Global Independent Analytics
Miray Aslan
Miray Aslan

Location: Turkey

Specialization: Media, Politics

UNITED KURDISTAN

The Kurds are one of the world's largest populations without a state of their own as they remain divided between Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

For years the Kurds have been persecuted and Kurdish identity denied. Thousands of Kurds have been killed and massacred while understandably some chose to assimilate in response.  Today the estimated population of the Kurds is about 40 millions. Some Kurds chose to migrate to urban cities where it is easier to integrate within society or assimilate. But, as the CIA reported in July 2014, around 30 million Kurds remain in "Kurdistan" which is the geo-cultural region that includes southeastern Turkey, northern Syria, northern Iraq and western Iran. In each of the four countries Kurds strove for independence but they never had easy relationships with the authorities. The war in Syria, the destabilization of Iraq and rise of ISIL create some opportunities for the Kurds from a political point of view. After the establishment of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, Syrian Kurds went on to create a semi-autonomous region in Syria. Beside this, Turkey's pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) declared self-governance in some municipalities. We shall see if it is possible to build a "United Kurdistan" one day.

THE GOAL IS INDEPENDENCE

Iraqi Kurds received a autonomy in 1991 after the coalition established a no-fly zone over Kurdish cities. Afterward, the US-led war known as Operation Iraqi Freedom that started in 2003 led Saddam’s regime fall. The Iraqi Governing Council was appointed and the Kurds entered national politics for the first time. The government laid out a political transition process and preserved the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in March 8 2004.  In the election in the following year, the Kurdistan National Assembly selected Masoud Barzani as president of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Barzani is president until today. At the beginning of 2014, Masoud Barzani said: "for 10 years we have done our best to help build a stable federal Iraq by participating fully in the Baghdad central government but the rest of Iraq is being torn to pieces. The goal of Kurdistan is independence and referendum will come in months."  On December 21 Barzani gave orders to hold a referendum for an independent Kurdistan.  Surprisingly, Turkey was one of the first countries to give positive signals towards an Independent Kurdistan in Iraq. Relations between Kurdistan Regional Government and Turkey rapidly developed due to mutual benefits in trade following Turkey’s energy needs. In the contract, however, Turkey strongly opposed even an autonomous Kurdish state in Iraq as it fearedthat this would encourage Kurds in Turkey to demand an autonomy as well. For years, Turkey’s state-run media preferred to say "Northern Iraq" instead of using the word "Kurdistan" when the Kurdistan Regional Gvoernment in Iraq was brought up.

SELF- GOVERNANCE

Not only "Kurdistan" but also the word "Kurd" was seen as quite dangerous in Turkey for a long time. Kurds are denied to speak Kurdish and the language is officially banned while those who speak Kurdish are at times imprisoned. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed rebel group, declared war against the Turkish state in 1984 and has been fighting it since. The organization initially aimed to establish a fully independent Kurdistan but its aim later evolved to forming a national autonomy. As the "peace process" started in 2013, which aimed to solve Kurdish conflict in a democratic and political way, a ceasefire was declared   between PKK and the Turkish army. During the process the PKK announced the withdrawal  of all its forces within Turkey to Iraq. Later on some PKK fighters joined the Democratic Union Party   (PYD, a sister organization of the PKK in Syria) to fight against ISIL. On the other hand, in the 2014 elections the pro-Kurdish Turkey's People's Democratic Party ( HDP) won its largest parliamentary representation for the first time.  Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan blamed HDP for being linked to a "terrorist group" and added in July that it is “not possible to continue peace process." Since then the battle was reignited not only in rural areas but also in city centers. Many curfews have been imposed in order to cleanse urban areas from terrorists and create a peaceful environment for locals. Turkish President Ahmed Davutoglu said "we are conducting the most successful operation of the last 30 years, we are going to clean them all" when addressing the military operations of the Şırnak, Diyarbakır and Mardin provinces.

According to data provided by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, 52 curfews have been imposed since mid-August across seven Kurdish provinces in the region, and many civilians have been killed by government security forces.  The urban branch of PKK, the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H), attempted to establish a "democratic autonomy" in several Kurdish Towns, digging trenches and building barricades in defiance of the Turkish state. Thousands of teachers in the Cizre and Silopi districts of the Sırnak province received text messages to leave the district. Government officials say the aim is protecting teachers from the PKK but many locals believes it is a sign that the government is going to fight all the people in the region regardless of whether they are PKK members or not.  The co-chair of Turkey's People's Democratic Party (HDP) Selahaddin Demirtas said on December 18 that "we will hold discussions strengthening the foundations of self- governance and autonomy and we will take important decisions on furthering our goals in the political arena." After receiving harsh criticism Demirtas explained that he will be traveling to Moscow to meet the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and open a party bureau in Moscow. Demirtas added that "AKP closed all the doors, however we would like to keep on with talks. We are effective and we are going to use our power."

SYRIAN KURDISTAN: ROJAVA

Rojava, which is west in Kurdish, refers to western Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region in Syria.  The civil war in Syria brought many challenges as well as opportunities for Syrian Kurds and they established self-rule in 2012.  The Kurds filled the void after the Syrian government left the area.  Moreover, for the first time the Syrian Kurds got much international support from the U.S- led coalition and Russia. During the battle for Kobani, women fighters of PYD, the PKK-affiliated group, who fought against ISIL were praised as heroines around the world. Not only PYD forces but also Iraqi Kurdistan soldiers called peshmerga fight for Kurdistan in Syria. For the first time, "ISIL pushes Kurds to come together, which is very good," said Salih Muslim, co-leader of PYD. The borders of Rojava are not be clear as long as the war which has drawn in international actors is going on but Rojava seems to be the second autonomous Kurdish State after the Regional Government of Kurdistan in Iraq.

UTOPIAN TABLE

Time is near for breaking point in Kurdish history as the Kurds are significantly affected by various developments in the region. However, a United Kurdistan does not seem possible for a very long time as each Kurdish movement considers its own concerns first and  seems to have independence or autonomy in its given country. Various political and economical concerns are large obstacle in unifying. The Iraqi Kurdish Government has strong economic and political relations with Turkey even while tension and fighting between the Turkish government and the Kurds in Turkey escalated in last few month.  Furthermore, Turkey strictly opposes an autonomous Kurdish State in Syria. Besides, the borders that  divide the Kurds are more than just lines, the cultural difference between the four parts of Kurdistan are also visible. For example, while the Kurmanci dialect which is written in Latin alphabet  is spoken by Kurds in Syria and Turkey, Sorani written in Arabic letters is common in Iraq and most parts of Iran.  Finally, international actors are playing an important rule. Kurds in Syria and Turkey are getting closer to Russia while Iraqi Kurdistan supported by the US and Iran tries to keep the Kurds in its territory away from these. Coming to the end, if it is possible to make  Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Russia, US and  all the Kurdish political actors sit around the same table then it may be possible to built a "United Kurdistan."

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