DOĞU ERGİL

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DOĞU ERGİL
January 22, 2013, Tuesday

Kurdish landscape is bustling

Turkey is going through a surprising awakening. The security-based approach to the country's so-called “Kurdish problem” is rapidly transforming into one of inclusion of its Kurds into the political system heretofore denied to their ethnic identity. This process came after too many losses and the realization that Turkey would not be able achieve its aspirations of becoming an affluent and powerful country with such a hemorrhage in its society.

As regards Syria, the lucky moment for Kurds came when Bashar al-Assad withdrew his troops from Kurdish areas in the country in order to focus on the control of urban centers such as Aleppo and Damascus. This move gave a chance for Syrian Kurds to build their own administration in the north of the country, bordering Turkey.

Needless to say, Turkey is annoyed to see another autonomous Kurdish administration -- after Iraq -- in the making under the auspices of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), its nemesis, before its own Kurdish rebellion has subsided.

Presently, there is a battle being fought between the Kurdish militia and several radical factions of the Syrian resistance for the control of Ras al-Ain and its environs on the other side of the Turkish border. The latter, jihadists like the Al-Nusra Front and Ghuraba al-Sham, are said to be crossing the border from the Turkish side and engaging with Kurdish militia defending Ras al-Ain.

Repressed by the regime all along, the Kurds have little to inspire their allegiance to the Assad government. However, they have even less stomach for Arab nationalism and a radical Sunni rule in the post-Assad period. That is why they have remained aloof in the civil war and additionally why Kurdish villages and towns have been able to avoid bombing by Assad's aircraft.

The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) also established a militia force to defend Syrian Kurds from Arab tribes, which were all equipped with weapons by the Syrian regime since even before the civil war began. The PYD has acted in moderation not to antagonize other Kurdish political parties that could challenge its authority as a mutual defense force.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the carnage has not subsided even 10 years after Saddam Hussein was brought down. The chance that Iraq may not hold together is still a fact to reckon with. That is why the most stable region in present Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), wants to hold onto the instruments of survival in case a meltdown occurs and the path to independence is opened one day. The three most powerful instruments in the KRG's hands are oil, the army and a close alliance with neighbors, foremost Turkey.

In line with this strategic thinking, the KRG is signing contracts over the exploration, extraction and transportation of oil and gas through Turkey to foreign markets, as well as disputed areas such as Kirkuk.

Bagdad claims that such independent acts are “illegal and unconstitutional." Iraq's Oil Minister Adbul Kareen Luaibi threatened to cut the KRG's share of the federal budget and sue companies that export crude oil directly from the KRG. Tension between the two parties has increased since the KRG began signing oil deals with leading firms such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron.

This tension will not cease until the status of the disputed areas become clear and turmoil in Iraq subsides. Will that day ever come?

However, the mother of all troubles lies deeper. Most Middle Eastern countries are fabrications of the victors of the World War I, who drew up artificial borders with total disregard to the integrity of local peoples, Kurds among them. Wide tracts of land that were largely populated by Kurds, Baluchis, Amazighs (Berbers) and others were divided, leading to the turmoil and instabilities of the present day.

So any lasting solution to the Kurdish problem will be either in the form of integrating Kurds as equal citizens into the political systems of the countries they live in or a continuous struggle for autonomy or independence.

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