Hayward: The Case for Kurdish Statehood

Members of the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga stand holding flags of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region a training session by German military officers during the German Defence Minister's visit at a facility on the outskirts of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous region, on August 21, 2019. (Photo by SAFIN HAMED / …
SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

Turkey is a legitimate nation-state with long-standing memberships in major international organizations like the U.N. and NATO. The Kurds are stateless actors, a large ethnic group broken into many factions and spread across several different countries.

This is a very important factor in the ongoing conflict between Turkey and the Kurds. The world should address it by doing something that should have been done long ago: give the Kurds a state of their own.

The Kurds are one of the largest ethnic groups in the Middle East, somewhere between 30 and 40 million strong altogether. Their internal divisions have been greatly exacerbated by the national borders which artificially divide them. This fractious existence is one of the reasons Turkey views the Syrian Kurds living near its border as a security threat. If the Turks are interested in solving their problem with anything other than murder, they should support statehood for the Kurds. 

Of course, Turkey will not be eager to give up any of its territory to create that Kurdish state. Nobody is, which is one of the big reasons they don’t have one yet. The closest thing the Kurds have to a functioning national government, the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), is sitting on some oil fields Baghdad does not want to give up.

When the KRG tried to declare independence in 2017, the central Iraqi government violently suppressed them with assistance from Iran-backed Shiite militias. Middle Eastern powers may not agree on much, but they all tend to view Kurdish statehood as a threat.

Leaders of the nations with a Kurdish population should rethink this position. How can they stridently demand Israel give up a sizable chunk of its tiny territory for a Palestinian state while denying a share of their vastly larger lands to the Kurds? 

Conversely, the founders of Israel were justifiably worried about genocide. The Kurds have been repeatedly subjected to genocidal attacks and ethnic cleansing. They can make a compelling case for statehood as a vital security need. That case should sound familiar to everyone who supports Israel.

After the events of 2017, the Iraqi Kurds have little reason to believe they can rely on Baghdad for protection. The Syrian Kurds were counting on a handful of American soldiers to protect them by standing in harm’s way. The Kurds should be able to defend themselves, and police themselves.

The right of self-defense inescapably comes with profound responsibilities. That is why it matters so much that Turkey is a nation-state while the Kurds are not. There is no central Kurdish authority to appeal to, no leadership to hold responsible if a faction is engaging in terrorist activity from the shelter of its territory, as Turkey alleges against the Syrian Kurds.

The current situation would be playing out very differently if the Kurds had a nation-state with the proper representation. Turkey has been complaining about the security threat from the Syrian side of the border for years. The international community has not confirmed Turkish allegations of Syrian Kurdish support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist organization in Turkey, but nobody ever quite denies those allegations.

Every now and then, an international official will mumble something about Turkey having “legitimate concerns,” but nothing is done about those concerns. Neither does anyone state definitively that the Turks are delusional paranoids who invented their security concerns as an excuse to conduct a little ethnic cleansing in the border region. It has all been left in limbo. No wonder the Turks are enraged and the Kurds are apprehensive.

It is beyond absurd that in a world full of globalist organizations touting $70 trillion plans to restructure the economy of the West to fight climate change, serious allegations of terrorism and ethnic cleansing flying between Turkey and the Kurds were kept on hold by a few platoons of American soldiers – a problem left to fester forever on Washington’s watch while Moscow, Tehran, and Damascus gleefully divvy up the spoils from postwar Syria.

Russia and Iran waged a brutal war in Syria to keep dictator Bashar Assad in power, and they have maneuvered to keep the U.S. and its allies from having anything to say about postwar Syria. When the Assad regime was asked if it planned to do anything about the Turks rolling across his border to kill his Kurdish citizens, it replied that the Kurds are “separatists,” “traitors,” and “hostages to foreign forces” it will not lift a finger to help.

The Kurds could hardly do a worse job of running a state than Assad.

There is no reason the United States should be responsible for policing Assad’s border because he and his Russian patrons don’t feel like doing the job.

The Kurds keep finding themselves temporarily allied with foreign powers because they, or some of their volatile political factions, are a restless minority in the countries where they reside. Time and again, they have been enlisted as proxies against governments they do not truly feel part of. When the proxy wars are over, the local tyrants declare them traitors and either punish them or try to murder them en masse. The outside world does not want to protect them by getting involved in brutal civil wars. 

This cycle is likely to keep repeating itself until the Kurds have both the authority and responsibility that comes with administering their own state. Surrounding nations would inevitably be stabilized if the most restless of their Kurdish residents had a state of their own they could emigrate to. The Kurds wouldn’t keep getting stuck with lousy jobs like standing guard over the Islamic State jihadi prisoners that nobody else wants to take. The world could have proper expectations of the Kurds instead of merely using them when convenient.

The Middle East tends to be a murky place, filled with groups that know how to manipulate Western media and politicians. A true Kurdish state would provide some clarity and make it clear precisely who we are talking about when we discuss “The Kurds.” As it stands right now, not many Americans know the difference between the alphabet soup of Kurdish political and military factions or the relationships between them.

Public opinion would no longer be so heavily shaped by thinly-sourced claims from random Kurdish sources of uncertain identity and unknown agenda; there would be official Kurdish statements from government ministries and a Kurdish military with a clear chain of command. (Granted that official statements from government ministries aren’t always sparkling golden nuggets of truth, but it’s better than relying on claims of uncertain provenance.)

Some of the Kurdish factions are decidedly not friendly to the West or its values, but overall the Kurdish people have a good track record of pluralism and tolerance – well above average for the region, to be sure. The Kurds aren’t perfect, and some of their factions are downright hostile – the PKK is not a Turkish hallucination – but they would be a smarter bet for Western support than many of the other Middle Eastern regimes we have stacked our chips on. 

If they had a proper state of their own, with leadership that could be held accountable, we would finally be gambling with the Kurds on a proper table instead of shooting craps in the dingy back alleys of geopolitics, where everyone accuses everyone else of being a terrorist, and some of them are.

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