Category Archives: Middle East

The time of the Kurds – rewriting the wrongs of history after 100 years of Sykes-Picot

If any nation was befitting of holding an independence referendum months shy of a century since the Sykes-Picot agreement that artificially divided the Middle East then it’s the Kurds.

100 years later and the Kurds continue to suffer the implications of the selfish imperial interests that carved the region into spheres of control and influence.

The strong desire of the Kurds to attain independence is hardly a secret.  Yet for decades, the Kurds across Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran had to struggle for basic human rights let alone their legal right to statehood.

Seemingly shackled by the Sykes-Picot legacy, the Kurds have been warned at every juncture that they must live within the reality of the Middle Eastern landscape.

Yet this same reality is a delusion that the West continues to cling on and the regional powers continue to use against the Kurds. The notion that Iraq is breaking apart lacks logic. For something to break, it must have been whole to start with. The Kurds never agreed or accepted to part of the artificial state of Iraq.

Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani has stated the right to self-determination for many years. However, this became a more tangible dream with the chaos of 2014 that was propelled by the Islamic State and the rapid disintegration of the Iraqi army and with it the de facto boundaries in place.

The promise of a referendum was curtailed in 2014 as the US-led air support for Kurdish forces undoubtedly came with the price of preserving unity. This is the same US dream since 2003, to bring all Iraqi factions into the political picture and promote national reconciliation. However, in spite of all the US sacrifice and efforts in Iraq, the country is further from any semblance of unity than ever before.

The referendum dreams were rekindled this week with Barzani proclaiming “The time has come and the situation is now suitable for the Kurdish people to make a decision through a referendum on their fate.”

Although, this referendum is non-binding for now, it will hold great symbolic value. An unofficial referendum was already held in 2005 alongside the Iraqi parliamentary elections with 98.8% voting in favor of independence.

The referendum result will not be a surprise but the timing of the any formal declaration of independence will be much trickier. The simple answer to when is a good time for Kurds to seek their rights is that there will never be a perfect time. There are more favorable circumstances but waiting for the green light from others is delusionary.

Regional hypocrisy towards the Kurds is illustrated with the usual reaction of any talk of a referendum or independence. Turkeys, Arabs or Kurds would not have accepted a lack of statehood or their national rights for 1 year let alone 100! Yet the Kurds are still seen as the overreachers or the bringers of instability.

When Kurds were systematically repressed and denied basic rights, did the same governments warn of adverse consequences?

Any referendum is not designed to put pressure on Baghdad. Kurdistan government already controls most of the disputed lands and independently exports their oil thanks to a lack of budget payments from Baghdad.

Kurdistan has an increasing number of backers for independence, including Russia and European states and many in Washington embrace the idea of a pro-western and secular new state.

Kurdish independence will not be the factor for instability and mayhem in the Middle East, the other sides are already doing a good job of that.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Saudi-Iranian fallout and the manipulation of the sectarian card

A New Year, same old Middle East. Any hope that 2016 would foster more peace and stability in the already fractured and volatile Middle East were quickly dashed as Saudi Arabia executed  prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on terrorism charges.

This inevitably led to outrage in Iran, Iraq and other countries with significant Shia populations. As protestors attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iran and its allies in the region quickly followed suit.

The escalating tensions raise the sectarian stakes and whilst all-out war between Saudi Arabia and Iran is unlikely, the already palpable proxy war between both sides will simply intensify.

Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been simmering since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and relations have been fraught with suspicion and mistrust ever since.

The jockeying for regional influence between Iran and Saudi Arabia has resulted in the powers taking opposing sides in the conflict in Syria and Yemen.

But does the race for regional supremacy really just comes down to the age-old sectarian card? In reality, the Sunni-Shia divide has been in force for over 1400 years. Whilst sectarian friction and animosity has existed throughout this time, sectarianism is more openly fueled in this day and age to serve political and strategic goals.

On the same day as the execution of al-Nimr, Saudi Arabia ended the cease-fire in Yemen. Al-Nimr was a symbolic dissident in Saudi Arabia’s approx. 15% Shia population. The Saudis have always been weary of Shia dissidence stoking instability and ironically the execution of al-Nimr serves to intensify the sectarian divide, perhaps as a way for rallying Sunni support in Saudi Arabia as well as the war in Yemen.

At the same time, Saudi’s wanted to send a strong message to Iran. The Saudi government was willing to take any action it deemed appropriate to safeguard the Kingdoms stability and regional interests.

Iran has also successfully played the sectarian card in Iraq and Syria. Stoking of sectarian tensions helped Iran reap significant influence in Iraq. Communities living together for centuries in Baghdad were increasingly divided into Sunni and Shia districts. The respective Sunni and Shia circles in Iraq reached out for regional leverage and even today Iran plays a key role in Iraq, especially within its Shia militias and in the fight against the Islamic State.

If sectarianism was historically a dominant factor, then the Iran-Iraq war belied this ideal. Two Shia majority powers fought a brutal war for 8 years. Whilst many anti-Saddam Shia rebel groups existed in Iraq at the time, Saddam Hussein successfully used the Arab nationalism card against the “Persian” enemy.

In Syria, anti-government protests that were largely about Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship and not strictly sectarianism were quickly reshaped by Iran, Saudi and other regional powers around sectarian grounds. This allowed Assad to rally Alawite support and afforded Iran a key hand in the Shia circles in Syria and the regimes struggle against the uprising.

The recent tensions make peace efforts in Syria and Yemen all the more difficult, whilst also having economic ramifications.  Trade sanctions have already been announced between both sides, but the tensions will be felt greater in the oil arena.

Saudi is by far the biggest power and exporter in OPEC and any deal to cut output to bolster faltering oil prices is more difficult, especially with Iran re-entering the oil stage after lifting of sanctions.

With further protests in Iran in recent days, Iranian accusations of Saudi Arabia “intentionally” bombing its embassy in Yemen and regional countries compelled to take sides, the regional division and state of tensions is at risk of rapidly increasing.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

The regional dynamic underscoring the growing friction between Iraq and Turkey

As if the ever volatile Middle East was lacking flashpoints, Iraq and Turkey have been at loggerheads in recent weeks over the deployment of Turkish troops to a military camp in Bashiqa.

The deployment of 150 or so troops in early December that Ankara insisted was for protection of its military trainers in place since last year resulted in a U.N. Security Council meeting as well as involvement of Russia, NATO, U.S., the Kurdistan Region and other forces in past weeks.

The new low in Turkey-Iraq relations led to a phone call on Friday between U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan where Obama urged Erdogan “to take additional steps to de-escalate tensions with Iraq.”

This follows a similar call by Vice President Joe Biden last week who also urged Turkey to withdraw any forces deployed without the prior consent of the Iraqi government.

So why has the Turkish troop deployment caused such commotion?

In the midst of the changing strategic picture in the region, jockeying for positions in the Syrian civil war and the threat of the Islamic State, deployment of a relatively small number of troops holds symbolic value.

The frantic calls against Turkish deployment in Baghdad underline the intense pressure faced by Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi from Shiite circles and various forces mainly aligned to Iran. It is a continuation of relatively frosty relations between Ankara and Baghdad that led to various diplomatic spats between former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Erdogan.

It also outlines how difficult the concept of an “Iraqi” is. Iraq is bitterly divided and there is hardly a common stance amongst its fragmented constituents. Kurdistan Region relies heavily on Turkey for economic ties, its oil exports and regional stability. Poor relations with Ankara are simply not an ideal that can be tolerated by Kurdish leaders.

At the same time, Baghdad has an evident leaning towards Tehran and strong political ties and military influence with Iran is not a secret. Baghdad also enjoys close relations with Russia which coupled with its reliance on U.S. air power against IS puts it in sensitive waters.

With the ever changing regional dynamic, Turkey has sought to sustain an influential hand in Iraq through Kurdistan and some Sunni factions.

The jostling for regional influence is mirrored in Syria, where a triumph for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad holds great importance for Tehran and to a lesser extent Baghdad. Preservation of Alawite control of Damascus and Western Syria preserves the Shiite Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut axis.

Whilst Turkey’s insistence of protection for its troops holds some sway, after all there was a recent IS attack on the same camp, the war and the defeat of IS does not start in Bashiqa. It starts firmly in Syria, especially in the remaining border zone that IS still controls allowing it to obtain vital supplies to strengthen its state.

Turkey relies on the Iraqi Kurds as natural strategic and secular allies, but without peace with the PKK and opening of diplomatic channels with Syrian Kurds, as difficult as it may seem to stomach, Turkish foreign policy will continue to be disjointed and crisis prone.

Turkey once envisaged a “zero-problems” policy with its neighbors but this is a long gone ideal with increasing friction with Russia, Iran, Iraq and the deadly civil war in Syria.

Turkey remains a critical player in the Middle East and the fight against IS, and US and NATO will have no choice but continue to play a delicate balancing act amongst various powers in the region.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Interview with Shargh Newspaper (Printed in Tehran, Iran)

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – Interview with Shargh Newspaper (Printed in Tehran, Iran)

Please note: the interview was conducted in English but translated to Farsi (Persian) for the print edition of Shargh newspaper. The links to the Farsi version are listed below: (Newspaper Print Edition) (Website Edition)

1-Recently, some newspapers near AKP have expressed dissatisfaction about the recent winning of Kurd against ISIS. They believed that Kurds (particularly PYD and PKK) are bigger danger than isis for turkey. What do you think about the arguments? Do you think the argument is the main cause of little support of turkey government of Kurds struggle against Isis? Do you think we can expect change in turkey’s policy toward Kurds struggle against Isis in the next government of the country?

Erdogan and the AKP have been clear that they do not differentiate between the PKK and IS – they see them both as terrorist organisations. But such a labelling does not only affect a party, it is an unfair label on a whole population. The Syrian Kurds have the right to self-defence and PYD has been one of the most affective forces against IS. Who would protect the Kurds if not the YPG?

I don’t expect Turkey to accept PYD with open arms but the people deserve to be protected and should not suffer due to outdated nationalist principles. PYD have not committed massacres or terrorist acts in the same way as IS. Furthermore, how can one say that all Syrian Kurds are PKK affiliated? There are dozens of political parties in Syria, of course, PYD is the main party but Turkish policy on Syrian Kurds is far too narrow.

The fear of PYD\PKK is firmly rooted in Turkish nationalist anxiety. This same fear saw decades of repressive policies against Kurds in Turkey to no benefit but social upheaval and loss of life. You cannot deny 15 million Kurds in Turkey and neither can you deny the 2 million in Syria.

Turkey will not support the Kurds against IS. If they didn’t support at bleak hour of need when Kobane was days from falling when a grave massacre was certain likelihood then I don’t say Turkey bolstering Syrian Kurds now. But PYD and more importantly the Syrian Kurds are not about to vanish.

After such historic gains in Syria after decades of been side-lines, PYD or the Syrian Kurds will not accept a rollback of their gains, in spite of any sabre rattling from Turkey.

2-Recently, President Erdogan said that turkey don’t let to Kurds establish Kurdish government in northern Syria. Do you think the Erdogan warn is serious? Do you think the military intervention of turkey army in Syria in next month will be possible? What would be the reaction of international community on the issue in your opinion?

Erdogan has referred to such red lines since 2012. It didn’t stop PYD from declaring autonomous administrative rule in the 3 cantons or moving relatively unhindered. Turkey has been weary of the raise of the Syrian Kurds since 2011-2012 but in recent months, they have become key actors in the fight against IS and indeed one of the only few trusted groups of the US.

The Kurdish question in Turkey is intertwined by the fate of Kurds in Syria. There are strong connections across the border. This was evident at the mass protests at Turkish inaction over Kobane. The Kurdish struggle in Turkey moved stage to Syria.

Talk of military action has been running since 2012 but has grown in recent weeks; Turkey has a huge amount at stake with any invasion. It will confirm suspicions of sceptics who state that Turkey tolerates IS on its border but will now finally reinforce its border because the more moderate Kurds are making gains?

Any Turkish invasion will be far from plain sailing – Kurds, on both sides of the border, will not stay idle to any Turkish transgression. It will widen the already complicated Syrian war and will all but end the elusive Kurdish peace process in Turkey. PKK will certainly resume armed struggle in Turkey and in case Turkey attacks IS, this will bring great threat and instability to mainland Turkey. There are many permutations but they all end in more bloodshed and disaster.

International community will hardly welcome such a move when the Syrian landscape is already messy and complicated enough and indeed there will be strong jockeying in the background to ensure Turkey does not take such hasty steps.

Syrian Kurds too have their own red lines, they will not declare independence but they will certainly not give up their autonomous rule or allow any Turkish meddling or control of Syrian Kurdistan.

3-We know some Turks voted to HDP too as well as Kurds, How the Turks convinced vote to HDP? Do you think this is a sign of decrease Turkish nationalism sense or this is a sign of increasing pluralism in turkey? What is your assessment about the recent victory of HDP In turkey election?

HDP was successfully in attracting growing number of people who were disenchanted with AKP and who didn’t have the right national forum. A lot of these disillusioned liberals saw in HDP an opportunity to block Erdogan’s attempts to implement a strong presidential system, dilute what they saw as growing power and monopolisation of AKP and at the same time have a voice on the political stage. The HDP electorate also included large sections of minorities and of course large sections of Kurds who turned to HDP after previously voting for the AKP.

Although HDP won a respectable 13% of the vote, this is far from a statement that nationalism is decreasing. Nationalist parties continued to do well. Nationalists continue to be a thorn in the peace process and still dominate the political system in Turkey.

The fact this was the first time that a Kurds entered parliament as a party says it all. It is a significant historical milestone for the Kurds and provides a bridge between the long-time disaffected east and west of Turkey. 13% of the vote is not a meagre figure to be ignored in parliament and Kurds will have a direct influence on political and government affairs.

HDP’s gains can only be good for the Kurds but can also bring a sense of legality and national perspective to the Kurdish question. 80 MPs in parliament cannot be merely branded by the PKK brush – Turkish politics needs to mature beyond the age old narrow nationalist perspective i.e. any Kurdish PM is quickly labelled as a separatist or a PKK sympathiser.

HDP can serve as vital and legally enshrined interlocutors between the PKK and Ankara.

4-What is your assessment about the relation recent HDP victory in turkey’s election with PKK activities in the region? Can we expect the recent victory in turkey will be impact on power of PKK?

As mentioned earlier, the rise of HDP and their entry in parliament can give the peace process the right nation platform. Ocalan and most of the PKK have stated their readiness to convene a party congress with view to the giving up of arms. However, this will not happen without concrete steps been taken by the government – PKK will need to see firm actions and unfortunately, bowing to nationalist pressure, the future government will not easily cave in to demands from what they see as terrorists. HDP position in the political fold may help ensure that a more appealing reform package can be initiated – most Turks are in favour of ending bloodshed and the government must capitalise on a historic opening.

PKK will naturally see the HDP’s electoral success in a positive light but it doesn’t mean that PKK will drop their arms tomorrow just because HDP have broken the 10% threshold in parliament. HDP leadership has in turned made clear the real power to end the armed struggle and give up arms is in Imrali and not with them.

No doubt that HDP success brings a unique opportunity to further the peace process and should not be wasted. HDP can double the number of MPs in parliament, but if the PKK is not satisfied then the HDP influence can only stretch so far. Peace is not achieved by numbers in parliament but concrete actions.

5-What is the effect of HDP victory on Kurdish separatist sentiments in turkey and region? Will be weakened or strengthened?

This depends on the next steps. After breaking the age old constraints of the electoral threshold, the Kurds have a unique position in Turkish politics; especially that HDP now includes many Turkish voters within their ranks.

If the Kurdish region finally believes they have a voice in parliament, they are no longer side-lined, have better integration and can influence Ankara as national partners, then this can be a good sign for unity. Ultimately, the goal of local autonomy will not disappear especially if Kurds in south east increasingly speak with one voice.

If the HDP is somewhat side-lined or broken up under terrorism label as with previous party manifestations or the peace process unravels, as a result of the increased electoral power and not forgetting what events may take place in Syrian Kurdistan, then south east will drop further and further from Ankara’s grasp.

6-Do you think the increasing conflict between HDP and turkey hizbollah will be possible? What will be the relation between HDP and conservatives and religious Kurds in the future?

As the recent deadly shootings have shown in Diyarbakir, historic tension between PKK and Hezbollah supporters is in danger of escalating. The shootings were clear provocations designed to stir tension. The ramp up in tensions depends on how much restraint the parties can show and if they rise to the bait but I doubt it will reach a critical stage. No side will really benefit from such direct confrontation and no side really wants bloodshed to ensure.

HDP has already won significant votes from conservative and religions Kurds in the elections who traditionally voted for AKP. However, this is likely to continue as a key focus if HDP wants to grow in strength and represent a broader spectrum of the Kurdish voter base. AKP has used the religious card to successfully divide the Kurds in the past away from ethnic affiliations.

7-Some report showed that PYD have cooperation with Assad regime in Syria against isis. Don’t you think the US support Kurds in Syria is contradicting with the will of US for Assad falls? What will be impact of the support on the viewpoint of Syria government?

Such allegations of collaboration between PYD and Assad regime have been common place since the PYD took control of the Kurdish zones. But PYD and Assad regime relations have been more about mutual convenience than any real strategic pact. At a time when Syrian forces were already stretched, Assad wisely did not move to open a costly front with the Kurds. There have been various battles between the two sides but never on a systematic level.

At the same time, Syrian Kurds want control of their land and this is their first priority. They haven’t enjoyed great relations with FSA or Syrian National Coalition and attacking Assad forces to help FSA has not been an objective. Kurds have been weary of provoking Assad when they have already gained control of most Kurdish lands. The SNC has not been ready to commit to Kurdish demands in any post Assad era and Kurds have viewed the group with much suspicion. In many ways, it’s been a case of the devil you know for the Kurds than any real support or affiliation with the Assad regime.

US seeks political transition in Syrian and ultimately the fall of Assad but their bigger focus is on IS and not Assad. PYD goal is also a political transition in Syria and a new plural and inclusive constitution that enshrines their autonomy, and priority is not to prop up Assad. Don’t forget that PYD and Assad forces were in conflict long before Syrian civil war ensued.

PYD focus at the same time is IS and defence of their lands. Syrian Kurds are not tied to Assad regime and they will not fight to keep Assad in power.

8-What is relation between PKK and HDP? Demirtaş and Ocalan both are charismatic figures don’t you think in long time we will see conflict between two groups?

Many HDP members have travelled to Imrali and have previously played key roles in the Kurdish peace process. Of course, HDP have connections with the PKK but to say they are one and the same is too narrow minded.

HDP can be affective and legal interlocutors in the peace process. HDP can influence the PKK but ultimately it is not the HDP that decide PKKs next move on the peace process or whether they will give up arms, this power sits with Imrali.

It’s hard to compare the positons of Demirtaş and Ocalan – one is in parliament and one is an isolated prison. They are both significant leaders for the Kurds but from totally different perspectives and platforms.

There is always the possibility of disagreement between the PKK and HDP but by and large and through different means, they represent the same goal – enshrinement of Kurdish rights and bigger voice for the Kurds as national partners.

9-What do you think about the viewpoint of Kurdish peace negotiation prospect after victory of HDP? Do you think it will have a positive impact on negotiation? What do you think about possibility end Ocalan arrested?

The rise of HDP as a power in Turkish politics can only be a good thing for the peace process. This serves as an opportunity to bring the peace process onto a national and legal platform.

HDP have become the natural and legal interlocutors. 80 MPs in parliament can have a major voice on the direction of the peace process.

HDP can have a positive impact on the peace process but ultimately the real decision lies in Imrali. Under nationalist’s pressure, Erdogan toned down his stance towards the peace process and concessions towards the PKK – he became more hard-line.

PKK expects concrete steps from government and although the HDP can push to achieve these concrete steps, it really lies in the hands of Ankara. I don’t see Ocalan under house arrest let alone free, Turkish nationalist sentiment is far too narrow to allow the onset of such a phenomenon that will bring uproar to large sections of Turkish society.

10-What is your assessment about ROJAVA cantons and the performance? Do you think the Rojava can be a model for Kurds in other parts of the region? What are the strengths and weaknesses of ROJAVA in your opinion?

Rojava cantons and the establishment of a Kurdish Region of Syria was an unprecedented milestone for the Kurds in Syria, where previously hundreds of thousands of Kurds didn’t even have basic citizenship and rights let alone autonomous zones and new strategic importance in the region.

But Rojava autonomy is still in its infancy and hardly in the best surroundings with IS and deadly battles. What made the cantons unique was that it was in 3 geographically separate lands, until recently when Kurds took control of Tel Abyad.

Syrian autonomy needs to be backed by a cross party unity – too often the dozen or so Kurdish parties have been divided into pro KRG and pro PKK camps, with PYD dominating control of the cantons

The cantons have a long way to go but autonomous rule cannot be perfected in just a few years. The Syrian Kurds have much progress to make in their rule of their lands but this is hardly surprising. After decades of been side-lined, the current autonomous structure feels a lifetime away from previous repression and Arabisation of Kurdish lands.

It is the Kurdish Region of Iraq that really set the expectation and model of self-rule and not the Rojava cantons. Local autonomy is fast becoming a minimum expectation for Kurds across the region.

11-What is your assessment about the Assad regime reaction to Kurdish autonomy in Syria? Do you think Syria government will be grant autonomy to Kurds because their struggle against common enemy (isis)?

Assad needs Kurdish support, if not real political or military support, than at least that a new front is not opened. Assad’s forces are already stretched and granting Kurds autonomy is far easier than a suicidal new front against the Kurds. Assad has taken full advantage of the mistrust between Kurds and FSA\SNC.

Autonomy is a red-line for the Kurds and a small price for Assad to pay to maintain stability in the Kurdish areas and indeed his seat in power.

12-What do you think about impact of recent HDP victory in turkey and PYD in Syria on the Barzani –Talibani power in Iraq? Do you think HDP and PKK are threat against Autonomous Region of Kurdistan?

I don’t see the rise of HDP or the influence of PYD in Syria a threat to the Kurdistan Regional Government. The KRG and Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani would see the success of HDP as a historic and welcome milestone – they have encouraged the peace process in Turkey.

Barzani has personally worked hard for more cross-party unity in Syria with power sharing as per the Erbil agreement between the Syrian Kurdish parties. He would not want to see any PYD domination and other political parties, with many pro-KRG, been side-lined.

The red line for KRG is any meddling in Kurdistan Region internal affairs by PYD but especially PKK. As far as the KRG is concerned, it is not their zone of influence.

13-Some people said Kurds could not reach to recent successes without US supports in Iraq. What do you think about the arguments? What do you think about the possibility of establish a Shiite – Kurdish – US coalition against Isis in Iraq? Do you think the cooperation against Isis will be because more close Kurd – Shiite?

US support for the Kurds has been key but it is not so one dimensional. Ironically, the Kurds have often accused Washington of bias towards Baghdad. US have been obsessed with Iraqi unity and have avoided any actions that may be fuel a breakaway of Kurdistan from Iraq. Indeed on many occasions it has sided with Baghdad over the Kurds to promote the idea of a centralist rule in Iraq.

At the same time, the US relies heavily on Kurdish support against IS as it did against al-Qaeda a few years before that.

Iraq has been increasingly fractured as a state since 2003 and Baghdad policies especially under Nouri al-Maliki have not helped. In fact IS merely took full advantage of sectarian tensions and mass Sunni discontent. Many Sunni groups jumped on the IS bandwagon and notion of what is “IS” quickly become a grey area.

The KRG have been insistent that for any real struggle against IS to succeed, especially in Mosul, that local Sunni forces must have a bigger say. Kurds are keen to see an inclusive make up of Iraqi forces against IS.

Successive disputes with Maliki and now with Haider al-Abadi over national budget and oil exports has put a negative sentiment in the relations. The Kurds will not bail out Baghdad when it feels that Baghdad has consistently failed to deliver on its agreements and promises, has not paid its share of national budget and has not provided Kurds with needed weaponry even when the Kurds are at the centre of the war against IS.

Only a large Iraqi inclusive coalition will entice Kurds to fight in areas south of the Kurdistan borders.

14-What is your assessment about the possibility of establish a Kurdish state in Middle East? What is the obstacle in the way of this? Israel supported for Kurdistan state idea do you think the support of US and EU will be possible, too?

Establishing a Kurdish state has hardly been a secret for the Kurds and is also a goal of the Kurdistan leadership but it’s all about timing. A Kurdish state is inevitable and the Kurdistan Region is practically independent in all but name. If Kurds start selling oil directly en mass as retaliation for lack of budget payments from Baghdad than this removes the remaining noose Baghdad has over the region.

There is growing support for Kurdish independence in the EU and from many members of the US Senate and Congress but Washington will not directly support any Kurdish independence bid. It has reinforced the notion of a sovereign and united Iraq at every turn since 2003, when the Iraq state is anything but united or whole. US has spent billions of dollars and thousands of lives on a promoting principles of national reconciliation and unity that has never borne fruit.

Turkey has grown warmer to the idea of independence for the Kurdistan Region but will not support such a notion at a delicate time in the region and indeed at a sensitive juncture for the Kurds of Turkey and Syria.

Self-determination is a right that the Kurds will ultimately exercise and formal independence is only a question of when.

15-What do you think about recent Kurds victories on the regional equations? Do you think strengthen of Kurds can lead to essential changes in geographic and demographic in the region? What are the consequences for the region countries particularly Iran, turkey and Iraq? Do you think we should expect the change of borders in accordance with Sykes – Picot agreement?

The Kurds in Iraq are already major regional actors and the rise and prominence of the Kurdistan region in Iraq has been unprecedented. Kurds have become an important economic partner for Iran and particular Turkey and a stable and largely secular entity serves an important role in the fast unravelling and volatile Middle East.

At the same time, Kurds in Syria are enjoying new found prominence. Too often the Kurds were on the scrapheap of the Middle East thanks to large repressive campaigns and the arbitrary Sykes-Picot borders. Kurds are now a driving force in the new Middle East calculus.

Whilst the Sykes-Picot borders will not change overnight, in many ways the present era witnesses the rise of the Kurds. From the shackles to strategic players across the Middle East. The borders between the Kurdish regions in each country are slowly eroding.

The Kurds are a major factor for any long-term stability and peace in the Middle East – they simply cannot be ignored from Syria to Turkey to Iraq to Iran.

First Published: Shargh (Iran)

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Iran nuclear deal – a historic milestone or the fuel for increased tensions in the region?

In the context of decades of animosity and distrust between the United States and Iran, the recent preliminary framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme that aims to curb nuclear activities in return for a gradual softening of sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy, is certainly historic.

However, in today’s volatile and tumultuous Middle East, where Iran has an influential hand that stretches from the Houthi Shia onslaught in Yemen, the direct Iranian involvement as Iraq pushes back Islamist State (IS) rebels, to the devastating civil war in Syria and not forgetting the influence of Iranian backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, for a number of countries in the region, the connotations from this deal could not have come at a worse time.

As US President Barrack Obama hailed the agreement, his next task is to sway unconvinced members of Congress, in particular Republicans who have threatened to veto the agreement or even impose fresh sanctions. Then he must the repeat the trick with weary allies.

The agreement with the P5+1 countries (US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany), was also praised by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, with jubilant scenes of victory across Iran.

As both sides seemingly lauded the agreement, is it truly a mutual win for both parties?

Under the agreement, Iran is obliged to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium that could ultimately be used to make nuclear weapons as well as drastically slash the number of centrifuges at its disposal.

Iran has long denied claims that it seeks a nuclear weapon, emphasizing its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

However, Western unease with Tehran was merely accelerated with unveiling of Iran’s nuclear programme. Hardline rhetoric from Tehran especially from the tenure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hardly settled nerves.

For sceptics in the region particularly Saudi Arabia, who is spearheading an Arab military coalition to curtail the advance of Houthi rebels in Yemen, sanctions relief coupled with the fact that Iranian nuclear programme remains in place in one form or another, will just add fuel to the regional fire.

There is a rapidly developing Shia-Sunni conflict line in the Middle East that is leading to proxy wars from Lebanon to Yemen. There is an increasing if indirect showdown between Saudi Arabia and Iran across this line.

The Saudis were already alarmed at the perceived cooperation between Iran and the US over the fight back against IS in Iraq. The Saudis have already warned the US over what they deemed as the Iranian takeover of Iraq

Now, with signs of increased diplomatic channels with Tehran, and the potential for an even stronger Iran both economically and militaristically as a result of the nuclear agreement, regional anxiety, arms race and battle for influence will only increase.

More frenzied alarm was in Israel where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was deeply skeptical at the agreement that he believed threatened the survival of his state. Reassurances by Obama and further security pledges will have had little impact on Israeli reservations.

In the deeply interconnected fault lines, the nuclear agreement cannot be judged alone. It has wider ramifications on the resolution of Palestinian statehood, influence of Hezbollah and even potential peace in Syria and stability in Iraq and Yemen.

On the surface, increased Western diplomatic channels with Iran could lead to cooperation on the resolution or at least calming of these matters.

However, decades of animosity in the region and the West are not about to disappear with the mere stroke of a pen.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

With Kurdish forces in ascendancy against IS in Syria and Iraq – coalition must focus on empowering vital allies of today, not training of Syrian and Iraqi forces that may come too late

As the barbarous threat of the Islamic State (IS) has become the top global concern, Kurdish forces have taken center stage in the fight in Iraq and Syria.

Peshmerga forces have been instrumental in breaking any notion of invincibility of IS. Meanwhile, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Forces (YPG), have proven that on both sides of the border, the US-led coalitions biggest bet against IS are the Kurds.

Since the siege of Kobane was broken after months of fierce battles with the help of Peshmerga forces and hundreds of coalition airstrikes, YPG forces have been on the offensive, retaking hundreds of villages in the area and dealing a blow to IS.

Advances also included sections of the vital highway that connects IS forces from Aleppo to Raqqa, as YPG and Peshmerga forces closed on another vital border crossing with Turkey – Gire Sipe (Tel Abyad).

YPG forces also took control of the strategic town of Tel Hamees in the Hassakah province in recent days, clearing dozens of villages along the way. The battle against IS, cannot be confined to local battles in Iraq or Syria – the battle is one and the same.

With the Peshmerga continuing to choke IS supply lines around Mosul, Shingal and key areas on the border with Syria, YPG led advances break a vital IS bridge linking forces across the border.

However, as symbolic as Kurdish gains appear to be in Syria, they are by no means irreversible. IS may have lost strategic ground and their pride will be hurt, but they far from a spent force.

Whilst coalition air strikes have been pivotal in Kurdish advances on both sides of the border, it brings into full view the lack of short-term urgency in the US strategy.

The US plans to start training the first batch of moderate Syrian fighters as part of its wider initiative to defeat IS. Unfortunately, the 5000 or so fighters will only be ready by end of year and in total there may be 15000 fighters after 3 years.

This is where the vast cracks in policy appear. The battle against IS is now, not end of the year or in 3 years’ time.

Crucially, the YPG were supported by Syrian rebel fighters. It proves that as fractured as the opposition forces are in Syria, alliances can be affective. YPG forces need support now if they are to firstly hold onto their gains and secondly if they are to continue their vital push into IS strongholds.

Syrian Kurds have proved an affective fighting force but they remain somewhat in the shadows of Turkish suspicion and anxiety over empowering them any further.

Turkey has to choose between a strong Kurdish force that will be vital to defeating IS and bringing stability to the Turkish border, which has been the real gateway for IS, or seeing that IS regains the upper hand whilst moderate Syrian forces get trained.

The people greatly afflicted by IS cannot wait whilst Syrian rebels or Iraqi forces are trained. Only this week the militants abducted over 200 Christian Assyrians in the same area that YPG forces later liberated.

If US continues to focus on Syrian and Iraqi forces, the gains against IS will be diluted. As much as YPG forces need arms, Peshmerga forces are in need of heavy weaponry and equipment. Yet the US has focused on training Iraqi battalions to retake Mosul.

Ironically, the same Peshmerga forces are then expected to make further sacrifices in joining the battle for Mosul, when local Arabs have not been enticed to fight.

With coordinated action across the borders, IS can be split further and their effectiveness greatly hampered. Does the US provide necessary arms and support to the Kurds now in their ascendency, or do they drag out the war waiting to train Syrian forces?

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

“Eye for an eye” retaliation only benefits the Islamic State

For thousands of years, largely fuelled by religious and ethnic hatred, the Middle East has been a fertile plain for bloodshed based on retaliation and vengeance. Indeed revenge is quickly on the lips of many when any crime is perpetrated.

The principle of an “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” or “lex talionis” (law of retaliation) has roots across Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

As the Islamic State (IS) perpetrates heinous crimes against humanity in both Iraq and Syria, passion runs high with understandable anger and distaste at some of the worst crimes possible.

Indeed, the word on everyone’s lip in Jordan in recent days was that of vengeance. Jordan went from a state of reservation to their involvement in the coalition effort to a deep drive to punish and retaliate against the IS for the brutal execution of captured Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh.

In the days of mass technology and an exponentially smaller word, IS has used social media effectively as a weapon to strike shock and fear into the hearts of many. After IS released the video of Moaz al-Kasasbeh being burned alive in a cage, the video quickly circulated around the world. Its effect were so dramatic on Jordanians that it would have left like a whole section of Amman went on fire than just the murder of a pilot.

King Abdullah II vowed a “severe” and within hours convicted terrorists Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouli, already on death row, were executed in response.

Since then, the Jordanian air force has launched a fierce air campaign against IS. But whether the execution of the terrorists in retaliation serves much of a gain against IS is doubtful.

The IS level of brutality should not be matched as this is exactly what they desire – a plethora of violence, vengeance and retaliation that pitches the Middle East back into the dark ages.

IS applies the Islamic law of Qasas in its broadest terms. In their extreme interpretation of most codes of religious practice, all their crimes against Yezidism, Christians, Kurds and Shiites or captured hostages are not only acceptable but have a legal justification.

The Kurds have suffered as much as any in recent months. With every grieving mother, lays the framework for an emboldened desire to defeat the organization but images such that of IS bodies been dragged through the streets of Kirkuk sends off the completely wrong sense of retaliation.

The doctrine of hatred and brutality is what IS hope to perpetrate. Tit for tit cases only plays into their hands any blurs the lines of the good and bad guys. Of course, the case of Kirkuk was limited to a few and Kurdish forces have been dignified and honorable in their battle but just like an act of IS gets magnified through social media, this is not difference to responses against IS.

The irony in committing such atrocities against IS, is that IS will not be shocked by such a level of response. It’s an expectation not exception to see such responses.

This week Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani vowed that Peshmerga were ready to “go into the final war” against IS with the right of military aid. Crucially, he vowed Kurdistan would seek “justice but not revenge.”

The opposite mentality has crippled Iraq since 2003 as sectarian hit squads have succeeded in their aim of creating a climate of fear and anarchy by promoting mass revenge attacks. One attack is met by a bigger attack in response and so on until the whirlwind of violence and hatred reaches a point of no return.

Ironically, the majority of the time it is innocent civilians that get caught up under the veil of “equal retribution.”

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Once the Islamic State is defeated, what is the long-term strategy to prevent IS mark 2?

Almost 6 months since the Islamic State (IS) seized large swathes of territory Iraq in a rapid advance, the war on IS remains as fierce as ever in Iraq and Syria.

The obvious goal is to defeat IS but sheer military might aside, what is the long-term strategy to keeping IS defeated? Initially, IS sprung-up in Syria with limited influence before their support base and military capability snow-balled into an avalanche.

One way or another, with increasing air-strikes, military supplies to the Peshmerga and other anti-IS forces and a growing international coalition, IS will be defeated. But without long-term cross-border measures and strategy, could IS spring up again in the future, just when their defeat is celebrated?

The lack of a long-term vision or consideration of the bigger picture could not be clearer than in Syria. Syria was very much the fertile Jihadist garden which allowed the IS seeds to flourish. This was only exacerbated by a lack of a clear and consistent Western foreign policy and in particular reluctance of the U.S. to get involved.

As Bashar al-Assad scathed through the population, crossing various red-lines along the way, it paved the way for hardline sentiment to dominate and IS took full advantage. At one point, IS was even tolerated or directly and indirectly supported by some powers as they became a tool to the toppling of Assad. But IS eyes were not fixated on regime change in Damascus and in fact Assad and IS had mutual interests.

Now the battle in Syria rages on and nowhere depicts the current ferocity and pro-longed nature of the battle against IS better than in Kobane. Hundreds of air strikes and dozens of Kurdish sacrifices later, IS was dealt a blow but remained a determined foe.

Even if IS is defeated in Syria, what then for root-cause of IS, the Assad regime? There is much talk of a political transition in Syria but this has been much of the same tone since the Geneva Communique of 2012. Assad did not leave his throne when the regime was at its weakest let alone when he has regained ascendancy and moderate rebel forces are diminishing fast.

In Iraq, long-time disenfranchised Sunnis welcomed and some tribes openly supported the IS onslaught in Iraq. IS may have hijacked the Sunni revolution but nevertheless the seeds of animosity and conflict were sown long-before between bitter Sunnis and a Shiite-led Baghdad government where the fuels of sectarianism were increased by the marginalization policies of Nouri al-Maliki.

Like the deadly battle with al-Qaeda in the several years before IS, where the grounds are fertile fundamentalism will always grow.

Sunnis are growing increasingly fed up of IS and some tribes have openly fought against them, but doubts remain as to whether a true national and representative government will ever merge in Iraq. The recent government of Haider al-Abadi has patched some cracks but does not account for the many other Sunni groups and tribes that remain unconvinced and hostile.

One factor that illustrates the Iraqi difficulty in striking a semblance of unity is a lack of cross-national armed forces. The sectarian-leaning armed forces were long viewed with distrust by Sunnis and Kurds and quickly collapsed under the IS onslaught. In fact it was the Shiite militias and in particular the autonomous Peshmerga that stepped up to the plate.

One key product of the IS battle is the growing erosion of Middle Eastern borders but also state relations and foreign policies becoming much more intertwined. Gone are the days that states can keep regional conflicts at arm’s length and pursue unilateral policies.

Passive attitudes in the end do greater harm on one’s soil. Since 2011, many regional states and Western powers tried to stay out of the Syrian civil war.

However, peace in any country can only be achieved with cross collaboration across the borders. Whilst it’s not quite the equivalent of the European Union, it’s the grass-roots of such unions in the Middle East. Governments must work together, unify policies and seek common security objectives through pacts if they are to succeed.

One needs to look no further than Turkey. Just a few years ago, it was watching anxiously at the rapid development of a Kurdistan Region on its borders and had set its own red-lines.

Just this week Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu pledged increased military support and training for the Peshmerga with the prospect of providing heavy weapons to the Kurdistan Region.

Of course, it doesn’t meant that Turkish nationalist anxieties have evaporated, one only needs to look at the Turkish hesitancy over support of Kobane over links of the Kurdish forces and the main party to the PKK.

But Turkey cannot turn a blind eye to the conflicts on its door step or to the growing Syrian Kurdish autonomy. Turkey’s security and political stability will not endure by strong relations with one side of the border and animosity and distrust on another.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

As Iraqi crisis haunts the Kurds, double standards in the principle of self-determination come to the fore

“What is good for the goose is good for gander” – English Proverb

It is fast approaching 100 years since US President Woodrow Wilson issued his 14 points at the end of the First World War with the concept of self-determination the overriding principle that he imposed on the League of Nations and the Middle East.

Wilson stated in January 1918 that “The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development”.

Wilson later warned that “Self-determination is not a mere phrase. It is an imperative principle of action, which statesmen will henceforth ignore at their peril….”

For imperial interests at the time, Kurdistan was the only major nation not to be granted statehood. The Treaty of Sèvres in 1920, which proposed a Kurdish state, was later annulled by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

A secret deal between UK Foreign Minister Sir Mark Sykes and France Foreign Minister Francois Georges-Picot that divided the Middle East has somehow become unbreakable even if it lacked real socio-political or ethnic basis or mirrored realities on the ground.

Remarkably, close to a century later, the Kurds remain the largest ethnic group in the world without a state.

Self-determination is one of the key international charters and by which repression, imperialism and subjugation is eradicated and free will of nations is attained.

Arabs have fiercely campaigned and struggled for the establishment of Palestine and the 22nd Arab state in the Middle East that they see as a historic wrong, yet many oppose the establishment of a single Kurdish state.

The principle of self-determination

At the end of World War II, the ratification of the United Nations Charter in 1945 placed the right of self-determination into the framework of international law and diplomacy.

The United Nations Charter states that nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference.

Chapter 1, article 1, part 2 clearly states that purpose of the UN Charter is “to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.”

Self-determination is also protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as a right of “all peoples.”

The Iraqi struggle

With Iraq engulfed in yet more sectarian flames, the renewed Kurdish bid for independence is met with resistance, caution and obstacles. Ironically, while the ubiquitous talk has been of the Kurds breaking away from Iraq, thanks to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the marginalisation and centralist policies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, it is Iraq that is breaking away from the Kurds.

Yet the Kurds are been asked to put the brakes on any move towards self-determination and save Iraq and Maliki.

The Unite States helped mask some of the post Saddam Hussein realities by acting as the crutches to support an Iraq that was broken and could not stand on its own two feet.

Here is the problem, what good is a comprehensive constitution, democratic frameworks, concessions and promises if the end product is failed implementation, by-passed legislature, half-hearted unity and empty gestures?

Today Kurdistan has a fundamental and unmolested right to two clear options. Either a truly democratic, federal and balanced Iraq or outright independence. Since the first option has all but eroded, outright independence remains the only real option.

What do you need to be independent?

While other countries, some with populations numbering in the thousands and others gripped with immense poverty and a lack of infrastructure dot the global horizon, the Kurds are warned to tread carefully or that their time has not come.

Some claim that Kurdistan does not have the infrastructure or conditions for statehood but just how much infrastructure does Palestine or Kosovo have compared to the Kurds?

Kurdistan is washed with immense amounts of oil, with a booming economy, a vibrant population and all the trappings of any state. It is a key strategic hub of the Middle East and with the influence and standing to play a key part in the evolution of the Middle East.

Have the Kurds spilled countless blood, tears and tragedy to now return to centralist rule in Iraq or to have terms dictated upon them by other groups?

At the first seismic shifting of the Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds were sidelined and had to painfully endure decades of suffering for their chance to rewrite the wrongs of history. They can ill-afford to be passengers as the evolutionary trains darts past this time around.

Is Kosovo really a “Special Case”?

The ruling by the International Court of Justice in 2010, the first case of secession raised before the World Court, declared that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was in fact legal and did not contravene international law.

Key global powers in support of Kosovar rights have continuously pointed to the notion that Kosovo was a special case, that since Serbia’s brutal campaign had forfeited right to govern Kosovo by “breaching its responsibility to protect” its civilians under international law, the Kosovar’s were free to choose not to reside with their Serbian counterparts.

This paved the way to implement a roadmap orchestrated by United Nations envoy Martti Ahtisaari, which proposed a scheduled transition to independence.

By this virtue, after brutal campaigns of genocide, repression and even chemical bombings, Iraq has long “forfeited” any sovereign right over Kurdistan.

U.S. President George W. Bush deemed that “history will prove this to be a correct move to bring peace to the Balkans.” Whilst a UK government statement deemed the Kosovar move as the “most viable way forward”.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the situation “a special case” for reasons such as “…Yugoslavia’s breakup, the history of ethnic cleansing and crimes against civilians in Kosovo, and the extended period of U.N. administration.”

However, whilst Albanians already have a country of their own (Albania), the Kurds have nothing. The struggle to establish a ‘Kosovar’ identity in the aftermath of statehood is well documented. At the time of independence, Kosovar’s had yet to build a distinctive national image with a lack of an official flag, security force and national anthem. After all, it was the greater Albanian flag that was ubiquitous on every corner of Pristina.

Bids for independence

South Sudan followed in the heels of Kosovo by declaring statehood in 2011 after a referendum (ironically, despite statements by Barrack Obama to the contrary, a referendum was never held in Kosovo).

Crimea broke away from Ukraine and was annexed by Russia within weeks in a hastily arranged referendum.

Not to mention Scotland’s independence referendum scheduled for September as they vote to break away from the United Kingdom or Catalonia’s bid to break away from Spain.

All the while, international community worry about what precedence is been set for the likes of Cyprus, Somaliland, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria.

Can the case of 40 million ethnic Kurds without a homeland be compared to relatively small breakaway regions whose ethnicities is already linked to independent states?

New Kurdish push for independence

Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani recently declared his intention to hold a referendum on independence from Iraq. Barzani stated that “everything that’s happened recently shows that it’s the right of Kurdistan to achieve independence.”

Barzani added “From now on, we won’t hide that that’s our goal. Iraq is effectively partitioned now. Are we supposed to stay in this tragic situation the country’s living? It’s not me who will decide on independence. It’s the people. We’ll hold a referendum and it’s a matter of months.”

Kurdistan Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, Falah Mustafa Bakir, warned “there is a new reality and that requires a new policy and a new approach.”

Meanwhile, for Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s High Representative to the UK, it “would take a lot for Kurdistan to remain part of Iraq.”

The statement from Barzani had the United States and some Western powers scrambling. White House spokesman Josh Earnest stated “The fact is that we continue to believe that Iraq is stronger if it is united.”

US Secretary of State, John Kerry had reportedly told Barzani “‘whatever your aspirations are for your future, your interests now in the near-term are for a stable, sovereign and unified Iraq.”

Even as some major powers warm to the idea of Kurdish independence, they have treaded carefully around the diplomatic line. As talk of Kurdish independence accelerated, Philip Hammond, UK Defence Secretary, towed the same line as the US, affirming that the government’s position was to keep Iraq as a unified state.

Yet Iraq has failed to be united and will never achieve such a feat especially with the new reality of the Islamic State.

Some politicians have been more vocal in supporting Kurdish independence, in an exclusive interview with Rudaw, UK Labour MP, Mike Gapes, stated “It would be better for the terms and timing and degree of separation to be negotiated and agreed but ultimately the Kurds have the right to self-determination.  The UK and US should respect the will of the people expressed in a democratic referendum.”

Other analysts have warned of the dangers of any separation, Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group, told Rudaw “the Kurds are now in a situation where self-determination becomes less a function of their own course of action than Iraq’s general breakdown. This may reduce the price to pay for secession, ultimately. But that price remains steep given the remarkable benefits the Kurds currently derive from their relations with Baghdad, Ankara and Teheran. Actual partition likely would negatively affect all three.”

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned a referendum on the independence of Iraq’s Kurdish region would lead to a “catastrophic” break-up of the country, yet the same Arab leaders have vehemently supported Palestine inspite of decades of bloodshed.

Obsessed with the unity of Iraq, it seems that the US and regional powers have missed the pieces of Iraq already lying broken on the floor.

First Published On: OpenDemocracy

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Lessons of Yugoslavia in the unraveling of the Middle East

The expanding Middle Eastern conflict in recent years and the merging of sectarian and ethnic front-lines may seem like a recent phenomenon, but in reality it is anything but that. The unraveling of the sociopolitical map of the Middle East is a by-product of the gradual end to dictatorships, which were an almost necessary ingredient to hold together the Sykes-Picot inspired Middle Eastern status quo.

Nowhere is this example more prominent than in Syria. The Sunni conflicts in Iraq and Syria are merging as one battle, with communal ties across the borders. The Syrian Kurdish battle and the fight for democratic rights naturally link to the Turkish and Iraqi Kurds across the border, especially the Kurdistan Region. The Shiite powers in Lebanon and Syria are grouping to defend their future and powerbase.

Syria has quickly become a series of war within wars in addition to a proxy battle between regional Sunni and Shiite powers.

With 100,000 dead and millions more people displaced, just when will the Syrian fortunes take a turn for the better? Unfortunately, in most wars, it is when enough devastation of lives, infrastructure, economy and society takes place when ethnic, sectarian or national loyalties are finally exhausted by a stark reality. A reality is that sooner or later, there is no option but to sit at the peace table and negotiate.

There is revived talk of Geneva II been held next month, but such negotiations are only successful when there is the realisation that things can never be the same again. The building of bridges must be based on a new reality. In Syria, it means that the days of a strong man, authoritarian rule and ultimately Bashar al-Assad is over.

Syria will only work with a decentralisation of power much like in Iraq. With artificial created borders comes a pooling of people that is unnatural and unsustainable. The pride of Syrian nationality becomes secondary to significance of ethnic or sectarian identity.

It is not just in Syria where such soft-partitions are inevitable, most countries whose dictatorial rule was ended by the Arab Spring risk this eventuality especially Libya. Most of these countries never tasted true democracy and thus regional splits and boundaries within each state could be masked. Iraq is a prime example, through the electoral polls, Shiites may now be the majority but Sunnis and Kurds would never accept rule of the Shiites by virtue of their electoral clout.

The unraveling of the Middle East needs no greater example than the fall of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia managed to mask numerous ethnic and religious fault lines through the use of force and an iron hand.

The eventual break-up of Yugoslavia was brutal and bloody but ultimately the only solution was outright separation in most cases and soft-partition in some others.

The conflict in Bosnia that started in 1992 and ended with the Dayton Agreement in 1995, effectively split Bosnia and Herzegovina into a Bosniak and Croat federation and a second Serb entity, Republika Srpska.

With the untangling of borders comes a rush to form new identities and to consolidate power. As with Yugoslavia and particularly Bosnia, the result of that is ethnic cleansing and mass population movements.

It took countless lives, atrocities and suffering to finally realise that a negotiated settlement was the only way out of the Bosnian conflict and ultimately this will be the same for Syria. A soft portion of course casts doubts on real unity or the principle of a single state.

This example can be described no better than the recent Bosnian football team triumph that saw them reach the World Cup in 2014 for the first time. Football normally brings the country together but in spite of a truly historic achievement, the reaction of the Serbian entity, whose natural allegiance is to neighboring Serbia, was muted at best. The Croatian elements in Bosnia were hardly more inspiring.

This is the result of borders not reflecting split of ethnicities or sectarian components.

The ethnic group that has suffered the most from the artificial boundaries of the Middle East is the Kurds. With de-facto erosions in the Middle Eastern borders, they have a unique opportunity to build bridges between all parts of Kurdistan.

The Kurds must capitalize when the shape of the Middle East is in a fluid state by leveraging a strong had in the current crises they are exposed to and have significantly influence in. This starts with the protection of the Syrian Kurds and their newfound historic autonomy.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc