” wrote: “Iraq rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other hand is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets. Its dissolution is more important than that of Syria. In Iraq, a division into provinces along ethnic/religious lines in Syria during Ottoman times is possible. So, three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, and Shite areas in the south will separate from the Sunni and Kurdish North.” (65) The significance of the Kurdish factor in Israel’s global geo-strategy in the near and middle East never was diminished. (66)


“It has coal on the Black Sea, oil fields on the Persian Gulf, unused grain fields up to 200 million bushels, the great copper area France is seizing, the world’s current supply of opium, liquorice and the finer tobaccos, a natural silk area, land and rainfall suited to cotton in Mesopotamia and to wool in Asia Minor and the Sothern plain. Added the shortest railroad line to India and the best marine frontage of any land on the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, with river navigation all told 2000 miles” Talcott Williams, Dean of Columbia University School of Journalism was writing back in 1920 before Turkey Republic foundation (67) When established in 1923, Turkish Kurds made up some 18% of the population where characterized as “Mountain Turks’. (68) “The Turk is the sole effendi (master) and owner of this country. Those who are not of pure Turkish blood have only one right in this country. The right to be servants, the right to be slaves” Mahmut Bozkurt, Turkish Minister of Interior in Agri in 1930. While Armenians were genocided and Greeks were dealt with population exchanges the Kurdish geography resulted into a “zone of “exception’ where the state produced and exercised its sovereignty by means of martial laws, emergency state rules, compulsory resettlement, destruction of villages, regimes of torture, exiles, executions, extra-judicial killings, and even genocides as in the case of Dersim. (69). Kurds soon resurfaced in the political scene in the 1960s mostly part of Turkish left and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) became the political agent to lead Kurdish struggles after the military coup in 1980 by initiating a guerilla warfare to establish a unified, independent and socialist Kurdistan. (70) 

Following PKK’s leader Abdullah Ocalan imprisonment in 1999 and EU grant of Turkey of candidacy status Turkish governments passed some constitutional and legal reforms between 2001 and 2004. Over the last two decades PKK transformed by shifting from revolution to democracy, from separation into integration, from targeting state power to organizing (in) the (civil) society – all of which are happening in the context of a worldwide ideological shift away from ideology/class and toward culture-/identity-based political imaginaries. (71) The negotiations and reforms so far indicate that Turkey may accommodate some Kurdish cultural demands in the form of individuals rights, but it is extremely uncompromising when it comes to collective rights and redistribution of political sovereignty which constitute the crux of the conflict for many Kurds. (72) While ruling AKP achieved its goal to marginalize the Kemalists and gradually destroy military tutelage over civilian politics the Kurds expectations that EU process would also open a democratic space to accommodate their cultural and political demands did not materialize. (73). Currently, the Kurds are the only organized popular resistance movement in Turkey to challenge or limit the AKP’s increasing authoritarianism. (74)  

Before Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government was reelected in July 2007 he made a calculated decision to shift his foreign-policy away from his NATO allies in Europe where EU membership has stalled and cast his glance eastwards with the intention of establishing himself as the region’s preeminent leader and positioning Turkey as the indispensable link between West and East. He had seen a new World Order taking shape and felt obliged to ride this wave of popular revolution and revolutionary change. (75) While Turkey and Syria have managed to avoid direct armed conflict, the two sides engaged in was by other means, such as safe harbor to refugees fleeing Syria as well as Free Syrian Army, the consequences of which will shape the region’s structure, borders, and balance of power for years to come. (76) Turkey cannot fulfill its desire to become the regional power unless it makes peace with the Kurds at home. (77) A genuine peace is needed and not “technical approaches” which can only be built by transforming the political ontology of the Turkish nation-state. (78) Otherwise, it should be prepared for other options that the Kurds may develop out of dislocating developments in the Middle East. (79)

According to Hiltermann, MIT Centre for International Studies: “The Turkish state is aware that it has lost the battle with Kurds. And Kurds are also aware of this, that’s why they are constantly raising the bar with their demands” (80) The question is how far Turkish leaders will go - whether they will be prepared to abandon their Plan A, reinforcing a unified Iraq, for plan B, linking up with entities estranged from Baghdad, such as the Kurds and the largely Sunni provinces in northern Iraq, at the risk of breaking up Iraq. (81) “The rhetoric in Ankara has changed. Officials no longer refer to Iraq’s unity as a sine qua non; now it is a “preference”.


       On the 4th July 2007 Bush Administration again warned sovereign Turkey against a cross-border operation against PKK bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. The sentiment of Kurds in the street was described as: “The United States’ apathy is overwhelming. Common sense common justice has been rare with American leaders regarding their relationship with Turkey…” Rauf Naqshbandi sent a letter to President Bush, a letter meant for Turkey’s Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: ‘A free and independent Kurdistan is imminent for it is the will and determination of the Kurdish nation. It will be beneficial to you and your people; therefore, I ask you not to tolerate it but rather to welcome it wholeheartedly. (82) PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan stated as well from his jail: “If you focus on Turkish nationalism and extremism, the Kurds will react in a same way and separation will be soon a fact. To lose Kurds means to lose Turks. That is why the Republic should be democratized. The Kurds are too strong. They have mountains, cities and villages. They will be able to defend themselves. The connection between the Kurds and Iran dates back before the birth of Jesus Christ.” (83) 

In 2007, in an interview with BBC, PKK leader Murat Karayalan revealed: “US and Britain came to Iraq to establish a democratic system, but this scared the Iranians, so they negotiated with us and offered many things to attack the coalition. But we told them the Iranians that the US and Britain were going to solve the Kurdish problem and we will not be with them. The same year, US Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on “Integrated Strategic Plan needed to Help restore Iraq’s Oil and Electricity Sectors’ leaving no doubt as to intentions that was the US designed hydrocarbon law of Iraq would benefit US loyal servants, the Kurdish parties that run the local KRG along US allies Britain and Israel. According to assessment by infowars: “The new law would transfer ownership of the majority of Iraq’s oil from the Iraqi government and hand it to multinational oil companies linked mostly with US though the British would have a slice of the action. Many Iraqis now realizing what experts have been saying since 2003: that the invasion of Iraq was about oil and Israel, and not about America’s security”. Israel Haaretz issued a report one week later under the heading “US checking possibility of pumping oil from Northern Iraq to Haifa, via Jordan”. (84) 

In August 2007, America-Kurdish Friendship League (AKFL) was formed. New Jersey rep. Pete Hoekstra opened with his declaration: “There has been a long and solid friendship between the Kurdish and America people based on the belief in fundamental principles such as democracy, freedom, and acceptance of different religions. AKFL represents an important step in building a stronger relationship between our two countries… The US and the West have a golden opportunity to embrace 50 million Kurds who are secular Muslims. The AKFL will seek to promote peace and democracy in the Middle East as well as religious tolerance and friendship among Arabs, Jews, Kurds, Persians and Turks” (85) 

Exactly as civilization has in the past agreed upon religious liberty, representative institutions and the abolition of serfdom, so soldiery is no longer the necessary of possible concomitant of a stable social order. Every man and every woman, every statesman and voter the world over, is aware that it is no possible to govern by force when Egyptian fellahs throw themselves against machines guns. (86) “Kurds have a history of misread British intentions, much as the misunderstand Israel’s motives. Which explains in some measure why British official Sir Mark Sykes dubbed them “the simplest and most gullible of mortals”. (87)

The End 

It is clear that what underlies Kurdish national identity is a “sense of place’ rather than a “sense of tribe and blood”.(88) Control over a given territory is a key claim of nationalism.

The Kurd’s future, like the fate of other minorities groups around the world, would come to be determined by their efforts to reclaim their ethnic identity through various demands – initially for minority recognition and rights, later for autonomous zones, and now for independence, something that seemed wholly implausible before the invasion of Iraq and the Arab uprisings. (89)

Kurdish youth when it comes to national identification there is little doubt who they think they are. They are Kurds, Kurdistani, or Kurdistanyeti, first and foremost. It was the events of the 1990s that coalesced to ripen a sense of Kurdistani identity that currently defines the character of Kurdish society - and this, it seems evident, is now irreversible. (90) 

As one proclamation from 1898 put it: “Oh, Kurds! Our century is the century of science. The time of performing heroic deeds in the mountains has passed, all nations now study in schools, and thanks to education they are seizing their right to freedom from usurpers”. (91) Like many Muslim intellectuals around the world in that era they saw education as the key to security and advancement. This education seems to have become at last a reality in the 21th century.

As Kurdistan enters into and interacts with the international community and bright Kurdish students and scholars go abroad to study, there will be more intermingling, intermarriage and the embracing of democratic ideas. It is believed that Kurdistan is on the path to democratic and civic-minded methods and procedures that will enable it to be a “beacon of light on the way to peace’. (92) 

Modern nationalism for the Kurds since 1990s may be regarded as a state-seeking and nation-building movement. It is clear, Iraqi Kurdistan is institutionalized politically – not in a fully self-sufficient independent manner as a UN-recognized State, but as a de facto Kurdish state. It does not at possess a broad-based democratic culture or fully developed civil society. This leaves for many unanswered the questions about the prospects for the emergence of a de jure Kurdish political state in the future. (93) Apart an unprecedented building boom in Iraq Kurds are now articulating a once-unthinkable notion: that the day will break free from the rest of Iraq is nigh. (96)

The Kurds in Syria having achieved such significant political advances, albeit without the resources of the state and in uncertain position, will not easily relinquish the degree of control that they have obtained during the Syrian uprising (94) On the state level, the more general pursuit of human rights, pluralism, and democracy within Syria state remains a priority, but one which the majority of Kurds believe cannot be achieved through existing opposition alliances or through centralized political unit. (95) 

International powers have regarded the pursuit of Kurdish interests as an obstacle to preserving the status quo in the Middle East. Certainly, the Kurds have historically been used as pawns in inter-state politics and rivalries between Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. (97) Anti-Kurdish propaganda campaigns linked Kurdish nationalism to Zionism and Western imperialism, portraying Kurds as traitors and separatists. (98) 

In 20th century changing economic relations combined with European influence are transforming intercommunal relations and subtly but palpably eroding the traditional order. (99) West challenged the norms and began to undermine the status quo in three ways. Integration of Eastern Anatolia into the global economy, the arrival of West businessmen and capital and growing number of Christian missionaries and social organization through schools and institutions. (100) Nowadays the fruits of that starting point seems to have matured ready to be collected by anyone.

 “Only en masse can the Kurds constitute a serious force” Sergei Dmitrievich Sazonov, Russia Foreign Minister. 1880 uprising of Kurds in Iran was characterized by Near Eastern scholar Vladimir F.Minorskii premature since the Kurds "still lacked unifying cultural fundaments” prone to “unruly and wild movements”. He urged that his government undertake deep social and cultural reforms to transform Kurds into a more stable and reliable social element. (101) The meeting point from both sides seems to have reached along with other interested remaining only to see who they will shake their hands first.

Russia’s appeal to the Kurdish chief was mentioned dual – as a gateway for Kurds to European enlightenment and as a vehicle to the restoration of the elite’s local supremacy. (102) If Abdurrezzak and the Kurds brought Anatolia to a state of chaos, it would be a “victory for the Russian government and a disaster of our state” Ottoman Interior ministry officials (103). In a manifesto Abdurrezzak wrote called Kurds to support Russians who would drive out from Kurdistan the “Rumi”, or “Romans”, a term Kurds used derisively to refer to the Ottoman Turkish successors to the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. (105) Little seem to have changed since then.

 “United Kurdistan” is a sufficiently Utopian conception, such an attempt might well begin with an Armenian massacre and bring Russian intervention in its train” British missionaries mentioned in 1914. (104) The former happened right afterwards the latter remains to be seen.

For Turkey the risks of throwing its support behind Iraq’s Kurds would be enormous. A disintegrating Iraq would strengthen Iran’s quest for regional dominance and an independent Iraqi Kurdistan would further empower Turkey’s own Kurdish minority. Turkey urgently needs access to Iraq’s energy resources. Most likely, in the end, the Kurds will remain stuck in Iraq, but more and more on their own terms. (106)

If the Arab Spring was a stone dropped in the waters of Middle East politics, the waves it created, passing through Syria, now lap upon the shores of Turkey’s domestic politics, creating uncertainty even more than conflict. “What’s interesting is that Kurds know what they want, but nobody knows what the government will do. Because the government itself doesn’t know it either”. (107)

From 1918 to 1923 British colonial officers had no clear policy or approach toward the Kurds or the Mesopotamian region. This was due the inconsistency between the India Office and the Foreign Office. (108)

A single successful example furnished by Turkey of an Asia people raised to self-government would give hope to the subject lands of all the earth. (109) Where other nations would need armies to keep order, our (US) flag would need only a police. (110)

Four new principles the American people have given in the political organization of society – a successful federal system of rule, the indispensable association of taxation and representation, a uniform civil status for all citizens and a colonial government administrated with a view to the development, autonomy and ultimate equality in self-rule of the dependency without distinction of race. (111)

In the 16th century it became clear that religion could not be imposed by authority, in the 17th and 18th representative government became inevitable, in the 19th chattel slavery was abolished in a decade and in the 20th it has ceased to be possible to govern any land or any people from without. What about 21th century and Kurds?

Business cannot go on as usual in 21th century World Order. WWI failed to prevent WWII and WWIII should not take place in humanity’s history. The will of 35 million stateless people should prevail putting human rights above any artificial social structures and their foundations.

There is plenty of space in this World for an order that will bring democracy and liberty the core values of the most developed societies into geographical areas that still considered tribal wrongly though interconnected and functioning fully already in all 21th dimensions.

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“Kirkuk: Asking the Next Big Questions”, Stratfor Worldview, October 17,2017, https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/kirkuk-asking-next-big-questions