Σάββατο, 26 Ιουλίου 2014

Is an independent Kurdistan possible?

by Nicholas A. Biniaris

To analyze the facts and conditions defining an answer to this question needs a very long essay. This short attempt will delineate some of the factors which may or may not answer the question in the affirmative.
Geography is history and according to this time honored maxim geography is against the creation of an independent Kurdish state. Iraqi, Syrian, Turkish and Iranian Kurdish territories are all landlocked and surrounded by enemies. No doubt, there are several landlocked independent states in Central Asia with the most notorious of those being Afghanistan, but so is Switzerland. All these states are independent due to either the convention holding between their neighbors for keeping them independent as a balance of power amongst them or because they are insignificant in terms of wealth or strategic importance. Now that Central Asia is free from the USSR, the Afghanistan epos is just the initial stage of a power struggle for rich deposits of gas, oil and minerals in the area between the USA, Russia, and China.
The second negative factor is that Kurdistan is a unique case in the history of nations. There are about 30 million Kurds scattered in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and even in the Caucasus area. They have a distinct language, customs and cultural traditions from their host countries but they are Moslems, mostly Sunnis but also Shiites. The modern history of the Kurds is a series of betrayals both by the Great Powers after WWI and by their leadership which was and is still divided between warring clans for supremacy and wealth. The Barzani and Talabani clans are both suspect for the civil war in Iraqi Kurdistan which left thousands dead during the 1994-98 internecine conflict.  
A third negative factor for an independent state of the Kurdish nation is that four states must acquiesce to it: Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. None of those states is willing or had ever formulated a policy for an independent Kurdish state. At this historical juncture the only possible area which may become independent is the Iraqi federal state of Kurdistan.
The first and most crucial positive factor for Kurdish independence is the ISIS onslaught over northern and western Iraq after the capture of Mosul in June 10th.  This gave the chance for the Kurdish Peshmerga army to move into the “Kurdish Jerusalem”, the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and occupy it. Since then many Kurdish voices have risen to the effect of “now is the time” or “history is on our side” to ask for independence. Barzani, though, the President of Kurdistan was in no hurry to declare independence. John Kerry visited him and asks him to help keep Iraq as a unitary state helping the central government.
Two days later Barzani went to Turkey to talk with PM Erdogan about the Kurdish problem, oil exports and money. Here is a vehement reaction to this visit branded by Shiites as an effort to create a new Zionist state.
On June 16th Barzani also visited Iran and met with military officials. Iran made it clear that opposes an independent Kurdistan.
Israel has also entered the fray saying that Kurdish independence is a foregone conclusion. Netanyahu himself endorsed Kurdish independence.
The blitzkrieg move towards Baghdad by ISIS was part of a Sunni insurrection by jihadist extremists and former Baath party members as well as Sunni tribes feeling excluded by the political manipulations of PM al-Maliki, pointed towards an Iraqi disintegration. The chaos which broke out gave the required pretext to Iraqi Kurdistan for declaring independence.
Iraqi Kurdistan sits on about the fifth of Iraqi oil reserves but can sell oil only through Turkey. Oil is its sole hard currency earner and Baghdad hasn’t paid the apportioned 17% of the state’s budget to Kurdistan due to a spat about whose oil Kurdistan’s oil is. Can the Kurds sell their oil on their own in the market or should they sell it through Baghdad? The answer is written in the stars of ISIS and the unfolding events in Iraq. Today ISIS declared  Presently the Kurds sold oil in the open market through Turkey albeit in a heavily reduced price and one of the cargoes went to Israel, although it is unknown if the final destination is Israel itself.
 Economic survival necessitate that they have to reach an accommodation with Turkey. Without an agreement with Erdogan independence is an exercise in futility. The only other way to get money for oil is to sell it to Iran and this is another tough and dangerous deal. Iran can pressure the new state to an alignment with its policies in the area which may be contrary to Kurdish, American and most importantly Israeli interests. Foremost of all is the US-Iranian relations which maybe on the mending but it is impossible to assess as normal. Actually a deal over the nuclear weapons issue is very doubtful except if the American see Iran as a possible stabilizing factor in the area. However Israel is not going to forego Iran as an existential threat and it will do everything to undermine that deal.
The Kurds are looking for help from Israel and there are strong voices from both sides describing the ancient ties of the two nations and the common destiny of the two as people of the diaspora. This is anathema for jihadists and Salafists in the Arab world who still view Israel as an occupier of Arab lands and the new Kurdish state as a Zionist one. The Kurdish envoy in London said that Kurdistan is not working with Israel.
At this point in the history of the Kurds Turkey is the best venue for their independence.  It is also the case that PM Erdogan is trying to solve in some way or another Turkey’s Kurdish problem and talk with PKK and the leaders of the Kurdish community of Turkey. He had secured the co-operation of Barzani who is not in good terms with the PKK and who urges them for a peace agreement with Turkey. The PKK volunteered to send troops to support the Peshmerga army in Kirkuk and the surrounding areas. Turkey in its drive to solve its Kurdish problem has even downgraded the plight of the Turkmens in Iraq who are attacked by ISIS.  There is an open channel between Barzani and Erdogan which nevertheless can be sabotaged at any time by fanatics, nationalists or oil deals blocked by the USA. If Turkey’s willingness to accommodate the possibility of a Kurdish independent state in Iraq is the sufficient condition for Kurdish statehood the necessary condition is the USA. But Turkey has already backtracked on Kurdish independence rejecting the capture of Kirkuk as a permanent one.
By declaring independence the Iraqi Kurds in effect destroy Iraq as it was morphed by the British and French accord after WWI and after the American invasion of 2003. This interplay between ISIS’ and Kurdish aspiration constitutes a prisoners dilemma.  In a sense history’s irony appears as revenge of the Kurds after all the prosecution and pain they suffered in the hands of Arabs and Turks for centuries. They more or less hold the destiny of Iraq and the whole of the Middle East and the Arabs in their hands.
Presently, Obama is not willing to split Iraq. He is seeking funds from Congress to arm and train a Syrian moderate army which means that he wants to thwart ISIS’ plans for a Caliphate straddling both Syria and Iraq. If this plan is genuine and not a political diversion for US public opinion it quashes the chances for an independent Kurdistan. Russia is also helping Maliki’s government by selling to him airplanes to be used against ISIS. Subsequently Barzani called the Kurdistan Autonomous Region parliament to prepare for a referendum on independence whereas PM Maliki rejected the territorial claims of the Kurds on Kirkuk.  Actually the USA has rejected the referendum for independence.   
The last but not the least factor against the creation of a Kurdish independent state is the hostility of the Arabs towards such a deal. Let us not forget that the Arabs aren’t a unified nationhood. There are non-Arabs minorities amongst Arabs such as the Touaregs and the Berbers and several others. Arab nationalism does not accept such a view of “Arab lands”. The Kurds with a declaration of independence challenge the concept of Arabism and create further divisions besides the religious and sectarian cleavages among Sunni-Shiite-Alevis-Alewites and Christians of the MENA area and beyond.
Finally, if an independent Kurdistan is created only on the Iraqi side what will be the impact upon the Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iran? Can they have an independent state of 5 million Kurds where 25 or more are citizens of other neighboring states? No other similar example is known. The Kurdish leadership is trying hard to project the view that an Independent Kurdistan is a valuable neighbor to Turkey and that it poses no threat to it. here
The conclusion of all the above is that an independent Kurdistan will redraw the map of the Arab world and the Middle East. Consequently it will redraw the priorities and strategic interests of the USA, Europe and for that matter Russia and China. History may indeed force the hand of the participants to accept such realignment but the process before an eventual peace will be more bloodshed and strife. As events unfold neither the USA nor Turkey are supporting Kurdish independence. So this move is non-starter for now. In the meantime ISIS has declared the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate electing as Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi spanning western Iraq and eastern Syria. He asked all Muslims and jihadists to pay allegiance to him. This development is historically a watershed for the Middle East and for Kurdish independence. If this self-proclaimed Caliphate endures as a fighting force against the Iraqi government, Muslim states as Iraq, Syria, Jordan and some others will collapse internally. In this case Kurdish independence becomes easier but at the same time it may easily fall prey to a maelstrom of sectarian wars.
Nicholas A. Biniaris Hellas 7/26/2014