Will the losers in the region’s post-WWI upheavals be the winners of the ‘Arab Spring’?
David Hirst writes: The Baghdad newspaper Sabah published a surprising article a few weeks ago. Its editor, Abd Jabbar Shabbout, suggested it was time to settle the “age-old problem” between Iraq’s Arabs and Kurds by establishing a “Kurdish state.” Never before had I heard such a once-heretical view so publicly expressed in any Arab quarter. And this was no ordinary quarter: Sabah is the mouthpiece of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. Shabbout went on to suggest a negotiated “ending of the Arab-Kurdish partnership in a peaceful way.”
He called his proposal Plan B, Plan A being the “dialogue” between Iraq’s central government and the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq that emerged after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
But Plan A, he said, was getting nowhere. Differences over power and authority, oil and natural resources, territory and borders were so deep that the dialogue repeatedly failed. In December the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga faced off in an atmosphere so tense, according to Shabbout, that hostilities could have broken out at any moment as a result of the slightest miscalculation.
And it wasn’t only Shabbout, but Maliki himself, who warned that if war did break out it wouldn’t be just a war between Kurdish rebels and Baghdad, as it used to be under Hussein, but an “ethnic war between Arabs and Kurds.”
Could it be that the “Kurdish question” has reached another critical stage in its history, one that is intimately bound up with the region-wide cataclysm that is the “Arab Spring”?
The Kurds’ destiny has always been shaped less by their own struggles than by the vagaries of regional and international politics, and the great Middle Eastern upheavals they periodically produce. With World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Britain and France promised the Kurds a state of their own, but then reneged. They fetched up as minorities, more or less severely repressed, in the four countries — Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria — among which their vast domains were divided. They repeatedly rebelled, especially in Iraq. But their rebellions were always crushed, the last one, under Hussein with the genocidal use of gas.
But the Kurds never ceased to dream of independent statehood. Their first breakthrough came after Hussein’s megalomaniacal invasion of Kuwait in 1990, when an internationally protected Kurdish “safe haven” was established in northern Iraq, which enabled them to take their first state-building steps in the shape of a regional assembly and a degree of self-government.
Then, after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Kurds consolidated their autonomy with broad new legislative powers, control of their own armed forces and some authority over Iraqi oil resources. But from the outset, they made it clear that they would remain committed to the “new Iraq” only if it treated them as an equal partner. [Continue reading...]
Turkey’s new thinking on Iraqi Kurdistan
Semih Idiz writes: The idea of an independent Kurdistan bordering Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, which has been wracked with separatist violence from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for over quarter of a century, would have raised official hackles only a few years back.
During those days, Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani, the current president of Iraq, and Massoud Barzani, the current head of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), were objects of Turkish vilification for their alleged backing of the PKK, and its seemingly endless campaign for separation from Turkey in a war that has resulted in over 30,000 deaths to date.
Far from ceasing, PKK attacks have escalated today due to the crisis in Syria and the turmoil in the Middle East. Based on traditional assumptions this should have driven a bigger wedge between the Iraqi Kurds and Turkey. Meanwhile, nationalist Turks still believe the Iraqi Kurdish authorities are providing refuge and logistical support to the PKK lodged in the mountains of Northern Iraq.
However, the official position of Ankara towards the Iraqi Kurds has changed so fundamentally that many are left wondering why Turkey did not come around to its current position much earlier. The change in Ankara’s stance is so significant that Massoud Barzani, in his capacity of Kurdistan Region President, was one of the honored guests at the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Congress in Ankara at the end of September.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s March 2011 visit to Erbil, the regional Kurdish capital, was a watershed event amounting to recognition by Ankara of the KRG as a separate political entity, and resulting in the rapid normalizing of ties between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds. So what was the driving force behind this dramatic “volte-face” by Turkey, which once had 200,000 troops on the border threatening to move into Northern Iraq, and in fact going on to do so on a number of occasions?
An irony during the period of high tension between Ankara and the Iraqi Kurds is that this tension never prevented individual Turks or Turkish companies from moving into the region and beginning to invest there heavily. One of the masterminds of this economic cooperation, which today is clearly working to mutual advantage, was KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. [Continue reading...]
Map of ‘Syrian Kurdistan’ releases cautiously marked borders
Al Arabiya reports: The Kurdish Centre for Legal Studies and Consultancy, also known as YASA, released a map of what it described as “Syrian Kurdistan” which marks the borders of the Kurdish territories inside Syria.
According to the map, Syrian Kurdistan, also labeled Western Kurdistan by the Bonn-based center, starts from the village of Ain Diwar in the governorate of Hasakah in the northeast and extends across the Turkish borders till the far northwest near the city of Iskenderun.
The map features major cities in the northern Syria like Dêrik, Rmêlan, Tirbespiyê, Kobanî, and Afrin and the percentage of Kurds, Arabs, and Christians in each of them.
The map does not, however, specify the exact area of Syrian Kurdistan, which, according to the center, is not possible at the moment for security reasons. A second study is tp offer more accurate figures.
Based on YASA statistics, the number of Kurds in Syria is estimated at three million, mostly living in the north together with Arab and Christian minorities.
Obama and the Kurdish question: Drones are not the answer
Kevin McKiernan writes: The role of the Obama administration in suppressing the long-running Kurdish uprising in Turkey is largely unknown. But a few weeks ago a U.S. diplomat dropped an intriguing clue. Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr., Obama’s ambassador to Turkey, revealed that the U.S. had secretly offered Turkey what was, in effect, a bin Laden-style assassination of the top leadership of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), the rebels who have been fighting the U.S.-equipped Turkish army since 1984.
“Your enemies are our enemies,” Ricciardone told Turkish reporters at a news conference in Ankara. “The power of the multidisciplinary approach is what got bin Laden in the end, and we would like to share that and exploit that intimately.”
When I heard the ambassador’s remarks, I had just left Syria, where a different Kurdish group is struggling for its own autonomy. I was en route at the time to Mt. Qandhil, one of the highest mountains in neighboring Iraq, where PKK rebels have a sanctuary. I was seeking reaction to news that Turkey was quietly negotiating with Abdullah Ocalan, the notorious PKK founder who was captured in 1999 with U.S. assistance, and who since then, has become a cause célèbre with many Kurds in the Middle East.
The 28-year-old Kurdish uprising in Turkey has resulted in 40,000 deaths, most of them Kurds. The U.S. considers the PKK a terrorist group, but experts say both the rebels and Turkish troops have committed human rights abuses. Today, the struggle goes beyond military conflict. Since 2009, some 8,000 Kurdish civilians have been arrested in Turkey. That includes lawyers and at least 100 journalists — more than in Iran or China.
This fall, some 700-1,000 prisoners went on hunger strike in Turkey, demanding that Ocalan be removed from solitary confinement and that Kurds receive broadcasting rights, education in their native tongue and ethnic recognition in the Turkish constitution. Turkey claims that most of the prisoners have ties to the PKK, but according to Human Rights Watch, many Kurds were arrested in a “crackdown on legal pro-Kurdish politics.”
Against this backdrop came Ambassador Ricciardone’s startling disclosure: the administration’s misguided proposal to target the Kurdish rebel leadership. In fact, the PKK is not al-Qaeda, nor has it targeted Americans — and Turkey wisely rejected the U.S. offer. [Continue reading...]