Kurds in the Middle East, according to unofficial statistics, number some 30 to 40 million people in their primary areas: Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. Their political demands have historically centered around the right of self-determination-forever related to the Kurdish state and its right to exist.
Their political leaders have tried more than once to achieve this dream. But the price of realizing it has proved beyond their grasp on more than one occasion, after they were trapped between conflicts of interest and the settling of accounts between parties big and small, when maps have been drawn and boundaries settled in the region.
Iraqi Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani repeated this demand again recently. “Greater Kurdistan” is the goal, circumstances permitting. It is not a plan for the near future, but nothing is impossible. The scene becomes clearer still, Greater Kurdistan cannot be realized without revising the map, redistributing land and changing its political, constitutional and geographical makeup-the developments in North Iraq make this very clear.
The experiment of the Iraqi constitution of 2005 and the 2007 constitution proclaimed for the Kurdistan region gives the territory the right to separate from federal Iraq whenever it so wishes. The lack of separation, in my opinion, is not due to regional and international pressures but rather the decision to wait for favorable developments in Turkey, Syria and Iran in order to proceed on the bases of such changes. And this is what we understand from Barzani’s own words when he said that it is only natural for the Kurdish people to have their own nation, and that it is necessary to wait for the appropriate time to achieve this goal: “we want this to happen naturally and in discussion with the countries that divide Kurdistan.”
It is impossible now to hide the fact that the birth of the Kurdish state means, in the best of circumstances, betting on the continuation and escalation of internal crises in these countries and other crises in the countries bordering Kurdistan. Underlying this is the hope that their bilateral relations will worsen, and lead to these countries clashing-which in turn will open the door for the creation of the Kurdish state. Today is the day of federations, tomorrow the day of confederations, and after that separation, and the declaration of nationhood.
Barzani, the most powerful Kurdish leader (as he became following the recent regional elections), knows that what he is waiting for his extremely difficult, but he will not back down so as to avoid being accused of shirking this historic responsibility before his people. His statement that the expected alternative in Syria must take into account the rights and demands of the Kurds—“We have trained young Kurdish Syrians to fight, and we will fight alongside them if necessary”—can be explained with reference to the fact that the fight they have been trained for is not Syria’s civil war. So why all these preparations, and when and how will they be used?
Barzani warned those assaulting the Kurds in Syria, but the real message was for Iran and Turkey as well. So are we surprised by the Erbil conference expected to modify the proposals and positions it launched three months ago, discussions with Baghdad, Damascus, Ankara and Tehran on a new road map for Kurdistan, or the announcement that Greater Kurdistan is the new strategic aim, or by the calls for self-governance following the failure of the Iraqi experiment.
Massoud Barzani’s comments had the way prepared for them by Prime Minister Nechervan Barzani’s noting that communications with Baghdad were almost entirely cut off, and that the person threatening the unity of Iraq is in fact Al-Maliki himself and that Iraqi Kurds have a historic chance to declare independence. But there are important objections, not least from Ankara which has always held the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq as a red line.
Barzani has reminded everyone that the region is experiencing events that make it impossible to ignore Kurdish ambitions. We know that geopolitics is available to the Kurds and that what they now need is a geo-strategy. But Erbil also knows that circumstances in Iraq are different from 2003, and that the fronts are overlapping, intertwining and becoming increasingly complex.
The Kurds have made strides in evolving an identity and there is now regional and international recognition of it, with some ready to redraw the map, but they also know how difficult it will be to get these four countries to agree to redress their constitutional and political makeup.
Barzani knows more so than anyone else the difficulties of playing the game of duplicity and seeking to take advantage of the contradictions and conflicts of interest between the countries of the region. And it is perhaps for this reason he has decided to make his move now, but many of his recent speeches need to be clarified and examined, for they are far too important to just be directed at Syria and those trying to target and strike at the stability of security in Iraqi Kurdistan.