Sulaimaniyah, Asharq Al-Awsat- Throughout its long history, the forty-million strong Kurdish nation has never had its own independent state. Since the decline of the Median Empire some 3000 years ago, the Kurds have remained part of other states or, at the best, managed to establish scattered principalities as part of larger empires dominating the region such as the Islamic and Ottoman Empires.
The Kurds established the principalities of Baban in Sulaimaniyah, Ardalan and Botan, and later founded the province of Sharazor, the capital of which was Kirkuk, and Mosul and other cities.
The idea of establishing an independent Kurdish state was not a priority for the Kurds, nor was it a matter of necessity. This is because the concept of the modern state was yet to emerge or appear in the region until the late nineteenth century when states began to emerge according to a modern system.
At the time, despite their potential, Kurdish leaders were preoccupied with minor issues that took their attention away from realizing the dream of establishing an independent Kurdish state, a dream that the Persian and the Ottoman Empires, and modern-day Iran and Turkey have fought against.
After World War I, an opportunity arose for the Kurds to outline the features of their independent state within the framework of treaties and the international and regional coalitions that dominated that period. However, the Kurdish leader Sheikh Mahmoud al Hafid in particular, was content with establishing his small kingdom in Sulaimaniyah. The kingdom soon collapsed following bloody wars with the British occupation forces that brought down the Ottoman Empire and with it all its allying bodies including al Hafid’s kingdom. He failed to make the most of Kurdish sentiment at the time regarding the Kurdish right to establish a homeland.
Sheikh Mahmoud al Hafid was unaware of the fact that the new age required a new a vision and conduct, and as a result, the Turks established their own state and the Kurds were dispersed between four of the regional countries: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Almost a century has elapsed since then. That experience was followed by other attempts to establish a Kurdish state such as the Republic of Mahabad by Qazi Mohammed in Iranian Kurdistan back in 1946. This attempt was short lived and was brought down by the army of the Pahlavi regime. The dream of establishing an independent Kurdish state is yet to be realized. But the main question is: will this dream ever come true?
Many Kurdish politicians, intellectuals and decision-makers agree that this dream is possible and can be realized in the right political regional and international circumstances. Others are of the view that the dream is unattainable for geopolitical reasons whereas others predict that more than one autonomous or semi-autonomous state will emerge in the four parts of Kurdistan shortly in view of recent developments and the potential political shifts in the new Middle East over the next two decades.
Fareed Asasard, a leading figure at the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan [PUK] party and the director of Kurdistan’s Strategic Studies Centre based in Sulaimaniyah, believes that the idea of forming or founding an independent Greater Kurdistan comprising of Kurdistan’s four areas continues to be a hypothetical issue.
“The basic components required for establishing any state are still unavailable [to the Kurds] at the present time and I believe that they will not be available in the long term for several reasons, the most important of which is that the world will witness a shift in the decades to come causing it to rely on geo-economics instead of geopolitics as the case is at present,” said Asasard.
Asasard, who has conducted a lot of research on this topic, stresses that the idea of founding a greater independent state has failed a number of times. For example the Turks failed to found the Greater Turkish Empire from China to the Mediterranean to ensure the existence of the Turkish race everywhere. Asasard adds, “In the mid-1990s, I presented a research paper on the geopolitics of Kurdistan in which I made clear that establishing an independent Kurdish state in Iraqi Kurdistan would be very difficult as it requires changing the map of a significant part of the world. Besides, even if this state were established, it would remain isolated from the world as it would have no seaports.”
Asasard expects that there will be several small Kurdish statelets in other parts of Kurdistan in the long term especially as the initial step in this direction has already been taken in the sense that the political and administrative structure of Iraqi Kurdistan is quite independent. However, he stressed that the link between these Kurdish states on the economic level in the future will be very weak and that these states will remain linked to the central systems in Tehran, Turkey and Baghdad.
Asasard stated that he believes that international politics will be subject to the logics and authority of the economy in upcoming decades. Therefore, the Kurdish statelets, if they emerge, will be economically weak and this will be their biggest problem, not to mention their unfortunate location, which will always tip the scale in favour of their neighbours, making it subordinate to these neighbouring countries. Therefore, the idea of founding an independent Kurdish state is an unachievable dream.
On the other hand however, Dr. Jaza Toufi Taleb, professor of geopolitics at the University of Sulaimani believes that all the basic constituents are available for an independent Kurdish state to be established on Kurdish land such as the geographical borders, nation, economy and seaports. However, the political atmosphere is completely unsuitable for outlining the features of the state at present, especially as the concerned countries continue to reject even marginal autonomy for the Kurds in their countries. Dr Taleb explained that even though several independent states around the world, such as Kosovo for example, do not have the potential that Iraqi Kurdistan enjoys.
“I believe that if reformists in Iran and the moderates in Turkey gain power in the upcoming elections, and with the geopolitical changes in Syria that are taking place, this would allow for the rise of political bodies in the Kurdistan region, specifically in Turkey which wants to join the EU but a precondition is the acknowledgement of the rights of all minorities. In Iran, there are signs of such bodies emerging under the rule of reformists. These bodies will represent the initial step towards the establishment of the Kurdish state in the long term. Turkey will be the starting point towards this goal. However, geopolitically, the dream of establishing the greater Kurdish state remains a difficult dream to make come true,” explained Dr Taleb.
But Hussein Yazdan Bana, Vice President of the Kurdistan Freedom Party headed by Ali Qazi Mohammed, the son of the founder of the Kurdish Mahabad Republic in Iranian Kurdistan, stressed that the Kurdish nation has the right to an independent state on its land in accordance with international law. He emphasized that Kurdistan possesses all the requirements necessary for establishing an independent state just like other countries in the world. “Conspiracies and international interests were, and still are, the major obstacles to the establishment of the Kurdish state. This is exemplified by what happened to Sheikh Mahmoud al Hafid’s kingdom and the Kurdistan Republic [of Mahabad] founded by Qazi Mohamed.”
Yazdan Bana emphasized that the most important prerequisite for the establishment of any state is the will and resolution of the nation itself and the favourable external factors and circumstances that have not been agreeable to the Kurds until now.
“If the British had not been present and the superpowers did not have their own interests, the Kurdish, Baban, Botan and Ardalan principalities would have been successful in establishing Greater Kurdistan. In addition, the very few opportunities that were made available to the Kurds throughout history, specifically after World War I, were not utilised well by Kurdish politicians to establish that state.”
Yazdan Bana confirmed that international policies in the current age of globalization are not resistant to the aspirations of countries seeking to establish their own independent states. These conditions can be utilised to make the Kurdish dream come true provided that there is a unified political will among the Kurds.
Yazdan Bana said, “The establishment of the Kurdish state is a goal that the Kurds and their political powers should act to achieve, and we can do this provided that a unified and a solid political will is made available. At present, the establishment of this state is not possible for several reasons, but once the Kurdish politicians abandon their personal dreams and ambitions for power and influence then forty million people will be able to establish their own state.”
Abdul Baqi Yousef, member of the politburo of the Kurdish Yekiti Party in Syria highlighted that the establishment of an independent state is the right of the Kurdish nation and it is not an impossible dream. However, he explains that this is conditional upon future political developments in the region that will outline existing ties between the Kurds and the Middle East region and will result in establishing ties between all the parts of Kurdistan.
“States are not established based on emotions or desires but basic factors such as geography, economy and others factors that are all available in Kurdistan. I believe that the future developments, in the long run, will allow for the establishment of several Kurdish statelets in the region, and this will lead to the establishment of independent greater Kurdistan.”
But the issue differs for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK] in Turkey, which called for establishing greater Kurdistan since it began the armed struggle in 1984. The party reduced its demand to establishing a confederation system that ensures national and cultural rights for Kurds whose population exceeds ten million in Turkey’s Kurdistan region alone.
Ahmed Deniz, the PKK’s foreign affairs officer, believes that the municipal elections that took place recently in Turkey were promising as they indicated fair democratic and political solutions to the Kurdish cause in Turkey.
Deniz told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Kurdish nation, whose land was split between the four countries following the Treaty of Lausanne that was signed after World War I, is still the only nation with no independent state in the region despite that its population exceeds 40 million.
“In the PKK, we believe that a confederation system based on the freedom and rights of the Kurdish people is best suited to the Kurdish cause not only in Turkey but in the entire Kurdistan region as is the case with several advanced European countries. However, the PKK still believes in the right of the Kurdish people to an independent state. But the PKK’s political strategy at present does not aim to establish an independent state that requires a particular atmosphere that we lack at present, especially as an independent state does not necessarily mean freedom for nations. What is more important to us is that the Kurds gain their freedom, enjoy real democracy and human rights. Only then can the Kurds decide themselves the nature of the political identity they want,” said Deniz.
As for the renowned Kurdish-Syrian writer Nouri Brimo, he said that “the [establishment of the] Kurdish state is not a dream but a political course and its supporters increase as it gains strength through the sacrifices of its people. In all cases, the Kurds have been able to prove throughout history that they have always been rational in their political discourse and presentation and that they have always respected their neighbours.”
But Sami Davood, a renowned researcher at the Syrian Sardam cultural institution, stated that the establishment of the Kurdish state is related to geographical factors first and foremost. In other words, the issue requires the liberation of Kurdistan’s geographical region before an independent identity can be built.
Due to the geographical nature of the Kurdish areas in Syria, there cannot be any armed struggle unlike in the Kurdish regions in Iraq, Turkey and Iran in addition to the population density of each of the four regions. Therefore, Davood believes that any attempt by the Kurds to establish their own state will be confronted with strong opposition from the regional states not so that they can keep the Kurds within the boundaries of their own countries by force, but because the majority of water and energy resources are situated in the Kurdish areas of the four countries.