Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kurdish questions

/ more trouble? /

As a crackdown against the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), the Turkish Kurd armed revolutionary organization, that Turkey (and most of the West now) considers terrorist, seems to be (had been?) unfolding in Europe (possibly with US backing), and over 10.000 Kurds from all over Europe demonstrated recently in Strasbourg for the release of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan... I'd like to recommend an excellent article on the Kurds, Turkey and Iraq from the NY Review of Books (titled The Uncontainable Kurds), which provides a good idea of the forces and attitudes involved in the greater Kurdistan area, forces that include Turkey, the Iraqi Kurdish leadership, the PKK (or whatever it calls itself nowadays), its Iranian Kurdish offshoot, the US, Iran and possibly Syria - not to mention assorted islamist groups, Shia and Sunni Iraqi leaders and the Iraqi insurgency/anti-occupation struggle.

However the situation that is unfolding doesn't seem to have some sort of stable and peaceful long-term option...

... The problem being that the Kurds - many Kurds, I should say - all over the region, see the circumstances in Iraq as providing finally a historical opportunity for the creation of a Kurdish state (the Kurds being the largest stateless nation in the world, at possibly over 25 million). This is a development feared by Turkey, which - correctly I think- believes, that the creation of a bordering Kurdish state, will empower the more radical Turkish Kurds, and conceivably spearhead Kurdish nationalism in its Southeast. This will happen of course as long as Turkey refuses to seek a broader political solution for the Turkish Kurds. Thus, Turkey has threatened to militarily intervene in Iraqi Kurdistan. The flashpoint might turn out to be the city of Kirkuk, of which a Turkish diplomat has said:

"Kirkuk is the number one security issue and public concern right now...Kirkuk is a potential powder keg. For us it has special status. It is like Jerusalem. It belongs to all the people. We do not want to intervene in Iraq. But we have red lines - Kirkuk and attacks on ethnic minorities."

A referendum on Kirkuk's fate, is set to be held by December 2007 - although there are powerful voices calling for its postponement. Control of the area around Kirkuk would give the Iraqi Kurds possession of around 40% of Iraqi oil reserves, making a Kurdish state instantly viable - something that apparently it isn't without the Kirkuk fields.

The thing is that, indeed, the Kurdish areas of Iraq can only remain part of Iraq, if the country doesn't devolve into all-out civil war that would partition the Sunni and Shiia areas, or (more probably) make remaining within Iraq quite unattractive for the Kurds. This development however cannot be ruled out - and neither can one rule out the eventual dominance of pro-independence forces in Iraqi Kurdistan that would, at some not too distant future, opt for or threaten with full independence. This could of course ignite a renewed insurgency in SE Turkey and Iran. Especially in Turkey if the political leadership - and primarily the military who in fact run "national security" matters in Turkey - don't come to some form of viable political settlement on the Kurdish issue.

The other option would be for Iraqi Kurdistan to transform into a US protectorate, a Middle Eastern "base of operations" for the US military. This option is being actively pursued by the Kurdish leaders in Iraq. This doesn't seem probable however, given the fact that such an option would require either some sort of logistical support form Turkey (unlikely in the independence scenario) or its alienation (unlikely for geopolitical reasons). It seems to me a bit more likely that the US will suggest defining a diminished territorially and politically Iraqi Kurdistan, which would be an autonomous part of a confederate or federal Iraq (assuming that such an entity exists). If the Kurds show the required patience, this is the least bloody scenario. Otherwise the US will leave any overambitious Kurdish nationalism out to dry - at the mercy of what will be called "Turkish peacekeeping operations", or "antiterrorist actions".

In this scenario however, Turkey buries decisively its European prospects, and involves itself in a major war, facing the sum total of the Kurdish nation, including the battle-ready and relatively well-armed forces of the Iraqi Kurds, in conjunction with whatever destabilizing potential the PKK will have to offer. Turkey might then join ranks with Iran in its anti-Kurdish campaign... What would happen then is anybody's guess. But one thing is certain: it would be yet another historical catastrophe for all involved.

As US withdrawal becomes inevitable (the sooner the better I say - it is quite obviously fueling the civil war, which the occupation, again obviously, ignited), the Kurds will have to develop a new strategy. Denise Natali, an Arab and Islamic scholar rightly points out that:

...[Recent] political decisions and trends are not a signal of American betrayal, but rather, a wake up call for the Kurds that US support is not obligatory, permanent, or unconditional. Despite the progress made in the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdish-American alliance, there is reason to believe that the US will assure Sunni Arab and/or Turkish nationalist interests over Kurdish ones. This possibility will become increasingly likely as the 2008 presidential elections approach, and the Iraq war - or ways to disengage from the country - becomes central to the election campaign.

Thus, just as the US is rethinking its policy on Iraq, so too, must the KRG renegotiate its strategies, alliance structures, and forms of leverage. The Kurdish elite must create a ‘plan B’ as an alternative path to ensuring Kurdish autonomy in the long term...

...Instead of waiting for the Americans to resolve the Kurdish problem, the Kurds will have to assume a more proactive role in determining their own political survival. If these necessary preparations are not made then local populations are likely to be taken by surprise once again, although this time they will have a lot more to lose than they did 15 years ago.

This "proactive" role however, should very clearly be understood for what it entails: limited autonomy inside Iraq and "antiterrorist" campaigns with broadened cultural rights in Turkey. I fear that current expectations far exceed the realistic.

Cross-posted in the European Tribune


Alphast said...

The problem is that realism is not something very well shared amongst public opinions in general. Look for instance at the Greek public opinion when dealing with Turkey or the Turkish opinion when dealing with Armenia, or even the US opinion in 2003 about the Middle-East, and so on. And public opinion in our globalized world matters a lot more than in the past. This is one of the reasons for the return of old nationalism, but it is also something local leaders must take into account... Kurdish leaders are no exception. By the way, to have a nice insight on Kurdish feelings, I recommend the movie "Crossing the Dust", made by a Kurd with Kurds and Arabic actors in Iran and Iraq. Very enlightning...

Renegade Eye said...

Your post points out the limited political sensibility, of a purely nationalist perspective.