Fighting for a Sovereign Kurdistan

Kurdistan is a roughly defined geo-cultural region, encompassing areas of Northern Iraq, South Turkey, West Iran, and East Syria. The Kurdish people are an ethnic group in the Middle East who inhabit the area Kurdistan. Kurdish settlements have been present in the area documenting back to the medieval period existing during the 16th to 19th centuries where they were embroiled in ongoing warfare against both the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Iran. It is claimed that the Kurdish people have one of the longest ethnicity lineages in the Middle East, dating back to 2400BC with many claiming to be descendants of the Medes, a nomadic people of the Media Empire. Some aspects of the Kurdish culture resemble that of the Iranian peoples; for example Newroz, the Iranian New Year is popularly celebrated on March 21st in Kurdistan. They are a majority Muslim population, belonging to the Shi’ite branch of Islam, and others, the Sunni sections.

Before World War I Kurdish life was predominantly nomadic, however as a result of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent creation of new nation states under British rule, a British mandate established new borders in the region and consequently segregated Kurds resulting in a nationalistic movement to reconcile with one another and claim their own sovereign land. Kurds have often been persecuted by the regional authorities who have tried to deprive them of Kurdish identity in a desperate attempt to reaffirm their own borders. Programmes to restrict Kurdish identity is notable throughout the Middle East, some of the most brutal persecution came at the hands of the Turks, who banned the language of the Kurds as well as their right to wear traditional Kurdish dressings, and designated them ‘Mountain Turks’ as well as promoting migrationary programmes into the cities in an attempt to dilute the minority Kurdish population. Similar and more violent repression has also been witnessed in Iraq under the wrath of Saddam Hussein who razed villages and attacked civilian populations with chemical weapons.

There are numerous Kurdish parties, such as the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) who have waged violent civil wars on one another as they struggle to reign supreme in an attempt to implement their vision of an independent Kurdistan.

Kurdish nationalism is the political movement that holds the belief that Kurdish people are a nation deserving of a sovereign homeland. Kurdish nationalism has gained momentum in recent history as the previously belligerent KDP and PUK have shown more cohesion. Saddam’s brutal oppression of the Kurdish movement has done much to garner international sympathy for their cause. In 1992, Kurdistan’s major political parties the KDP and PUK established a semi-autonomous region following the first Gulf War (1991). After Saddam was toppled in 2003, a government which formalised the Kurdish region to have a semi-autonomous government was implemented, with the new constitution being ratified in 2005. That year witnessed the first session of a Kurdish parliament held in Erbil under KDP’s authority lead by president Barzani and soon conflicts began to arise with central governance in Iraq as Barzani ordered the Iraqi national flag to be replaced with the Kurdish flag in Kurdish government buildings.Kurdistan

The rise of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) has occurred in regions directly next to Kurdistan in Northern Iraq and Syria. ISIS has spread rapidly throughout the region controlling an area ‘the size of the UK’. The exponential growth of ISIS is underpinned by their brutality as they gain infamy and notoriety in the region. Strong social media campaigns have influenced many Islamists in developed countries to aid their cause and forge a new Islamic state through military means. ISIS’s spread threatens various regions in the Middle East as can be observed in the graph below.

ISIS, starting as a splinter group from Al-Qaeda has been arming itself with American military grade gear which they seized from Iraqi forces which capitulated in the face of the ISIS advance in large Christian towns such as Mosul (Iraq’s second largest city) and Tel Keif. As a result, Kurdistan which maintains its own military began an offensive against ISIS. They have however, found much of their military equipment inferior to that of ISIS’s after its capture of American military grade weaponry. This is a problem that has predated the ISIS crises for the Kurds who often found themselves outgunned by more sophisticated Iraqi weaponry systems.

Following pleas from the Kurdistan Regional Government for developed countries to provide the Peshmerga (the name afforded to the Kurdish infantry) with advanced weaponry, the Western world has responded quickly in not only providing military grade armaments and ammunition from countries such as the UK, Germany, France and the U.S, but have also been aided by airstrikes assaulting ISIS strongholds in the regions crippling their momentum, a tactic the U.S has recently implored allied NATO countries to assist with.

The arming of the Kurds and the rise of ISIS will be pertinent to the Kurdish push for independence on two fronts. Not only will they be securing the gratitude of the West by cleaning up the remains of an ill planned invasion plan which looked to bring security to the region and resulted in the dismantling of Iraq’s military, a contingent that represents a significant contribution of ISIS forces. They will also be strengthening their arm militarily in addition to their new found diplomatic leverage. Kurds have always been willing to fight for their right to secede; whilst much progress has already been made in Iraq this could be the final push required and may even create a domino effect in the Middle East region inciting more claims for independence from Kurds in neighbouring areas. If diplomatic means are still denied to the Kurds then with their newly acquired military armaments provided by the West, as well as neighbouring countries such as Iran, then as a well-equipped experienced fighting unit, there might be little that Iraq’s central government can do once the area becomes self-sufficient given Iraq’s ineffective fighting force.

Undeniably this is an opportunity for Kurdistan to exemplify through their Peshmerga as to why Kurdistan deserves independence. As the world looks on in shock the brutality of ISIS this is a prime opportunity for Kurdistan to showcase its capability to operate as a sovereign nation. However with a chance for secession in sight, the Kurds have arguably never found themselves further from independence, isolated due to the shadow of Afghanistan which still proves a daunting obstacle to western foreign policy, whilst the gatekeepers to their sovereign right remain as barbaric, and ruthless as ever even with their momentum stalled.

By Stephen Mirkovic

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Middle East

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