Research Proposal: Middle East Iraqi Kurdistan

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¶ … Kurdish Homeland Possible?

The Kurdish people in the Middle East primarily reside in four nation-states of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria The Kurdish people have suffered cultural and political strife over the years while they desperately campaign for their own sovereign state. Consisting of nearly 30 million people, the Kurds believe they deserve a Kurdish homeland. This, if it came into fruition, could reduce much of the tension in the debated area, and would provide an oppressed culture, that has endured numerous hardships over the years, with a state of their own. This paper explores the Iraqi Kurdish debate, explaining both sides of the argument, but ultimately showing that a sovereign Kurdish state would not be the best solution at this time.

How the Kurds ended up where they are today

Aram Rafaat writes in the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs "the story of blood and oil in Iraq started with the British decision to annex Mosul province to Iraq" after the British defeated the Ottoman Empire (Rafaat, 2008, p. 252). At that time British imperialism was still an international force, and Britain held control of Iraq. Central to the Kurdish territory in the Mosul province was and is Kirkuk; Kirkuk sits on a massive oil field. And during Saddam Hussein's reign in Iraq he launched a campaign against the Kurds, destroying 4,000 villages, of which 779 were in Kirkuk. Today, in hindsight, scholars like Rafaat see that Kirkuk has been "a symbol of the Kurdish struggle," and Kirkuk has also been a symbol of "the ethnic cleansing policies against the Kurds in Iraq." In fact, Kirkuk is considered "the Jerusalem of Kurdistan" and it is also a symbol of "the disputed territories, which cover 40,000 square kilometers," Rafaat explains. The economic power that the Kurds could have -- emphasis on "could have" -- is reflected in the 10 billion barrels (of Iraq's 112 billion barrels) of "proven oil reserves" in Kirkuk (Rafaat, p. 253). The problem? Kirkuk is an Iraqi-controlled province, and the Kurds, who lay claim to it historically, hope to gain control over it eventually, which is why they have cooperated with the Shiites and Sunnis to help form a post-Saddam Iraqi coalition government.

Why the Kurds would like to have a homeland, and why they may not succeed.

There are a number of reasons to believe that if the Kurds do manage somehow to secure their own sovereign nation, it will be against very long odds. Presently the Kurds are functioning under the title of "Kurdistan Regional Government" (KRG); they are surrounded by "powerful enemies in Turkey, Iran, and Syria to the north, east, and west" (Gunter, 2008, p. 237). Author Michael M. Gunter goes on to reveal that in addition to being "landlocked" and surrounded by cultures that dislike them intensely the Kurds have been torn apart by "tribal, geographical, political, linguistic, and ideological divisions" within their own ranks (Gunter, p. 237).

Meanwhile there has been rampant speculation for years that Turkey was planning a massive assault across their border into the KRG in Iraq. Gunter doubts that such an invasion will take place, and goes on the suggest that when the United States toppled Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime that action created a "new reality." That reality today is a "semi-independent Kurdish state and government (KRG) that is theoretically part of a largely notional Iraqi state and government in Baghdad" (Gunter, p. 238). However, the government in Baghdad is anything but solvent; Gunter describes Iraqi power center as a "confusing welter of Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias, and foreign jihadists battling each other and the U.S." (Gunter, p. 238). But notwithstanding the current chaos and bloodshed, the best possible solution according to Gunter's research, would be a "de facto" government partitioned between the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. Gunter alludes to this solution -- which would give the Kurds about one third of what is now Iraq -- as a "three-state solution" and "unity through autonomy" (Gunter, p. 238).

The three-state solution makes sense in Gunter's opinion because in fact today's Iraq is an "artificial creation of British imperialism"; indeed, after World War I, the British simply "cobbled together three disparate provinces of the Ottoman Empire" (Gunter, p. 238).

Meanwhile, Philip Giraldi writes in the Mediterranean Quarterly (Giraldi, 2008, p. 33) that any negotiated political realignment of today's Iraq seems unlikely -- especially a settlement that would create a Kurdish independent statehood. For one reason the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) is considered "an international terrorist group" by both the U.S. And Turkey. Giraldi believes -- along with the Turks -- that the PKK should be "eradicated" (Giraldi, p. 33). Giraldi, a former CIA counterterrorism officer who served in the Middle East and in Europe, claims that while Turkey wants to eliminate the PKK, the U.S. is "unwilling or possibly unable to apply the kinds of pressure" that would crush the PKK. This schism has led the Turks to place the blame for the unresolved Kurdish question "firmly with Washington" (Giraldi, p. 34).

Turk political leaders "…Note the hypocrisy whereby the United States violates the sovereignty of countries like Yemen to kill terrorists" who only vaguely threaten the U.S., Giraldi continues. And yet, on the other hand, Giraldi asserts that the U.S. "tolerates the continued existence of terror bases in a country that the American military occupies" (e.g. Iraq) (Giraldi, p. 34). What Giraldi's piece fails to mention -- perhaps due to timing, or to Giraldi's aggressive belief that the U.S. should police all the terrorist organizations wherever they may be found -- is that the U.S. is pulling out of Iraq, and in fact the U.S. public is weary of war. Moreover, with a new president (Barack Obama) who clearly campaigned on the strategy of leaving Iraq and allowing the Iraqis to handle their own security, the U.S. is not likely to support another invasion of Iraq -- albeit in the north where the Kurds are located -- when it has unfinished business in Afghanistan and is otherwise stretched very thin militarily.

Another problem that the Kurds face in terms of them locating a sovereign homeland is the fact that, as mentioned previously in This paper, their culture is spread out in multiple nations. Indeed, Giraldi explains (p. 35) that one-fifth of the overall Turkish population consists of Kurds, and the Kurds are "…concentrated in the poor and backward southeastern corner of the country" and bordering Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Ethnic Kurds "dominate both sides of the border in the region, totally more than 30 million" (Giraldi, p. 35). And it is true that Turkey is slowly becoming more accepting of the Kurds' cultural / political needs and has allowed them into the government's political structure. To wit, the Kurds' political party (The Democratic Turkey Party) has 19 seats in parliament as of Giraldi's article in 2008.

Complicating matters further, Giraldi explains, is the fact that the Kurds (e.g., the PKK) have launched numerous terrorist attacks against Turkey. Allegedly the PKK has bombed "tourist areas" and have also attacked civilians in Turkey's urban areas. "More than forty thousand have died" in these ongoing hostilities, and when the Turkey's military launches counteroffensives against the PKK, Turkish citizens are sometimes caught in the crossfire (Giraldi, p 36).

As regards the way Kurds are viewed and accepted (or not accepted) within the greater Turkish community, an important point when considering the Kurd's demand for a permanent homeland across the border from Turkey, a very recent article published in the Middle East Journal (Yegen, 2009) suggests, "Kurds are now perceived by many as pseudo-citizens" (Yegen, p. 597). Yegen explains that the status of Kurds within the Turkish national political community "…has always been ambiguous" and are seen "as outside of the circle of Turkishness" (Yegen, p. 597).

A brief review of Kurdish history within the nation of Turkey

The Yegen article delves into the history of Kurdish interactions within Turkey; in the 1920s, future Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk wrote (in the Grand National Assembly minutes) that the "…various Muslim elements living in the country…are genuine brothers who would respect each other's ethnic, local, and moral norms [laws]… If one thing is certain, it is this: Kurds, Turks, Laz, Circassians, all these Muslim elements living within national borders have shared interests" (Yegen, p. 598).

The minutes of Parliament from 1921 reflect a desire on the part of the Turkish leadership to initiate a "Kurdistan policy" that would help build "a local government in the lands inhabited by Kurds" (Yegen, p. 598). However, the official stance in Turkey vis-a-vis the Kurds changed in 1924. The new Constitution (which made the 1921 Constitution null and void) stated, "Our state is a nation state. It is not a multi-nation state…The state does not recognize any nation other than Turks… It is not possible to give rights to [the Kurds] in accordance with their racial [ethnic] status" (Yegen, p. 599). At that time in Turkish history, the Kurds officially became "prospective-Turks" and not… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Middle East Iraqi Kurdistan.  (2009, November 10).  Retrieved May 19, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/middle-east-iraqi-kurdistan/2486608

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"Middle East Iraqi Kurdistan."  Essaytown.com.  November 10, 2009.  Accessed May 19, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/middle-east-iraqi-kurdistan/2486608.