Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013: The year of the Kurds?

After centuries of oppression and statelessness, are we finally approaching the beginning of the formation of a unified Kurdish state? Recent developments in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq all suggest the beginnings of a new hope in the Kurdish people's hunt for statehood.

As the Syrian Civil War has raged, it has increasingly become sectarian in nature, with the majority Sunnis fighting against the minority Alawites, whose membership includes the Assad family and most of the senior Syrian military. Throughout the civil war, the Kurds have served as a third player. The Kurds, who want independence, are no fans of the Assad government, but they are strongly suspicious of the rebels. For years, Turkish militant groups have been engaged in armed conflict with Turkey, and the tactics used by both sides have been brutal and slaughtered civilians. Turkey has served as a key player in sheltering and serving as a rear base for the Syrian rebels, which has naturally made Kurds suspicious of the rebels. Kurds also fear being targeted by ethnic cleansing if the regime falls. The tensions between the rebels and the Kurds have provoked ethnic violence and armed clashes between the two groups, further increasing the resolve of Kurdish separatists who don't see room for themselves in a post-Assad Syria. As the Syrian regime has pulled out of Kurdish Syria to fight the rebels, the Kurdish militias and towns have become increasingly autonomous, and seek to maintain this autonomy when the state falls.

Crossing into Iraqi Kurdistan means leaving the lowlands of Southern and Western Iraq, and crossing through the mountains that line Iraq's Northern and Eastern borders. Crossing these mountains means leaving territory held by Iraq's army, and being met by Kurdish Pershmerga-- the armed mountain rangers thast have given Iraqi Kurds a large degree of autonomy since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Under Saddam, Kurdish attempts at autonomy were met with brutal military force, including chemical weapons attacks. With a weak Iraqi state still trying to regain its footing after the US troop pullout, the Kurds are, like in Syria, increasingly finding their attempts at autonomy being met with fleeting resistance. While the Iraqi state and the Kurdish separatists have found themselves in conflict over the past few months, the trend towards Kurdish autonomy is increasingly clear.

It is now being reported that Turkey is talking to PKK leaders. Turkey claims that the talks center around disarmament and economic development in Turkey's Kurdish regions, but putting it into context, it appears as if Turkey may be recognizing the growing power of the Kurds. As autonomous Syrian and Iraqi Kurdistans will be able to provide rear bases, arms, and safe havens to militants fighting the Turkish security forces, Turkey's fight against them will become messier. While this blog does not believe that Kurds will be able to carve any territory whatsoever out of Turkey, I do believe that Turkey, who wishes to become a leader in the Islamic world to its south and west, will begin to see reconciliation with the Kurds as an important strategic step.

Taken all together, it appears that the time is coming for a Kurdish state that will take territory out of Syria and Iraq. This blog forecasts that Kurdish separation will require some level of violence, particularly in Iraq, but the violence should be limited. Syria's military is too bogged down with rebels and a collapsing state to fight the Kurds. Iraq remains weak, and fighting an insurgency in the mountains against a hardened and determined foe will test the limits of an Iraqi state. I am not a gambling man, but if I was, I would be betting that 2013 will be the year of the Kurdish state.

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