Kurdistan is already divided

International security

Burak Çopur

To person

Dr. rer. pol., born 1977; Political scientist, Institute for Turkish Studies, University of Duisburg-Essen, Altendorfer Straße 5–9, 45117 Essen. [email protected]

In the Middle East, international attention is currently focused on the difficult to predict events in Syria and Egypt. The initial hopes have given way to disillusionment in the face of developments in the post-revolutionary countries. Nonetheless, the focus in the following is on a development that is no less important for the future of the region: the role of the Kurds. [1] It is estimated that up to 30 million Kurds live in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. [2] The predominantly Sunni Kurds represent the largest people in the world without a state of their own. [3] In most home countries there is consequently little interest in Kurdish independence, autonomy or federal state structures. On the contrary: In the past, the population group was exposed to systematic exclusion and discrimination, but also to massive persecution and oppression. [4]

With the current events in the Middle East, the Kurdish question (again) has a special status. In the worldwide reporting there is sometimes talk of a "Kurdish spring" or a "Kurdish renaissance". [5] In northern Iraq, the Kurds have enjoyed relative autonomy for several years through the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan (ARK); The withdrawal of Bashar al-Assad's troops from the Kurdish settlement areas in Syria has given the Syrian Kurds further impetus; And finally, the ceasefire between the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) and the Turkish government in March 2013 strengthened the belief in a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question among the Kurds of Turkish origin. The euphoria about a "Kurdish Spring" is exaggerated, but it has a real core: While the regional geopolitical parameters of the past centuries have largely worked to the detriment of Kurdish aspirations for autonomy, the Kurds are returning to the regional stage as actors in the 21st century - even seem to be among the "winners" of the current uncertainties in the Middle East.

Confident Kurds in Iraq. The Kurds in Northern Iraq are the only ones who enjoy political autonomy in their "invisible Kurdish state" [6]. The Iraqi constitution, passed in 2005, officially recognizes the status of the Kurdish autonomy authority, the Kurdish parliament and Kurdish as the official language. Many important decision-makers in the Iraqi state are of Kurdish origin, such as President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoschjar Zebari. Their economic independence is also well advanced: The ARK is entitled to 17 percent of Iraqi state revenues (around 13 billion US dollars). [7] The three booming Kurdish provinces of Dohuk, Arbil and Sulaimaniyya are the most prosperous cities in Northern Iraq with twelve percent economic growth based on per capita income. The ARK has already signed contracts with 50 transnational companies (including many Turkish ones). [8] In addition, there are over ten universities in Northern Iraq and two international airports, through which the Kurdish region hopes to connect to the world. [9]

However, this positive internal development is offset by a negative dynamic in the relations between the ARC and the Iraqi central government. Territorial conflicts as well as disputes over security and economic issues determine the political agenda. The territorial conflicts concern control over the regions defined as "controversial" in the constitution, in particular the oil-rich cities of Kirkuk and Mosul. [10] These border conflicts escalate again and again, for example in March 2013 when Iraqi infantry and tank units and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters faced each other. Another point of contention is the distribution of oil and natural gas reserves in the Kurdish region. According to the central government, their marketing would have to be carried out via Baghdad. But the Kurdish national authority passed its own law in 2007, which allows the development of the oil and gas fields in the disputed areas as well. Despite this constitutional gray area, more than 40 foreign oil companies, including energy giants such as Exxon, Total and Chevron, have signed contracts for the utilization of the oil fields with the Kurdish national authority - to the displeasure of the central government, which regards these unilateral contracts as unconstitutional. [11]

Strong-willed Kurds in Turkey. The fight for political and cultural equality has also been waged by the Kurdish national movement in Turkey for decades. [12] Although several uprisings by the Kurds of Turkish origin have challenged the republic since it was founded in 1923, they have so far been denied recognition of their cultural identity despite formal equality under civil law. [13] The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the economic situation in the Kurdish settlement areas in Southeast Anatolia is very poor compared to other parts of the country and there are hardly any state funding programs. [14] Despite advances in the legal, political, economic and cultural status of Kurds of Turkish origin, [15] central demands of the Kurdish movement remain unfulfilled. These include the abolition of the ten percent threshold in parliamentary elections, the introduction of Kurdish as an equal language of instruction, the release of political prisoners, the strengthening of local administrations and the introduction of federal elements. With the "solution process" started in 2013 new hopes germinated [16] - the direct and semi-public negotiations between state representatives and the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been in custody since 1999, are a novelty. The outcome of the Turkish-Kurdish attempts at reconciliation remains uncertain, however, as it depends not least on how far the concessions of the Turkish government will go (so far they have only emphasized the end of the fighting), which also affects credibility and mutual trust. [ 18]

Politically awakened Kurds in Syria. In contrast to the Kurds of Turkish origin and Iraq, the Syrian Kurds are politically and economically less strong. This is primarily due to their geographical dispersion, political fragmentation and their limited economic resources. [19] Their main settlement area is in the al-Jazira region in the northeast, which the Kurds also refer to as Rojava (Western Kurdistan). Since the Kurds were seen as a threat to Baath nationalism, they were exposed to discrimination and persecution for decades. [20] These ranged from linguistic and cultural exclusion to the suppression of parties to the expatriation of over 100,000 Kurds in 1962. [21]