The Kurds: A chance at hard-fought self-determination

Like Christopher Hitchens, I have a weak spot for the Kurds (though these words may come back to haunt me). Anyone who studies their recent history seriously will recognise that the situation of Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran has its immediate roots in the division of land and the creation of nation states post World War One. And it was done clumsily indeed. In this regard they are a victim of history as one of the peoples to not enjoy Woodrow Wilson’s promise to the free world: self-determination.

The status of the Kurds in most crisis’ of the 20th and 21st centuries has been either that of a victims of nationalistic oppression or members of separatist movements. Or as the Turkish government has described the PKK: a bunch of terrorists. And it labels democratically elected officials of Kurdish parties similarly.

Undoubtedly the movement towards independence by Turkish Kurds is a reaction to the lost promise of self-determination. Another factor that weighs heavily is the fact that for the first time in recent history Kurds are somewhat united in their aim. It also has deep cultural, historical and economical roots – factors that many a book have been written about.

Now I do not want to idolise the Kurds. There are Kurdish independence movements that have killed and continue to kill innocent people. The PKK have fought and continue to fight a bloody war with the Turkish government of which the ends do not always justify the means. The Kurds are however fighting a relentless and pathological enemy that has many times in their history sought their ruin.

In the current context (the wars in Syria and Iraq) the role of the Kurds has changed. In the last decade they have gained more autonomy in Iraq, creating a nearly autonomous state in the North. In Turkey through peace negotiations and further federalisation the Kurds have been able to live more freely, something which is being overturned now. All in all, and more than ever, the Kurds are united and well organised.

The brave defence of their cities and towns to Daesh attacks has made them one of the only reliable allies for the West which now has to choose between backing the Kurds or Turkey which is a member of NATO. A careful balancing act is in play. Now the Russians have joined in, and the Americans are helping the Kurds through airstrikes along the Syrian Turkish border the game has gotten uncontrollably unstable.

In a region that is so volatile and unstable the Kurds may be able to determine their own fate for the first time in recent history. Be it at a high cost of lives. At the end of this war the Kurds will realise what they have. And they will demand, in some form or another, as the most stable autonomous region in the country greater independence. Any responsible furture government in Iraq will recognise the failings of its modern nation state. The creation of new nations is therefore inevitable, whether it be in five years or in fifty.


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