Scrutinizing The Kurdish Referendum

It was really significant that the coffin of Jalal Talebani, the ex-Iraqi president, was wrapped by the national flag of Kurdistan rather the flag of Iraq, during his funeral in his hometown As-Suleimanyyah.

What we are now witnessing is a virtual ‘divorce’ between the ‘Kurdish political mood’ in northern Iraq and all the Arabs. Even if this ‘divorce’ is neither final nor official yet, it is indeed a psychological ‘divorce’ the reality of which could not be diluted by polite and tactful words.

With a psychological ‘divorce’, as the one we see today in Iraq, Arabic and Islamic names such as Jalal, Mas’oud, Mustafa, Salaheddin and Ahmad Mukhtar are fast disappearing only to be replaced with Kurdish names like Kameran, Dilshad and Showan. Given this fact, it is highly unlikely to maintain a ‘friendship’ between neighbours, as friendships require trust. Personally, I reckon the Kurdish leadership does not trust the Arabs anymore, and many Arabs no more view the Kurds as partner in destiny, history and geography.

Of course, no one must blame Iraq’s Kurds for their negative attitude, given the suffering under Saddam Hussein’s authoritarianism and Nuri Al-Maliki sectarian subservience (to Iran). However, it would not be fair that the Kurds should regard their long association with their fellow Iraqis – indeed, the Arabs – as an ‘unequal’ relationship, whereby the Arabs discriminated against them and sought to marginalise and even obliterate the Kurd’s national identity.

It is true that there are ‘factional’ trends throughout the Arab world, but they are not really different from what is prevalent in similar societies. Some, in many cases, are religious or sectarian; but mostly they are tribal and clannish. Noteworthy, here, is that with periods of extremist chauvinism aside, Arabs in the Near East had no problem living under a Kurdish prime minister or a Kurdish provincial governor; and for that matter, never minded living under a Turkmen, Circassian or Bosnian prime minister of governor. Before the Ottoman Turks ruled the Near East for four centuries, the region lived also for centuries under the (Kurdish) Ayyubi dynasty and the (Turkic, Mogul and Circassian) Memlukes, and yet there are no records of Arabs maltreating the Kurds simply because they were Kurds!

Later, under the two periods of the British Mandate and Independence, I – a son of a father who lived with and befriended the Kurds for years – know of no specific anti-Kurds discrimination. Actually, in ‘post 1920 Iraq’ as well in previous periods the Kurds lived almost like every other Iraqi community; and from their ranks rose prominent figures since the Independence such as Jalal Baban, Jamal Baban, General Bakr Sidqi, Musleheddin Naqshbandi, and Ahmad Mukhtar Baban …Iraq’s last prime minister before the ‘republican revolution’ of 1958.

All the above are facts; and any Arab not inclined to delusions and self- loathing, must realise the dangers faced by the Region; indeed, more than our region if we look further and see what is happening in Western Europe, and America too.

The concept of the ‘nation-state’ is relatively recent, and so are ‘national boundaries’. Germany, the leading country in central and western Europe did not develop its ‘national identity’ except in the 19th century. Before that, the ‘Wars of Spanish Succession’ (1701-1714) following the death of King Charles II of Spain without an heir, set in motion great political developments and redrew the map of Western Europe.

Then, in Eastern Europe, when was the ‘nation-state’ born? What happened in the Caucasus? How did the Russian Empire grow? How did its peoples, ethnic groups, religious and linguistic groups exist even before diversity was – one way or another recognized in the former USSR? Isn’t what is taking place in the Ukraine today a carryover from the old heritage shared and fought over between its Orthodox East and Catholic West … with its partial Polish dimensions?

A big problem with our dangerously unstable world lies in trying to agree on definitions; as there is a disagreement on defining political terms as well as interests.

After Brexit, Europe is no more a dream of great pioneers like Robert Schuman, Charles De Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer and Paul-Henri Spaak. Europe now needs to redefine itself as an idea, a political term, as well as vital interests. The ‘national unity’ of its entities is no more a forgone conclusion, but is now rather dependent on several considerations, conditions and counter-conditions.

Scotland is now waiting for a rise in world oil prices, Catalonia is trying to avoid economic boycott, and other dreamers pursuing secessionist projects are now diligently working out their feasibility far from the slogans of integration, and inclusive ‘Western Civilization’, in the midst of the struggle between ‘expansive’ globalization and ‘reclusive’ racism.

Well. Let’s leave Europe for a moment and look at North America. Is it now more cohesive?

Donald Trump, the president of the USA, the greatest immigrant destination in the ‘New World’, is keen on building a ‘dividing wall’ along the borders with Mexico in order to separate the two nations and prevent incoming immigrant from the south, while insisting that poor Mexicans pay for it! He also wants to ‘stop exporting’ American jobs to Mexico in the hope that the USA maintains its economic well being and industrial base, thus, making Mexico’s poor even poorer, and more insistent on immigrating, despite the ‘wall’.

Across the America’s northern borders, however, Canada’s young Liberal premier Justin Trudeau is happy to head a record-breaking ethnically, linguistically and religiously diverse cabinet, which he describes as “a cabinet that looks like Canada”. Lately, after Trudeau’s appointment of a Lebanese-Canadian as Canada’s new Chief Science Adviser, the opposition’s Left-leaning New Democratic Party elected a young lawyer of Indian Sikh origins as its leader.

It is this real world that our folks, the Kurds, need to recognize before they reach the point of no return against the principles of ‘friendship’ and ‘good neighbourliness’.

Geography dictated that peoples of the world cannot chose their ‘neighbours’, but they can choose to make them either ‘friends’ or ‘enemies’.

Furthermore, millions or tens of millions do not automatically qualify any group for independence; otherwise, why is Uttar Pradesh (with a population of more than 204 million people) is a state in India just like Manipur (inhabited by only 3 millions)?

Both Turkey and Iran are currently opposing the referendum of Iraq’s Kurds, relying on their size, influence and exploitation of the current interests in international affairs. The same applies to Spain as it opposes the Catalonian referendum. It is also worth mentioning here that the USA would not have been the power it is today had it accepted the secession of the southern Confederate States.

In politics, proper calculations are a must; and they should take into account not only internal wishes, but also external conditions.

It is vital to appreciate the dangers of bad timing and double-standards, and also changes of governments and shifts in alliances.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

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