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THE KURDISH QUESTION: TALABANI DIES BUT DREAM LIVES ON

  • Dr Saad S. Khan
  • Nov, 2017
  • 333
  • Middle East

In all fairness to Iraqi Kurds, they were intermittently ruled by the Turks from Istanbul and by the Arabs from Baghdad but never by Kurds themselves in past many centuries

Palestinians are not the only stateless nation in the Middle East. The Kurdish Question is equally complicated. Totaling around 30 million, the Kurds are divided into four countries, namely, Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria, where they form around twenty, fifteen, ten and seven percent, respectively, of the total populations of these states. And to put it mildly, none of these States treats them justly. Thanks to Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, the arbitrarily drawn political boundaries of Middle East in the wake of Ottoman disintegration after the World War I, did nothing to help the Kurdish people. While Palestinian issue was one of the earliest issues that the United Nations had to deal with, the Kurdish question dates back to the League of Nations era. The League had sent a Commission of Inquiry about rival claims of Turkey and Iraq over Kurd areas that pointedly concluded that the people of the Mosul Governorate, called Mosul Vilayat at that time (which then had a Kurdish majority) wanted neither to remain with Iraq nor with Turkey, but wanted independence. A century on, the issue remains where it was.

October referendum for Kurdish independence by the Irbil-based autonomous regional government and the demise of Jalal Talabani, the only President of Iraq of Kurdish descent, have only exacerbated the problems. The fact that secessionist referendum went ahead without approval of the government in Baghdad and that the late Iraqi President Talabani’s coffin was draped in Kurdish (not Iraqi) flag at his funeral, has brought the country on the brink of another civil war. In fact, the outbreak of hostilities between Iraqi government forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga troops is one bullet shot away. It is evident from the current situations in Syria and Libya, one, civil conflicts have a tendency to become intractable defying solutions, and two, the world community has little appetite to intervene anywhere again with boots on the ground after previous failed interventions in the region. Hence, it is the leadership in Baghdad and Irbil on whom the onus lies not to let the war of words slip into actual confrontation.

In all fairness to Iraqi Kurds, they were intermittently ruled by the Turks from Istanbul and by the Arabs from Baghdad but never by Kurds themselves in past many centuries. They were granted regional autonomy as recently as 2005 after the overthrow of Saddam Hussain but that was vitiated by continuous threat from the so-called Islamic State and their self-proclaimed Caliph who had declared Mosul as his capital. Although demography of Mosul, at least within the city, had transformed during the Saddam years by large influx of Sunni Arabs, yet presence of Kurds, Yazidis, Turkmens and other non-Arab communities remains sizeable. Although Mosul remains outside the boundary of the Kurdistan regional government (KRG), but was too close to it to be brushed aside as a non-existential threat.

Kurds have a role to play in the ultimate defeat of Baghdadi and his Caliphate when Kurd Peshmerga Forces in Iraq and the YPG units in Syria fought deadly battles against the IS Jihadists. The Kurdish forces are conspicuous by the presence of women fighters in their frontline troops fighting the IS, which is rare in Middle Eastern context. The inhuman rule of IS collapsed at a very serious human cost when almost the whole of Mosul became ruins in street-to-street battles for the liberation of the city by the Iraqi government forces from one side and Kurdish ones from the other. More important role of Kurds was in the defense of Kirkuk, another oil rich region, in the outskirts of KRG boundaries. Back in 2014, the Iraqi army withdrew without putting up a fight leaving it at the mercy of IS. Luckily KRG Peshmerga Forces moved into Kirkuk to fill in the vacuum and never let IS take that city.

But putting oneself in the shoes of the Kurds, their claim to statehood is not without merits. For decades, they have been wronged by various regional powers, albeit part of the fault lied with their political elite. The Kurds took up arms under various militant organizations such as the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) of Abdullah Ocalan in Turkey, Kudistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Masood Barzani and its splinter Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Jalal Talabani in Iraq and Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) of Haji Ahmadi in Iran, not to speak of Popular Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. On the one hand, hardly any nation state is expected to take armed uprising against it lightly but in case of Kurds many more people have been killed in the turf wars betw...

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