Kurdistan

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Kurds. One of the few Peoples without their own state, and to make things even more difficult it is spread over 4 existing states – Syria, Iraq, Iran and most ambiguously Turkey.

Turkey has the largest armed forces of any NATO member, second only to that of the USA. Turkey being admitted to the EU by the back door is probably the only way it can be admitted without causing a major EU crisis. It is convenient now when Syria is falling into civil war. But I doubt the Commission understands what its longer term consequences will be. These are far-reaching and incalculable. The biggest problem is Kurdistan. Something around half of Kurds are in Turkey, which now has a large number of refugee Kurds fleeing the forces of the Islamic State.

There is an interesting recent post by Immanuel Wallerstein on this issue: http://www.iwallerstein.com/syria-turkish-ambivalence/

I’ve always been astonished how little the Kurdish struggle for Kurdistan is noticed or even commented on in the Western media. The best news is from the Kurd’s own website: http://rudaw.net/english. The Kurds of Syria kept out of the Syrian Civil War and so were informally allied to the Assad Government. This is changing with support from the USA against the Islamic State. But it is a complex situation, and the US is not a reliable ally in the Middle East.

Some data: I have tried to summarise the situation as far as I know. Kurds are a minority one hears very little about these days. This is rather peculiar, as Kurdistan is a tragic case of a nation of some 30 million souls without its own national homeland state, and, moreover being unfortunate enough to be located in several nation states of global strategic importance: Iranian Kurdistan (5 millions, half being Shia and half Sunni); Iraqi Kurdistan (4½ millions, mostly Sunni). The US invasion of Iraq resulted in considerable autonomy for Iraqi Kurdistan; Syrian Kurds (Syria’s largest minority, mostly Sunni and  comprising some 14 percent of the population of Syria, with concentrations in the northeast, bordering on Turkey).

A final tragedy – which in other circumstances would be a blessing – is that Kurdistan has within its borders vital natural resources, the most obvious being oil reserves that rank high in global terms. Just how much is difficult to assess but Iraqi Kurdistan is the main producer of oil in Iraq, that country having the second largest proven oil reserves in the world.

It is this that makes the global powers, and especially the USA, but also to a lesser extent Russia ( in Syria), stay involved in the region. Keeping Iraq united has been one of these, which explains why every US President from Bush II to Obama is interested in preventing Iraq from dissolving into separate states. South Iraq is Shia, accounting for some 40% of the population. Baghdad and central Iraq is Sunni. Northern Iraq is Kurdish and since the death of Saddam has been working on strengthening its independent status.

Kurdistan is split between several powerful states, the most important of which is Turkey, where Kurds in Turkey are widely spread in addition to including Turkish Kurdistan covering a third of Turkey and bordering all the other recognised states with Kurdish population concentrations.

There are several border conflicts between Turkey and Kurdistan lands. Of these the potentially most dangerous is the Turkey-Iraq border (see Time World 29 Dec 2011). Syria is another, particularly during the Syrian Uprising, with Turkey and Syria in increasing conflict. There is an informative section on Kurdish participation in the uprising. The Kurdish northeast is where most of Syria’s limited oil supplies are located (the western edge of the major Iraqi Kurdish oilfield).

The main strength of the Kurds is in Northern Iraq where since the US, having ripped the country to bits and smashed Saddam’s authoritarian rule, only then to abandoned Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds have been husbanding their resources and building the economic and military strength. It begins to look as if the Islamic State is preparing to attack the Kurds. The Islamic State is Shia and the more traditional of the two major religious groupings, Shia and Sunni, that emerged after the death of Muhammad.

The siege of Kobane, on the border of Syria and Turkey, has gained in symbolic significance to the Kurd’s benefit. But this is a war over a border town and so only part of a larger picture and is still an ongoing conflict. It remains to be seen how it ends, and what the outcome will be in the wider conflict between Islamic State and Kurdish Northern Iraq.

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