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Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

The new Kurdish problem

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Regarding Turkey and the [d]evolution of Syria, I recently posted:

[The Turks] have also been undoubtedly fearing one particular result of regime collapse in Syria.

Kurds.

The problem, of course, is that the Kurds are being excluded, or excluding themselves, from the SNC—effectively excluding themselves from the future of Syria. The suggestion is that they have something else in mind. All things being equal, this should worry the Turks, who have been dealing with the “Kurdish problem” since the beginning of the Republic.

This new problem has not escaped the columnists at Today’s Zaman. Here, to begin, is a brief history:

The Kurds were unable to develop a major political movement until the late 1950s. There was no major problem between Arabs and Kurds then either. Yet, with the emergence of the Baathists as a dominant force in 1956, tension broke out between Arabs and Kurds and has continued to today. Arab nationalism had a negative effect on the relations between the Kurds and the political regime, driving the Kurds away from the military. Kurdish lands were redistributed under land reform policies, beginning with the Agricultural Relations Law, Kurdish geographical names were changed and various Arab clans were deployed from other parts of the country to the Kurdish regions to create an Arab zone.

When Hafez al-Assad of Syria started to support the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Syria’s Kurdish issue became somewhat connected to Turkey’s. Siding with Iran during the war between Iran and Iraq, Syria did not refrain from cooperating with Iraqi Kurds against Saddam Hussein. Thus, by supporting the PKK and establishing relations with Iraqi Kurds, Syria managed to divert the political potential of Syrian Kurds to these areas.

And here is an outline of the new problem:

This much is clear: As in Iraq, the Syrian crisis is potentially giving birth to a Kurdish autonomous region. That will be historically critical for all other states. It is time to realize that the Arab Spring has a strong inner Kurdish Spring effect. The Kurdish question is before regional states like Turkey, Iraq and Syria. If the Kurds gain the ability to have two regional governments, the traditional strategy of “solution within the nation-state” may fall forever. There is another major development: Despite their differences on other issues, Turkey, Syria and Iran were united on the Kurdish issue. Such a coalition no longer exists. Forty years ago, Iraq was part of this nation-state coalition against the Kurds. Iraq was dismissed in the 1990s. Syria can be similarly dismissed.

A second Kurdish autonomous region will bring Kurdish politics to a final phase: nation building. One need not be a genius to see that such a development may cause border changes some time in the future. Then the final questions will be these: Shall we have several autonomous Kurdish regions? Shall we have them be part of a regional state like Turkey or Iraq? Or, shall we have an independent Kurdish state to unite all these autonomous Kurdish regions?

Then again, is an autonomous Kurdish state really a problem for Turkey? It depends on a number of factors, of course, but a new, accountable Kurdish state could be exactly what Turkey needs in order to put an end to Kurdish separatism.

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Written by M. James

April 10, 2012 at 12:45 am

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