What are we (the U.S.) going to do with the Kurds?

(See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurd)

The Kurds are an the world’s largest “stateless nation” – roughly 25 million of them, living in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Ethnically and linguistically, they are an Indo-Iranian people, meaning they are not Turks or Arabs; they are related to the Iranians, or Persians, but distinct from them. (There is no one Kurdish language, actually, but two or three mutually unintelligible dialects.) They are mostly Sunni Muslims, but they also have some pre-Islamic, distinctly Kurdish celebrations and holidays. A lot of Kurds want their own independent state of Kurdistan, which was promised in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres between the Allies and Turkey. But ever since World War I, the governments of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran all have been determined that there should never be an independent Kurdistan. The Turks have even tried to suppress the Kurdish language and culture and called the Kurds “Mountain Turks.” And Saddam Hussein’s regime treated them even worse, sometimes using poison gas to reduce their numbers. As for the Iranian Kurds . . . haven’t heard much about them in a while. As Sunnis in a Shi’ite theocracy, I can’t imagine they’re too happy with the status quo.

Before the first Gulf War, these facts were, to most Americans, simply facts, possibly interesting but not of immediate concern. (Unless you happened to be a principled and consistent nationalist, committed to the idea that every ethnocultural nation should be governed by a single, independent state.)

Now, however, the Kurdish problem has become America’s business and responsibility. We have stuck our nose right in the middle of it. We occupy Iraq, including Iraqi Kurdistan. The two main political parties there, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, gave the U.S. full cooperation and support during the Iraq war, which means we owe them something. (We also owe them something because Bush Sr. encouraged them to rebel against Hussein in 1991 and then stood by and watched them get stomped.) Both parties have agreed to drop (for now) demands for an independent state, but both are committed to a federal Iraq in which Iraqi Kurdistan, as a single unit rather than a grouping of Kurdish-majority provinces, would continue to have its own regional government, as it has now (see the website of the Kurdistan Regional Government, http://www.krg.org/). Personally, I don’t see how an Iraqi federation on these terms could last very long. It would be like the Czech and Slovak republics united in Czechoslovakia – even if there were no obvious points of dispute between the two, a federation with only two members was always a breakup waiting to happen. It would be the same way with a three-part federation of Shi’ite Iraq, Sunni Iraq, and Kurdish Iraq. And if Shi’ite Iraq broke away and became an independent state . . . then it might start scheming to take over the Arab Shi’ite regions of southwestern Iran! (See the website of “Arabistan Online” at http://www.al-ahwaz.com/ – the site’s mostly in Arabic but there’s a plain map showing all the territory these dissidents consider “Arabistan” or “Khuzestan”.) And who knows where that could lead!

Furthermore, the Iraqi Kurds are striving to reverse Hussein’s “ethnic cleansing” policies by resettling in the historically Kurdish (and oil-rich) city of Kirkuk, which Hussein chased them out of about ten years ago. This means these returning Kurds are necessarily displacing some of the Arabs or Turkmens who moved in after they left. And we – the U.S. forces in the region – are letting this happen, which is effectively the same as siding with the Kurds.

Meanwhile, substantial regional Kurdish populations continue to live in Iran and Syria, two countries with which the U.S. has been on bad terms for a long time; and in Turkey, a “Western-looking” Islamic country which the U.S. depended on as a Cold War ally, and which is still a member of NATO, and a long-standing applicant to join the European Union.

Sooner or later, the U.S. is going to have to take sides. Do we support the Kurds’ ultimate goal of an independent Kurdistan or do we commit ourselves to indefinitely preserving the status quo? Do we sell out the Kurds, or do we sell out the Turks? Or do we just pull out of Iraq as soon as possible and let what happens happen?

If Turkey ever is admitted to the EU, that means that the EU, too, becomes directly involved in the Kurdish problem; the Kurdish regions of Turkey will directly elect their own representatives to the European Parliament, and they probably won’t let the issue die.

More useful links:

American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN): http://www.kurdistan.org/

Faili Kurds (a Kurdish ethnic subgroup, mostly in Iran): http://biphome.spray.se/faili.kurd/

I’m far from an expert in this area but it seems to me that the US is trying to make a representative government in an area that has little experience with such a thing in a country that was cobbled together by Britain and France for their own benefit post-WWI, much like Yugoslavia. I expect about the same results as with that bastart conglomeration.

We’re going to keep them in line until we pull out, then collectively scratch our ass a few years later when things implode. It’s not like we’re the first, after all, that’s how they got into the situation they now face. Eventually they’re either going to absorb into the various nations they occupy, or they’ll form their own state. Eitehr way, it likely won’t be a pleasant road from here to there.

Never expect political stability in an area with straight lines for borders.

Short-term - the US will support some sort of self-rule or autonomy for the Kurds in some sort of federated Iraq.

Long-term - the Kurds in Iraq are basically screwed. That is, there is no way I can forsee the United States supporting an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq. An independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq will not be tolerated by the Turks. An independent Kurdistan would give impetus to the Kurdish population in eastern Turkey to join such a country - and I’m sure Turkey would fight tooth and nail to maintain its political boundaries.

Even if Turkey were to allow the migration of Kurds to this Kurdistan in northern Iraq, I don’t think this would sit too well with the rest of the Turkish population (nor for that matter the Iranian and Syrian governments - the Kurdish population there would probably clamor to migrate as well). So I don’t forsee any kind of political will on the part of Turkish politicians to allow for the migration of Kurds to northern Iraq.

The only way an independent Kurdistan would be tolerated in the region is if the United states and the EU can convince the Turks to allow it. The EU would be a critical player in this regards, especially if Turkey is still serious on becoming a member.

In my opinion, the US could have built a very good case in support of an independent Kurdistan if the war in Iraq had broader European support. The US could have use this European support to leverage the Turks into accepting an independent Kurdistan. But the current US administration was bound and determined to go to war in Iraq regardless.

I wonder if there is any way to simply buy the independence of the Kurdish region of southeastern Turkey? I mean, is there anything, money or EU membership or trade advantages or anything else, which the Turkish Republic would accept in exchange for the territory and its people?

The important thing is, we need to keep the Kurds separated from the Whey.

I decided to revive this thread because of a recent news item: The Shi’ites objected to a draft constitution for Iraq because it included a clause which would have empowered the Kurds to unilaterally block implementation. See http://customwire.ap.org/dynamic/stories/I/IRAQ?SITE=DCTMS&SECTION=HOME, and http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article5729.htm. The conflict seems to have been smoothed over for the moment, but the Kurds still want an Iraq where they have their own single-regional government with substantial autonomy – and it’s hard to see that as anything but a transitional step to outright independence. Which, as mentioned earlier, means trouble with Turkey, etc. Where is this going to lead?

And here’s the text of the special clauses the Kurdistan Regional Government wants added to the Iraqi constitution:


These clauses provide that the Kurdish militia, the Peshmerga, will be officially constituted as the Iraqi Kurdistan National Guard; the region retains control over all its natural resources, including oil; and the Permanent Constitution of Iraq will be valid in the Kurdistan Region only if a majority of the people there vote for it.

Interesting article in today’s newpaper regarding the Kurds, how their lives are changing and how they regard the US.
No Saddam Northern Iraqis relish living their lives without fear of persecution

What’s the matter with Kurds today?
Why can’t they be like we were,
Perfect in every way?
What’s the matter with Kurds today?

??? Canada’s border with the U.S. is mostly a straight line, and we’ve been at peace with each other for a very long time. And Mexico’s border with the U.S., west of the Rio Grande, is a series of straight lines. (Admittedly, these are the only examples I can think of.)

Yeah, but that’s “new world”. So we have far, far fewer indigenous inhabitants with millenia of entrenched culture, language, and religion being separated from their closer kin to be lumped in with “strangers”. IMHO.

With these borders, the line came first, then the bulk of the settlers came after.

I think that the straight line disasters in Africa and the Middle East prove how more difficult it is.

I vote for New Jersey.

Matter of fact, “New Jersey,” in Kurdish is translated as, “Promised Land.”

Hell, on second thought, let’s just move New Jersey over there.