Time for Kurdish Rights
A recent article in the Washington Post entitled “Time for Kurdish Realism” by Michael O’Hanlon and Omer Taspinar presents Kurdish autonomy and the inclusion of the Kirkuk Referendum in the Iraqi Constitution as some sort of sectarian move for power by the Kurdish nation and its peoples. The first sentence of the article presents its view that Kurds are merely a factional dispute among the Iraqis. The fact is that the Kurdish nation is the only one that defines its interests as a nation and not as a religious faction of Islam. Although the Kurds are predominately Sunni, they never identified with the political parties of the Baathists and they endured the brutality at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s regime. After the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War 1 Kurds were promised a referendum which the imperial occupiers in their own scheme for divide and conquer reneged on. Iraq as a nation with no cohesive national identity was preferable to the British than nations that were forged historically and presented a common culture and territory. So the nations of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran had boundaries established by the British that divided the Kurds in those newly created states and prevented them from their right to national sovereignty.
Since then the Kurds were subjected to numerous mass murder campaigns by the political leaders, such as Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein, of the states into which they were partitioned. Poison gas was used against them at Halabja and they were forced out of Kirkuk in an “Arabization” campaign by Hussein. The authors admit to this but presume that the reason for the delay in the Kirkuk referendum has been their demand for independence. The Kurdish Regional Government has worked with the central government in Baghdad with an understanding of their vulnerability as a people in the region and has exercised judgment in regards to how to protect its people and establish a workable political solution in the context of the current US occupation. They also confront the historical record of aggression on their people by the other states in the region and the record of attempts to forcibly assimilate them by Turkey resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of Kurds.
The writers of the article suggest just the opposite that: “the Kurds seem to believe that if Iraq fails, they will be okay.” In fact, just the opposite is the case that concerns them. They are really taking the measures they need to now to protect the people in the event of the dissolution of Iraq after the US occupation ends and proposing that any future with Iraq be based on the recognition of their autonomy. There is no record that anyone can present that establishes their safety will be assured by any of its neighbors or any new regime in Baghdad. There is no guarantee that a centralized regime will protect the Kurdish people. In fact, the record indicates that they are already considered hostile to Sunni and Shi’a political leadership not because of any military engagement against them by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Rather leaders such as Muqtada al-Sadr have actively sought to deny the political rights of the Kurds within Iraq.
The attempt to make oil the primary focus denies the historical record of Kurdish peoples and attempts to present the Kurds as ungrateful to US occupiers in Iraq. The gratitude of Kurds for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein should not be confused with their necessity to establish their own armed forces for their own defense and the need to rectify the historical injustice of the denial of Kurdish national rights. The U.S. does not have the right, as an occupier, to prevent the political leadership of the KRG from acting in a manner guaranteed under the current Iraqi Constitution. The Kirkuk Referendum is embedded in that Constitution. They already accepted a six-month delay to it from the deadline established in the Iraqi Constitution. Imagine their unreasonableness! Even in the face of hundreds of thousands of Turkish troops massed on the border, they agree to a delay.
“Kurdish realism” is based not on a short-term US invasion but on the recognition that the future must be prepared for under the present circumstances. This means the Kurdish nation must be prepared to confront any and all eventualities. For the Kurdish nation making a mistake now will be paid for in the future in the lives of Kurdish peoples. If the government in Baghdad delays the referendum, then they are totally within their rights to work around it and work towards the development of resources within existing boundaries to provide economic security for their people. If the suggestion is they should be silent and submissive when the government in Iraq delays and stalls the implementation of the Kirkuk referendum that is simply a prescription for national disaster.
The Turkish government has still refused to recognize the Kurdistan Regional Government and has in the past invaded them. Turkey is not a disinterested party in regards to the territory of southern Kurdistan that it once occupied under the Ottoman Empire and has its own motives in seeking to expand beyond its current borders. Likewise, it has its own motives for attempting to present the PKK as it exists today as a threat. Within Turkey it has continued its persecution of Kurdish political parties, such as the Democratic Society Party (DTP). In the face of these assaults a non-violent march in Turkey against the planned Turkish invasion was sent off with 20,000 supporters demonstrating on February 6 in Diyarbakir. Is it unreasonable for Turkey to cease its attacks on sovereign territory or allow the political representatives within its own nation to represent their people without the threat of retaliation?
Who is being unreasonable here? Is it the Kurds who defend their political and national rights or the Turkish government and military that bombs Iraqi citizens and persecutes Kurds within its own nation? Who is being unrealistic here? Is it the Kurds who confront the power of the largest military states of Turkey and Iran in the region that have demonstrated a hostile intent towards Kurdish people or the KRG that acts to establish the needed economic, political and military infrastructure that can build for the future without the shadow of genocide looming over them?