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Kurdish Viewpoint

How do Iraq's Kurds look at Mashriq's issues?

16 April 2015

Kurdish Viewpoint

In a general meeting hosted by Abu Dhabi-based Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS) on April 16, 2015, Mullah Yasine Raouf Rasoul, Representative of Iraq's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Cairo, Egypt, and editor-in-chief of the Ishraqat Kurdia, an Arabic-language magazine, attempted to answer the question of 'How Iraq's Kurds look at the issues of the Arab East (Mashriq)'.

Rasoul stated that the issues of Iraq's Kurdistan Region and the Kurds are being oversimplified by some, while others think that it is the byproduct of today's wars and the political, economic and military interventions in the wider region. Rasoul approached the question through the following four major baselines.

FIRST: An overview  of the Kurdish Nationality

Generally, the Kurds don't like it when the Arab media call them "Akrad", a name that they think is, language-wise, diminutive. The Kurds are a Muslim group (and the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East), but, unlike the other three major groups of the region, have never achieved nation-state status. Arabs, Persians and Turks,  built their own states and empires in the region. An ancient Muslim people who cling to their religion and own language, culture and traditions,  the Kurds  live in the generally contiguous areas of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria – a mountainous region of southwest Asia generally known as Kurdistan ("Land of the Kurds"). Their land remained split along these geographical lines by the Sykes–Picot Agreement one hundred years ago.

The Kurds number between 38 and 40 million, with the majority living in Turkey (20 million), Iran (8-9 million), Syria (more than 3 million) and autonomous region of Iraq's Kurdistan (5 million).  More than one million Kurds live in diaspora communities that  developed in Russia, Armenia, the U.S. and Europe.

SECOND: The Political Situation of Kurds

In Iran, noted Rasoul, the Iranian Kurds are deprived of their cultural and political rights under the sectarian Iranian regime. They are marginalized for ethnic and religious-sectarian reasons. He said that the armed Kurdish resistance that developed in Iran in the 1930's is trying to restore the rights of the Iranian Kurds. The former Soviet Union backed the Iranian Kurds' attempt to establish the Republic of Mahabad in 1946 in northwestern Iran, but the short-lived self-governing state collapsed and the Kurdish leaders were put in jail during the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, then-king of Iran.

After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ( religious ruling ) ordering the killing of Kurds  "because they are against Islam and the Islamic Revolution". Kurdish political leaders were forced to exile to live in diaspora again.  Today, Iranian Kurds belong to political parties and revolutionary leftist and pro-democracy organizations and are in the ranks of militias fighting the Iranian regime from areas near the Iraqi border.

In Turkey, during the rule of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Kurds were persecuted, displaced and denied their rights to having their own traditions and, according to Rasoul, were even called "Turks of the mountains" because "they are less civilized". In addition, the use of Kurdish names at public places was banned. In the late 1980's, a Kurdish armed revolution  broke out and Kurdish militants continued to fight the Turkish army until Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the militant organization, Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), was arrested in 1999. In the past decade, Turkey became more open to a solution to the Kurdish issue and recognized some of the rights of the Kurds. The issue is still under negotiation.

In Syria, the Kurds are not recognized as Syrian nationals and therefore they do not even have identity cards and tens of thousands of their children don't have access to schools. When the Syrian Revolution broke out in early 2011, the Kurds were able to strengthen their positions in their areas and counter the attacks of the Bashar al-Assad regime and terrorists. They also demanded a unified democratic Syrian state for all Syrians and for a fair power sharing based on population density.

THIRD: The Kurdistan Region is part of the solution

A strategically important part of Iraq, Kurds in Kurdistan region, according to Rasoul, can be real partners in building a pluralistic and democratic Iraqi federation as they consider themselves an integral part of Iraq but want their own regional government and parliament that is democratically elected.  With a borderline stretching 1050 kilometers, Iraq's Kurdistan region is facing ISIL group, the fiercest enemy of humanity. The region today hosts more than two million refugees from the areas seized by the terrorist group that Kurdish militants are still fiercely fighting.

The pending issues between the Kurdistan region and the Iraqi central government in Baghdad include the region's share of the budget, the freezing of financial resources, loss of jobs and lack of funds which forced the regional government to default on  paying salaries for the its own employees. Yet, Iraqi Kurds consider themselves partners to the building of Iraq and not as part of the problem. They do not want to see Iraq divided along sectarian and ethnic lines between Sunnis, Kurdish and Shia although they have issues pertaining to power sharing and border disputes with the other groups.

FOURTH: What is preventing the establishment of a Kurdish State?

Rasoul noted that the Kurds are in a better position than ever before despite the harsh turbulence and changes hitting the region. He emphasized that this however does not mean a lack of the fundamentals of creating a Kurdish state. That is, the intra-Kurdish differences and inability to unify the ranks of the four major Kurdish communities in the wider region under one banner and one coalition government was not the main reason why such state has not been created. Rather it was the four regional states (Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria) that resisted any such attempt to create an independent Kurdish state and would even use force to foil it.

Additionally, the regional states and international powers don't have any interest in seeing an independent Kurdish entity emerge in the region- for now at least. The four states have to be persuaded, through dialogue or because of any changes to come in the future, into accepting a new state, which also remains very difficult to achieve. The Kurds themselves have to find a favorable ground for social growth, development, cultural, religious and educational progress and also to promote popular democracy and the culture of accepting others.  Accordingly they can convince the world to back the creation of their independent and viable state and guarantee that the new entity would not be a source of concern and problems for its neighbors. This cannot be achieved without the establishment of a free economy for the Kurdish society through the use of fertile lands, water resources and agricultural potential, as well as a strategy for oil and gas production and underground precious metals mining along with a successful global marketing strategy.

Finally, Rasoul noted that ISIS will fall with time and that major regional variables may very well shape the Middle East. Therefore, he added, it is in the interest of regional powers to accept the Kurds as a positive addition for solving the regional crises and the enhancement of security and development for all stakeholders, instead of having them as an enemy that might be hard to deal with in the future.