By Ilya Kharlamov
19 November 2013
Wars in Iraq and Syria and a revolutionary upswing triggered by the "Arab spring" have inspired the Kurds to redouble their push for sovereignty. Do the Kurds have any chance or historical right to acquire political and economic independence or a surge in separatist moods will lead to a new wave of violence in the region?
The Kurds are the world’s largest ethnic community with no state of their own. A total of 30 million Kurds live in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and other countries. The Iraqi Kurds were lucky to be receive in the early 1990s, but things have been pretty bad for their kinsmen elsewhere. In Turkey, the decades-old warfare between ethnic Kurds and the government has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan is serving a life sentence on the Imrali Island in the Sea of Marmara.
Revolutionary upheavals in the Arab world have fueled secessionist moods among Kurds.
"The ‘Arab spring’ has given the Kurds’ fresh impetus in their bid for independence. And they have a right to it. Millions of Kurds in various counties are now raising their voices for an independent Kurdish state. But it’s a very complicated issue that should be addressed in harmony with the national interests of countries where Kurds live. Otherwise, conflicts will be inevitable," Boris Dolgov, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow," told the Voice of Russia.
Iraqi Kurdistan was created after the US-led invasion of Iraq topped the Saddam Hussein regime. It has vast powers and is even planning independent oil exports to Turkey in exchange for electricity. The deal is worth billions of dollars. President of the Iraqi Kurdistan autonomous region Masud Barzani has recently paid a historic visit to Ankara.
In the meantime, Turkey, smelling trouble, has pledged to create conditions that would encourage militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to return to peaceful life. Both Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan are seriously worried about the situation in Syria where ethnic Kurds have seized the opportunities afforded to them by civil war to expand their influence and territory. The Iraqi Kurds fear that this may harm the Kurdish unification cause.
"Any nation has a right to self-determination. It’s an international principle. But there is another international law that proclaims the territorial integrity of independent states. How to harmonize these two laws passed by the United Nations is unclear. It’s a problem that can potentially spark separatist sentiments and violence in virtually any region. Therefore, with all respect for the Kurds, it’s hard to say whether they have a historical right to create their own state at the expense of Iran, Iraq, Syria or Turkey," Vladimir Isayev, a professor at Moscow State University’s Institute for Asian and African Studies, said in his comments.
The Iraqi Kurdistan scenario may repeat itself in Syria. The Syrian Kurds have local self-government bodies and even a small Kurdish army and police force and are planning to create an independent interim administration and hold parliamentary elections. They are not fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime but openly clashed with Islamists.
The "Arab spring" gave the Kurds hope. Still, as long as the contradiction between the right to self-determination and the need to preserve territorial integrity remains unsolved, and it may linger for years, if not decades, hopes for an independent Kurdistan look bleak.