The Kurds have become one of the key players of the Middle East. They have secured autonomy alliances with superpowers and attracted investors to their resource rich region. But, the chances of full independence range from zero to few for the time being.
The Syrian government appears to have survived the conflict that was more an international war by proxy than a civil war. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have pursued their own regional and national interests with the United States’ blessing. The Russians, Iranians and Lebanese Hezbollah defended the Syrian Baath regime and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad.
The Kurds, of whom there 30 million, have nationalist ambitions which might render the ‘peace’ more complex than the current war. The Kurds have never had their own State, but they have been living in enclaves located in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Armenia. As the war against Islamic State has ended in the Levant, the Syrian Kurds are hoping to gain significant autonomy from Damascus as part of the spoils of war. But, despite a successful Kurdish referendum in Iraq in September, the Iraqi government has managed to thwart nationalist ambitions. Most Kurds live in Turkey, a NATO member backed by the United States. This is one of the main reasons that the West cannot encourage Kurdish nationalism; it would interfere with the internal politics of an allied State. Conversely, the West’s inability has been compounded by Russian President Putin’s considerable strategic instinct. Let there be no mistake.
The Kurdish Question
The Kurds dream about a united or greater Kurdistan. It’s not clear what shape that vision could take, given there are different conceptions of Kurdistan, depending on the origin (i.e. Iraqi, Syrian, Turkish, Iranian etc.) The common denominator is that none of the hot States will give up sovereignty over parts of their territory willingly. There’s the risk that the aspirations will remain repressed.
Perhaps, the Kurds of Syria may have a chance now of persuading Damascus to allow greater autonomy, given the role they played in the struggle against ISIS and the accords they made with the Russians. As for the Kurds of Iraq, they will have to forego anything more ambitious than the current autonomy framework within an Iraqi State despite the result of the independence referendum held on September 25th of 2017.
The Americans ‘betrayed’ the Kurds, fearing Turkey’s reaction. Ankara argues that an independent Kurdish State on its borders raises the hopes of Kurdish separatists in Turkey. Iran, in turn, has tightened security at the border area.
Meanwhile, Turkey will prevent the Syrian Kurds in the area known as Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), the related Democratic Unity Party (PYD) and their military arm known as the Popular Protection Units (YPG) to be nothing short of a PKK extension. The Turks have been attacking the YPG as well as ISIS in Syria. Turkey will not stop to obstruct the PYD/YPG unless it can cub its ambitions. (A.B.)