political situation, the weak governments, the unstable frontiers and too many
foreign interventionist powers will most probably culminate in a Middle East of
a distinct geographical landscape different from the region we had known. The
presence of too many states and too many militant groups on the scene and being
part of the civil strife raging in the Middle East has rendered the situation
unpredictable with the most likely emergence of a few new states including an
independent state of Kurds combining the Kurds’ autonomous region of Iraq and
Kurd territorial pockets of Syria, Turkey and Iran; a Sunni state in Iraq and
balkanization of Libya in three parts.
possibility of a Sunni state in Iraq or the division of Libya has been examined
by a few experts of the Middle East. The issue of Kurdish autonomy is chronic
one and has come into international focus in the wake of the civil wars in that
region. The Kurdish population in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran and the Kurd
diaspora in Europe have been harbouring aspiration to nationhood and
contributing towards the realization of their century-old dream of an
The Kurd aspirations
received a fillip from the emergence of the Kurdistan Regional Government in
Arbil with the support of the United States of America. The Kurdish President,
Mr. Nechirvan Barzani tried to find more in the US support for autonomy. He
held a referendum by the end of 2018. The overwhelming majority of the Kurd
population voted for independence. The Iraqi Government with the backing of
Iran and Turkey attacked Kurdistan and occupied 40% of its territory including
Tikrit, the oil producing district and scuttled his plan for independence.
have a population of some 30 million spread over southeastern Turkey,
northwestern Iran, northern Iraq and north eastern Syria. The Kurd aspiration
for independence dates back to the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in the
wake of the First World War. For the first time, the Kurds were recognized as a
separate ethnic, cultural group with a developed language with aspirations for
independent nationhood in the Treaty of Sevres forced on the crumbling Ottomans
by the Allied Forces in 1920. However, following the Turkish war of
independence and the conclusion of the new Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, the
question of the independent nationhood of Kurds was sidetracked. The Kurds
never accepted this unfair decision of the Allied Forces and the Turkish
leaders and kept their desire for independence aglow. They revolted in 1925,
1930, 1937. In 1980s, the Kurds Workers Party or PKK was formed for violent
struggle against the Turkish state.
militants of PKK proved a thorn in the body of Turkey. They carried on bloody
sabotage acts in Turkey and Turkish facilities abroad until their leader,
Abdullah Ocalan, was captured in the 1990s, tried and awarded life sentence.
The Kurds have also been troublesome for Iran trying to have an independent
administration in Mahabad. Kurds revolted in Iraq from 1960-1970. They were
backed by the Shah of Iran materially and politically. But the Shah struck a
deal with Saddam Hussain in 1975 leaving Kurds high and dry. In 1960, Syria
dealt with the Kurds ruthlessly. It cancelled the citizenship of hundreds of
thousands of Kurds rendering them stateless. The repression of Kurds by the
four states had since continued unabated.
Kurds and Shias found common cause with the USA in first Gulf War in 1990-91
standing by the USA against Saddam Hussain, and later faced the revengeful
repression of the Iraqi regime. The USA imposed ‘no fly zone’ on the area to
ward off the carpet bombing of Kurdish districts by the Saddam regime. Again,
in 2003, the Kurds supported the invasion of Iraq by the USA and the UK. The
Kurdish support was very useful for the USA to find out the remnants of the
disintegrating Iraqi army or eliminating the hardcore activists and pro Saddam
elements of the Baath Party.
adopted a friendly attitude to the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government in
Arbil mainly because of the oil trade. It opened a Consulate in Arbil in 2010,
and signed an agreement with the KRG for construction of an oil pipeline to
Mediterranean. By 2018, almost 400,000 barrels a day were piped or transported
to Turkish Ceyhan Seaport. In 2014, the USA intervened along with the Kurdish
People’s Protection Union (YPG) in preventing Kobani, a Kurdish town on the
Turkish border in Syria, from falling to ISIS. This angered the Turkish leaders
who considered the arming of the YPG as a perennial threat to their country’s
integrity. Though Turkey had banned the Kurds’ Workers Party or PKK, it had
allowed its political wing People’s Democratic Party to take part in local
elections. In the elections of 2016, the party had captured 102 Mayoral
offices. However, the Turkish authorities dismissed some 90 Municipal Mayors
and Town chiefs when YPG became the chosen US ally after they freed Raqqa from
ISIS in the mid-2017.
leaders offered US to use the Free Syrian Army – trained and armed by Turkey to
overthrow Bashar ul Assad – against ISIS instead of YPG which the USA declined.
Thus, Turkey had to jump in the fray to prevent YPG to make Kobani its stronghold.
Its tanks rolled in the Syrian territory in connivance with Russia. They
apprehended the USA has promised YPG a self-autonomous territory in the Syrian
and Turkish Kurd dominated regions changing the map of Syria and Turkey as
demarcated in the wake of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, and undo the dividends
of the Turkish war of independence. Turkey will never accept this. The Kurds’
dream for independence depends on the level of US support. If the US pulls out
abruptly as it did in Vietnam and Afghanistan, the Kurdish nationhood is
doomed. Anyhow, the clouds of war would continue to loom over the Middle East
to the peril of the Muslim world.
Brohi was a member of the Foreign Service of Pakistan and he has authored two
Source: Daily Times