For long, a plea for the recognition of a Kurdish entity has been in “Duly Noted’s” pipeline. The Kurd’s impressive valor and the injustices meted out to them to create “stable conditions”, constitute a moral imperative to present this piece.
It is tempting to plead here what cannot be dismissively attributed to ones ethnicity. Local roots are a trap: if a theme to which one is related is handled, the “local bias” is used to discount an informed thought process. “Knowing too much” is a charge that claims that immersion results in bias. At the same time, a removed background brings another disqualifying charge. It is that, being far from the subject, you do not know enough to speak up. If these ideas hold water, no one is to be trusted.
There is a criterion to judge presentations that the reader is not independently familiar with. Ask if the references to points that are within the grasp of the educated are plausible. Are the signals that pass through such contacts points undistorted? By that standard, much that represents a global view of a local matter can pass muster.
Regarding the Kurds, we find a sad example of a people that are a nation which has no state. A problem results that can be accessed from two angles. One is an aspect of individual “liberty” which points to collective self-determination. President Wilson had raised the idea in 1919 as the Paris Treaty was born. Few concepts been more worthy than this one. Alas, no other promise is more blatantly ignored than that of self-rule. The Kurds are among those cheated by the Powers that withheld from them what the principle promised. This is not esoteric: Comparable unfulfilled, expectations had sowed the seeds of a world war.
The problem of the Kurds –analogies abound- is that their right to organize themselves as an entity collides with the pretentions of existing states.
As we proceed, a clarification of terms will be of use. (The subject’s intricacies imply that what follows is partial and bypasses numerous “exceptions”.) A nation is a political expression of the will of persons drawn together by their perceived common traits. Usually, that will be an ethnic relationship expressed by a common language. This can ignore differences termed as “dialects”, or it can elevate dialects to the status of language. Russians that term Ukrainians as lesser Russians represent the first case. The advocates of independence see Ukrainian as a separate language. Swiss Germans consider their language as unique as is Dutch, while they can also pretend that it is merely a German dialect. Whether racial or pseudo-racial, ethnicity can also serve as a bond. Hungary’s Nazis were said to dream of a Hungarian-Japanese border. Today’s Hungary sees a Magyar nation that is located in several states. The sense of belonging can also express itself through a religion. Orthodoxy can have that function. For others, Islam bonds what history has separated.
Once the concept of “state” enters the picture, a theoretical discussion becomes political. The upshots have caused global wars, fueled post war conflicts, and challenge existing states and demand the admission of new members into the society of nations.
The finding that a people exist implies that it should have the option of its own state. Individuals have unalienable rights. One is to seek out their fellows and to build an association with these. Once the nexus is formalized, a state results with sovereignty over the territory populated by its constituents. Individual freedom implies the right to create a collective and to give that construct a formal content. Frequently this has “revolutionary” consequences. Such as in the case of Kurdish autonomy whose cause is pleaded here. It shames us that this case still needs to be made.
As in central Europe, the under-informed victors of WWI have, also in the middle East, drawn arbitrary boundaries. They ignored demographics in favor of neat demarcations drawn on maps. A forgotten people, the Kurds, paid the price. Naturally, official parlance made the Kurds non-existent. As in the case of Turkey, where their identity is denied because they are officially “mountain Turks”.
If you look at the demographic map of the crisis-torn middle East, you see that –as in Africa- the national boundaries drawn by colonial rulers ignore the identity of the locals. The result is that states appear that are larger than their ethnic base. Lands are created whose rulers reject the ethnic adjustment of boundaries. They also dread the separatism of “alien” populations and therefore they resort to forced assimilation. Denying the identity of the indigenous and forcing them to assume the language and ways of the majority creates resistance –and does not result in a nation state. To achieve homogeneity, genocide will serve to adjust theoretical claims to reality.
Globally, the pursuit of “stability” brings with it a reluctance to review existing borders. A strong correlation between ethnic and political traits creates popular, therefore stable systems. However, to create such entities, existing ones need to be remodeled to create a juncture between “state” and “people”.
In the case of the Kurds, a people separated by the boundaries of Turkey, Iraq and Syria, the predicament has been their cooperation to prevent the rise of Kurdistan. Led by the desire to be “unbothered”, the Powers have supported this endeavor. Not only shamefully, but by “Realpolitik’s” standards, also wrongly.
As for the states that carved up the Kurds, their current policy does not serve the cause of stability and good government. It is foolish to sacrifice in the interest of size the good governance of countries. Stability and governability depend on popular approval and a general sense that “this state is our state”. Admittedly, releasing the Kurds results in a loss of size although cohesion is gained. The resulting unity of purpose is a precondition of democracy and of progress: no community that oppresses another one can be truly free. On the long run, no such society of slaves will achieve prosperity and the unfolding of the potential of its members.
We conclude: Regional peace requires states that are internally at peace with themselves. This criterion is not fulfilled, unless the Kurdish question is solved.
Approaching the Kurd’s quest for a national state or full self-government, three considerations dominate. Actually, the first one settles the matter on the level of principle and reduces additional elements to a supporting role. The implications of the universally accepted right to self-determination tell what is to be done. Here we look at a basic right, and so it does not matter whether someone likes Kurds, or dislikes Turks and Arabs less than Kurds because of their baggy pants.
Second, globally not all demands for self-determination are equal and some might be less practical than others. Kurdish autonomy is a practical project - except for those that think to benefit from their suppression. Kurdish inhabited lands are contiguous and house a majority that craves independence. Territorially and demographically, the achievable size is adequate. Thus, we find everything that a state must have: there is a territory, a people and a will.
Third, the proposed community has the ability to do what all states must be capable of. The Kurds can exercise sovereignty and to defend it, which means a viable country. Additionally, another side of the medal should be glanced at.
The events involving the crumbling of Iraq and Syria, and the Kurds’ comportment during that process, teach a lesson. The Kurds have done vastly more than to demonstrate that they can hold their claimed territory. Regardless of their limited resources and isolation, the means controlled by Kurdish institutions have been utilized with impressing efficiency.
Besides demonstrating that they can govern themselves, Kurdish fighters have given an excellent account of their power and commitment. They were outgunned by IS forces that were – incredibly- given access to advanced weapons that Iraqui regulars abandoned. On paper, the Kurds had no chance to prevail. Kobane, which deserves to become a symbol, testifies convincingly to virtues that establish the Kurds’ quality.
It is that suggested “quality” that supports the assertion that the Kurds deserve to benefit from a rearrangement of their region. Besides the personal respect that the writer has for others that, underequipped, also faced overwhelming forces in battle, a “national interest” factor that appeals to common sense can be articulated. Especially America tends to commit to parties that need help because they underperform in helping themselves. This description does not fit the case of the Kurds. To the extent that the Kurds gain sovereignty, they promise to be reliable and valuable members of an alliance based upon mutual interests that can function as a two way street.