The fluid political situation, the weak governments, the unstable frontiers and too many foreign interventionist powers will most probably culminate in a Middle East of a distinct geographical landscape different from the region we had known. The presence of too many states and too many militant groups on the scene and being part of the civil strife raging in the Middle East has rendered the situation unpredictable with the most likely emergence of a few new states including an independent state of Kurds combining the Kurds’ autonomous region of Iraq and Kurd territorial pockets of Syria, Turkey and Iran; a Sunni state in Iraq and balkanization of Libya in three parts.
The possibility of a Sunni state in Iraq or the division of Libya has been examined by a few experts of the Middle East. The issue of Kurdish autonomy is chronic one and has come into international focus in the wake of the civil wars in that region. The Kurdish population in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran and the Kurd diaspora in Europe have been harboring aspiration to nationhood and contributing towards the realization of their century-old dream of an independent country.
The Kurd aspirations received a fillip from the emergence of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Arbil with the support of the United States of America. The Kurdish President, Mr. Nechirvan Barzani tried to find more in the US support for autonomy. He held a referendum by the end of 2018. The overwhelming majority of the Kurd population voted for independence. The Iraqi Government with the backing of Iran and Turkey attacked Kurdistan and occupied 40% of its territory including Tikrit, the oil producing district and scuttled his plan for independence.
The Kurds have a population of some 30 million spread over southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq and north eastern Syria. The Kurd aspiration for independence dates back to the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of the First World War. For the first time, the Kurds were recognized as a separate ethnic, cultural group with a developed language with aspirations for independent nationhood in the Treaty of Sevres forced on the crumbling Ottomans by the Allied Forces in 1920. However, following the Turkish war of independence and the conclusion of the new Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, the question of the independent nationhood of Kurds was sidetracked. The Kurds never accepted this unfair decision of the Allied Forces and the Turkish leaders and kept their desire for independence aglow. They revolted in 1925, 1930, 1937. In 1980s, the Kurds Workers Party or PKK was formed for violent struggle against the Turkish state.
The militants of PKK proved a thorn in the body of Turkey. They carried on bloody sabotage acts in Turkey and Turkish facilities abroad until their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was captured in the 1990s, tried and awarded life sentence. The Kurds have also been troublesome for Iran trying to have an independent administration in Mahabad. Kurds revolted in Iraq from 1960-1970. They were backed by the Shah of Iran materially and politically. But the Shah struck a deal with Saddam Hussain in 1975 leaving Kurds high and dry. In 1960, Syria dealt with the Kurds ruthlessly. It cancelled the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Kurds rendering them stateless. The repression of Kurds by the four states had since continued unabated.
The Iraqi Kurds and Shias found common cause with the USA in first Gulf War in 1990-91 standing by the USA against Saddam Hussain, and later faced the revengeful repression of the Iraqi regime. The USA imposed ‘no fly zone’ on the area to ward off the carpet bombing of Kurdish districts by the Saddam regime. Again, in 2003, the Kurds supported the invasion of Iraq by the USA and the UK. The Kurdish support was very useful for the USA to find out the remnants of the disintegrating Iraqi army or eliminating the hardcore activists and pro Saddam elements of the Baath Party.
Turkey adopted a friendly attitude to the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government in Arbil mainly because of the oil trade. It opened a Consulate in Arbil in 2010, and signed an agreement with the KRG for construction of an oil pipeline to Mediterranean. By 2018, almost 400,000 barrels a day were piped or transported to Turkish Ceyhan Seaport. In 2014, the USA intervened along with the Kurdish People’s Protection Union (YPG) in preventing Kobani, a Kurdish town on the Turkish border in Syria, from falling to ISIS. This angered the Turkish leaders who considered the arming of the YPG as a perennial threat to their country’s integrity. Though Turkey had banned the Kurds’ Workers Party or PKK, it had allowed its political wing People’s Democratic Party to take part in local elections. In the elections of 2016, the party had captured 102 Mayoral offices. However, the Turkish authorities dismissed some 90 Municipal Mayors and Town chiefs when YPG became the chosen US ally after they freed Raqqa from ISIS in the mid-2017.
The Turkish leaders offered US to use the Free Syrian Army – trained and armed by Turkey to overthrow Bashar ul Assad – against ISIS instead of YPG which the USA declined. Thus, Turkey had to jump in the fray to prevent YPG to make Kobani its stronghold. Its tanks rolled in the Syrian territory in connivance with Russia. They apprehended the USA has promised YPG a self-autonomous territory in the Syrian and Turkish Kurd dominated regions changing the map of Syria and Turkey as demarcated in the wake of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, and undo the dividends of the Turkish war of independence. Turkey will never accept this. The Kurds’ dream for independence depends on the level of US support. If the US pulls out abruptly as it did in Vietnam and Afghanistan, the Kurdish nationhood is doomed. Anyhow, the clouds of war would continue to loom over the Middle East to the peril of the Muslim world.