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Greater Kurdistan – the dream and reality

Many Kurdish nationalist leaders have diligently worked throughout Kurdish-inhabited areas

Eyad Abu Shakra

Published: Updated:

Only candor was new in Mr. Masrour Barzani’s call for partitioning Iraq after liberating Mosul. The President of the Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani’s son and chancellor of the Region’s “Security Council” justified his declaration by citing the failure of federalism in Iraq.

Many Kurdish nationalist leaders, indeed, have diligently worked throughout Kurdish-inhabited areas, extending from western Iran to northwest Syria – including northeast Iraq and southeast Turkey – for a ‘Greater Kurdistan’, despite the fact such an entity never existed as one unified and integrated polity at any point in Kurdish or Middle Eastern history.

Even when some efforts succeeded from time to time in founding principalities and mini-states – the most recent of which is Iraqi Kurdistan – such as the “Republic of Mahabad” in Iran and the Baban Principality in Iraq, several obstacles have prevented the creation of a greater Kurdistan.

Firstly, the wide spread of Kurdish communities within the boundaries of vast empires, and later, nationalist modern states that had no interest in tolerating secessionist ethnic or sectarian entities within their boundaries.

Secondly, a high percentage of Kurds assimilated and fully integrated in the societies where they settled for centuries, especially in major cities like Cairo, Damascus, Aleppo and Baghdad.

Thirdly, Kurdish areas are predominantly land-locked, a fact that has minimised the chances of them enjoying active support from foreign powers. Even when such support was provided, as was the case of the Soviet backing of Mulla Mustafa Barzani – the father of Massoud and grandfather of Masrour –, it was conditional and temporary.

Fourthly, natural resources in Kurdish areas – oil in Iraq, Iran and Syria; and water in Turkey – have been too precious to let go for the countries where Kurds have lived.

Fifthly, the dream of ‘Greater Kurdistan’ is also inhabited by non-Kurdish minorities quite fearful of rampant Kurdish nationalism now hell-bent on partitioning the present states of the Middle East. The Kurds have had a bloody history with their Assyrian (Nestorian Christian) neighbors, past and present sensitivities and animosities with the Turks and Turkmen, friction and bad blood with Arab and Turkish nationalisms, and bad experiences with Iran which crushed its Kurdish secessionist movement and assassinated one of the Iranian Kurds’ foremost leaders Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou (1989).

The Kurds are now benefiting from the belief of some Western powers led by the US, that realistic global political consideration has diminished the need to keep the present political borders in the Middle East

Eyad Abu Shakra

Regional partition?

Today, all Kurdish reserve and caution regarding regional partition plans is out of the window. Kurdish ‘nationalists’ are candid and over-confident about what they desire and do so thanks to favourable regional and international circumstances.

First and foremost, is the existential animosity now for all to see between a frustrated and confused Arab world, whose frustration and confusion are engendering nihilist self-destructive extremist movements, and an aggressive expansionist Iranian regime engaged in sowing the seeds of conflicts, tending and exploiting them in the Arab world either under the slogan of “exporting the (Khomeinist) revolution” or the pretexts of guarding the Shi’ite “holy shrines”. Then, there is the current crisis between Sunni Arab states opposed to ‘political Islam’ and Sunni ‘Islamist’ Turkey ruled by Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Thus, between Sunni Arabs vs ‘Shi’ite Iranian animosity, and anti Islamist Arabs and “Erdoganist” Turkey, and the ensuing devastation and chaos they have visited on Iraq and Syria, Kurdish ‘nationalists’ have decided to grab the moment, believing it may be a rare golden opportunity not only to fulfil a great dream, but also to avenge a bitter past.

In the meantime, internationally, the Kurds are now benefitting from the belief of some Western powers led by the USA, that realistic global political consideration has diminished the need to keep the present political borders in the Middle East. The taboo had already been broken in Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and elsewhere after September 11th 2001 and the emergence of al-Qaeda and ISIS.


One may also admit that many of the Middle Eastern entities have failed, after around 100 years of drawing their maps, to nurture genuine citizenship and build proper sold state establishments. Iraq and Syria are being torn apart, Lebanon is disabled, Yemen is in turmoil, and religion-clad extremist terrorism is threatening the very existence of Jordan, whether in the form of ‘Islamist’ ISIS, “Biblical” Israeli settlers or “pro-Transfer” groups.

Furthermore, decades after the preoccupation of USA-led Western democracies with promoting the slogans of freedom, democracy and human rights as opposed to Soviet principles of right to self-determination, anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism; all the above have been proven as empty slogans, nothing more, nothing less. As we see today, freedoms are non-existent, democracy has not been experienced and human rights unheard of; and on the other side, the region’s entities are subservient to others, colonialism has returned under new faces and techniques, and ugly and aggressive regional imperialisms are undermining the whole Middle East.

That the Kurds should enjoy the right of self-determination is a matter that must be beyond doubt or argument. However, they must not be allowed to deprive others of their rights too; otherwise they would be doing exactly what they have for so long claimed their oppressors have done to them.

Double standards, historical revisionism and forgery, tactical exploitation of external support to crush potential dissent, and severing ties of neighborly relations and ditching co-existence, are not the right ingredients required to build a future independent Kurdistan.

One can easily sense the above whenever one listens to some Kurdish commentators on Arab satellite TVs talking with arrogance and over-confidence about the battles raging in northern Syria, giving Kurdish names to towns in mixed areas, promising that the Kurdish militias will keep hold of any territory they liberate from ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and refusing any discussion on the identity of Kirkuk or what would become of Mosul.

Actually, what has been taking place in the countryside of Hassakah, Raqqa and Aleppo Provinces, and attempts to connect the Kurdish Afrin enclave (northwest corner of Syria) to the rest of Syrian-Turkish borders’ areas in order to create Western Kurdistan – or Rojava – at the expense of Arab and Turkmen towns and villages in Azaz, El-Bab and Manbij districts, have nothing to do with the right of self-determination.

A future ‘Kurdistan’, if it is to exist, must provide a peaceful co-existential example to the whole Middle East, not an ‘alien creation’ imposed on the region by ephemeral international calculations.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jun. 25, 2016.
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Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949

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