The Kurd problem, what’s at stake - GulfToday

The Kurd problem, what’s at stake

Kurdish Peshmerga military vehicles are seen at Jarbuah village near Bashiqa near Mosul, Iraq. Reuters

Kurdish Peshmerga military vehicles are seen at Jarbuah village near Bashiqa near Mosul, Iraq. Reuters

Turkiye believes that the blast in the heart of Istanbul was the handiwork of Kurdish rebels based in northern Syria. Turkiye President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had ordered air raids targeting Kurdish bases in northern Syria. Similarly, Iran believes that it is the Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq who are behind the violent protests in Iran after the death of  Mahsa Amini, an Iranian-Kurd woman, in the custody of moral police. And Iran has been targeting the Kurdish bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is an autonomous province.

The Kurds across Turkiye, Syria, Iraq, and Iran have been a problem group, a people who are too distinct to give up their identity and language. After the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, the Americans have helped carve out an autonomous province, and according to the 2005 Constitution, the Kurds are allotted the presidency of Iraq. From 1984 onward, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) has been fighting for an autonomous province of not an independent state. And the Kurdish rebels are held responsible for terror blasts in Turkiye, and about 10,000 have died in the clashes between the Turkiye government and the Kurdish PKK. In Syria too, successive governments have kept the Kurds down, and it is only after the 2011 Arab Spring revolt that the Kurds had emerged as a fighting force. And the Turkiye government believes that fresh terror acts are emerging from the Kurd camps in northern Syria. That is why, President Erdogan has threatened of launching a ground attack into northern Syria apart from the air raids. Meanwhile, the Iraq  government has moved its border forces into Kurdistan province bordering Iran. Tehran had said that it is good that Iraqi forces are stationed at the border because that would mean Iran would not have to conduct raids into Iraq.

Redrawing national boundaries of Turkiye, Syria, Iraq and Iran to create an independent Kurdish homeland is out of the question. The politics involved in such an exercise are insuperable. None of the four countries involved – Turkiye, Syria, Iraq and Iran – would agree to ceding land sovereignty. There is the Kurdistan province in Iran with its capital at Sanandaj, and there is the Kurdistan province in Iraq with its three governorates of Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Duhok. The Syrian Kurdish region is known as Rojava, and it is divided into three cantons, Afrin in the west, Kobane in the centre, and Cizre in the east. The problem for Turkiey from the Syrian Kurds arises from the fact that the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is an affiliate of the Turkish Kurd party, PKK. And Istanbul is right in suspecting that the terror acts are emanating from the PYD-PKK forces. Turkiye has been dealing firmly and harshly with the Kurdish unrest. Abdullah Ocalan was arrested in Kenya after he was pushed out of Syria in 1999 and is in a Turkish prison.  

The model solution of the Kurdish question is for Kurds in each of these four states – Turkiye, Syria, Iraq and Iran – to have regional autonomy. This is already the case in Iran and Iraq.  While Kurd majority regions are there in Iran, Iraq and Syria, it becomes a difficult proposition in Turkiye because two of the 18 million Kurds live in Istanbul. The Turkish government says that the Kurds enjoy freedoms, and that they have their own schools and their cultural identity is intact, whole Kurdish political activists led by PKK blame the Turkish authorities for discrimination and even suppression of cultural freedoms. It is indeed a difficult issue but it is quite clear that Kurds in these four countries cannot hope to wage an armed battle to wrest their rights from their respective national governments. There has to be a democratic resolution to the problem. Iraq and Iran examples offer plausible solutions.

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