Deconstructing the Kurdish question

Is it a good idea for the West to champion Kurdish independence?

Marc Arsak,

OpEds Kurds receive Israeli humanitarian aid in Iraqi Kurdistan
Kurds receive Israeli humanitarian aid in Iraqi Kurdistan

The Kurds are known to be the world’s largest nation without a state; a nation constituted of some 30 million individuals. In addition to their scattered population throughout four countries which are Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, today they also have a large diaspora in the West growing in number, power and influence.

As unjust as it seems, unlike the majority of the peoples of the Middle East who managed to gain independence after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds got nothing, even though a Kurdish state was initially envisioned in the Treaty of Sèvres of 1920. Given the substantial number of Kurdish citizens, the wars and conflicts in which the latter are involved and a more or less influential diaspora, it is unlikely that the question of Kurdish statehood will disappear anytime soon, if at all. The case for it is now even stronger than before, in light of the civil wars fought in Iraq and Syria.

The creation of a Kurdish state seems logical and fair, now that the artificial borders of Sykes-Picot and the Treaty of Lausanne have failed even more than before. Kurdish troops on the ground have impressed the world with their military successes and their prowess. Kurdistan, especially that of Iraq, furthermore projects the image of a tolerant, moderate and inclusive society in a Muslim world where there is none. And Kurds, at least many of them, incorporate the ideal that many of those who believe that a moderate version of Islam exists, yearn for.

The West and particularly the United States and Israel are clearly disappointed by all their allies and friends in the Middle East. Most of them, under the guise of friendship, say one thing and do another, and some are never shy to hide their enmity, their propagation of hatred or their funding of terror.  They are sure that our dhimmi submissive Islamophile politicians will never reconsider these “diplomatic ties” as not to offend the religion of peace, an offense that could lead to mass murder and decapitation.

In this context, it is natural for anyone to grasp desperately at any straw of honest friendship that may present itself. And the Kurds, given their ideological position against the Islamic State, the political situation in Iraq, Syria, and especially Turkey, in addition to their strategic importance from a military point of view, seem to be the very ideal allies the West needs. They also welcomed and celebrated the arrival of Western troops during the 2003 intervention.

I have more or less clear recollections of the Iranian Kurdistan where I traveled to early in my life. I remember having discovered a world entirely different than the rest of Iran or Turkey for that matter, in which huge parties of several hundred people were commonplace, alcohol was served in almost every home, and that women seemed to be freer than most other Muslim women.

As much personal experience is unique and subjective, that image seems to be the one that many people in the world have of today’s Kurdistan. This, however, is not a way to define diplomacy and to make public policy. Kurds are like their neighboring Muslims. It is true, they are Kurds, but they also belong to the global Muslim community, known as the Umma.

With globalization, it is impossible to prevent Muslims from discovering the truth about their religion, its founder, and Islamic history. Any Muslim with access to the internet can see that Muhammed was a warlord, a pedophile and a self-declared enemy of Jews and Christians. Any Muslim can easily access the Koranic verses and the Hadith that call for jihad and mass murder.

It is true that a tiny yet growing number of them are revolted by this truth and choose to leave this so-called religion behind, despite the security threats that this apostasy brings about. However, a large and still growing number of Muslims decide to act on these verses, thus following the same path as Muhammed, which is a road of savagery, murder, and pedophilia.

Kurdistan is no exception. There is no shortage of reports and documents attesting to the violence and the possible war-crimes that Kurdish troops commit, notably after retaking Arab villages. Moreover, there is no shortage of Kurdish fighters in the ranks of the Islamic State. Kurds from all countries, even from the diaspora have chosen to join the terrorist organization. Many journalists and reporters have also noticed an increasing level of religiosity and “radicalism” (as if being a Muslim was not radical enough per se) in Kurdish regions, while intolerance and bigotry towards the Christian and Yazidi communities, just as any other Muslim country, are on the rise.

In a more historical context, it is significant to know that both before and after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, many Kurdish political and religious leaders were against Kurdish nationalism, putting the emphasis on their Muslimness, and their belonging to the Ottoman Caliphate. Despite political disagreements and communitarian tensions with Arabs, Iranians, and Turks which their parents and grandparents fled, many Kurds in the diaspora have finally ended up identifying uniquely with Islam and the greater Muslim community, especially in a polarized Europe which gets closer to a civil war between Muslims and non-Muslims by the day.

These young Kurds in Europe, just as their fellow Arabs, Pakistanis, Turks and other Muslims, just have a Muslim identity which shapes itself in opposition to the West. Surprisingly they do not even have a strong connection to the countries of their forefathers, and often do not speak their languages, in addition to the fact that they are incapable of speaking European languages correctly despite being born there. Similar to their Arab or Turkish counterparts, if not already fighting in the ranks of the Islamic State or planning terror here in the West, they are involved in crime and drug mafias, while continuously claiming social and unemployment benefits.

Only a few months ago, a Kurdish youth stabbed a Jewish teacher in Marseille who was wearing a kippah in the name of the Islamic State while crying Allah Akbar. Another Kurdish youth murdered an Australian cop in Sydney less than a year ago. Even if the myth of moderate Islam ever held true amongst the Kurds, this does not happen to be the case anymore. The few Kurds in the diaspora or back home who courageously wave one or two American or Israeli flags are not the majority. They are not even a minority. They are a few individuals who only speak for themselves.

I understand the social nature of a human being, who sometimes in good will closes his eyes on some facts just to make friends. I understand that the United States and Israel are desperate for reliable and “moderate” allies in the region, and I know that the Kurds fulfill many of the criteria for such much-needed alliance. And I was personally impressed and moved by Kurdish victories against the Islamic State just as anyone else was, so much that I chose to write my thesis on the Kurds. But to anyone who advocates such statehood, I submit the following questions:

  • What guarantees that an independent Kurdish state would not turn into a hub for terrorism sooner or later after its independence? Or even a terror-funding state like the neighboring Iran and well, Turkey?
  • Have you ever considered that sooner or later, when/if armed conflicts cease to exist and that an eventual peace is restored between Kurds and their neighboring countries, they might (and probably will) be just another anti-Western, anti-American and “anti-Zionist” voice in the UN and more generally in the world? Do we seriously need any more of these countries as if we did not have enough?
  • What makes you think that a Kurdish state will be any less anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-Western, homophobic and misogynistic than its neighboring countries in the short and the long run? How do you justify your claims in the light of historical and current events which all debunk the Kurdish exceptionalism of tolerance and “moderateness”?
  • Depending on the territories that this independent Kurdish state might incorporate and whether that includes the Kurdish territories in Turkey and Iran or not, how do you envision the economic survival of a poor third world landlocked country surrounded by enemies in every direction?
  • How do you prevent a civil war in territories already torn by political disagreements, in a society deeply shaped and structured by tribalism and tribal interests, in which marriage between prominent tribes has as much political influence and consequence as the dysfunctional Kurdish parliament in Iraq?

One should also note that even though the independence of the Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish territories seems plausible, less so is the case with those of Iran and Turkey. As a member of the NATO having the second largest army after the US, and a country whose candidacy to the join the European Union excites the submissive and Islamophile Western politicians more than the current Turkish government itself, Turkey will not tolerate such secession, and will prevent it with all legal, and military tools at its disposal. There is no need to remind anyone of the importance of the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of a NATO member.

Things across the border in Iran are not any better. The Iranian Kurds have firm cultural ties to the Persians, both people speaking closely related Indo-European languages. Moreover, the Kurds are considered to be the direct descendants of one of the three founding tribes of Iran. In light of the recent empowerment of the Iranian regime, its more or less growing economy, its regained diplomatic importance following the nuclear accords and the soft-power that it deploys across the Shiite world not to mention the brutal and systematic oppression of any political rebellion or discord, the independence and the secession of the Iranian Kurdistan just like its Turkish counterpart is nothing less than dream, be it a legitimate one. The regime of mullahs is very vigilant about any Kurdish activism, and most Kurdish political prisoners get heavier sentences than their non-Kurdish counterparts.

Having established that, one should study and consider the very crucial and legitimate questions posed above regarding the potential independence and secession of Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish territories. Now that the borders agreed upon by the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Treaty of Lausanne seem more meaningless than ever, the nationhood of the Kurds poses itself as a serious matter. Western leaders, legislators, diplomats, academics, and commentators should, however, take the hard-learned lessons of history into account, and make decisions based on facts rather than superficial impressions whose source is good will and despair.