Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Arab Spring- Kurdish Summer

After South Sudan and Palestine willl Kurdistan Be Next for independence?
In a dramatic move, last month, the Congress for a Democratic Society (DTK), a platform for Kurdish associations and movements In the Kurdish region of Turkey and the main Kurdish party, BDP, have proclaimed a democratic self-government, saying that the Kurds do not want any longer to live without a status. The 850 delegates of the DTK, meeting Thursday, July 14 in Diyarbakir, the capital of Turkish Kurdistan, have decided to proclaim a "democratic autonomy" for the peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question.

The Kurds are planning their future homeland partly in historic Armenian territories which for over 4000 years have been Armenia's heartland and their ancient culture, until in 1915 the Turkish government perpetrated, massacred and then occupied this land. Now ninety years later, Turkish Kurds want to turn this territory into their autonomy.
This move will shake the foundations of the Turkish state as has been feared for a long time. But the  bold Kurdish initiative does not have only domestic ramifications for Turkey alone. It might well become the trigger for an independent Kurdistan state embracing the Kurdish Iraq, parts of Iran and Syria as well.

Now that the genie is out, the world is watching prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's known wizardry, to see if he can put back the genie in the bottle. Meanwhile the Kurds have created a fait accompli and will not retreat unless they face a bloodbath in traditional Turkish style.
The Diyarbakir declaration  had already fueled tensions in Turkey after an upsurge in Kurdish militant activity, which killed 13 Turkish soldiers, and a boycott of parliament by Kurdish deputies, following the June election of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government.
The daring unprecedented Kurdish move, totally surprised and shocked the Ankara administration, totally stunning  Erdogan and his ministers. Any attempt to annul the Kurdish challenge will have critical repercussions.
The Turkish military has recently undergone a serious crisis, when the entire general staff resigned en block, which may be the reason, why its intelligence service has not given early warning on the political build-up in Diyarbakir.

Prime minister Erdogan and his newly assigned generals are facing a difficult dilemma: Should they order a military intervention to rescind the Kurdish declaration by force, this action, which will no doubt be confronted by violent defiance by the Kurds,  will  certainly get Turkey in trouble with the world, especially in Europe, with which Ankara  has its wishful dreams over joining the European Union.
Being also an important member of the NATO, using military force, including American weapons, against its own people, would be regarded  a very serious matter in Washington.
So, with a bit of luck and political wisdom by the Diyarbakir leaders, the entire Kurdish people could take avantage of the ongoing Arab Spring and prepare the ground for a long anticipated independent Kurdistan, linking up with Iraq's ongoing autonomy, the Iranian Kurdish enclave and perhaps even the Syrian Kurdish minorities, already suffering from Bashar Assad's murdering bullies.

With the Arab world in total turmoil, lacking any orderly leadership, the Kurds could finally achieve their sacred goal for  independence, after decades, if not centuries of  desecration and  oppression. If the Kurds will play their cards wisely, first of all eliminate once and for all their internal disputes and strifes over minor issues, the creation of an independent Kurdistan may even be sanctioned by the United Nations. Following the establishment of South Sudan and soon to be Palestine, the estimated 25 million Kurds, should no longer be denied equal rights for independence, even if their neighbors would react negatively against it.

So meet the Kurds. A largely Sunni Muslim people with their own language and culture. For more than 4,000 years Kurds have inhabited the Zagros Mountains, the Mesopotamian Plains, Taurus Mountains and Mt Ararat. This rugged mountainous region has provided them a sanctuary from military oppression. Generally known as Kurdistan, it nevertheless appears nowhere on any official maps.

Exact numbers of the Kurdish population are difficult to establish. According to estimates,  there are some 13-15 million Kurds living  in Turkey, about five million in Iran, four million in Iraq and some 900,000 in Syria. Over two  million Kurds live scattered in the rest of the world, mostly in central Asia.

The Kurds were arbitrarily overlooked by the victorious powers that artificially carved up the Mideast after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire post-World War I. But during that same period, Kurds began to consider the concept of nationalism, a notion introduced by the British amid the division of traditional Kurdistan among neighboring countries. The 1920 Treaty of Sevres, which created the modern states of Iraq, Syria and Kuwait, was to have included the possibility of a Kurdish state in the region. However, it was never implemented.
After the overthrow of the Turkish monarchy by Kemal Ataturk, Turkey, Iran and Iraq each agreed not to recognize an independent Kurdish state. Despite a common goal of independent statehood, the Kurds in the various countries are hardly unified. From 1994-98, two Iraqi Kurd factions – the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Jalal Talabani – fought a bloody war for power over northern Iraq. In September 1998, the two sides agreed to a power-sharing arrangement. Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK, has been  waging a guerrilla insurgency in southeastern Turkey in its quest for an independent Kurdish state which should be a homeland for all Kurds.

The contrast between how the world treats the Palestinians and the Kurds could not be more marked. Palestinians are spoiled with international succor and are pampered financially by the world. They were offered an independent state back in 1947 but rejected it, preferring to destroy the new Jewish state instead. In September, the Palestinians now expect the world to give backing to a unilateral declaration of an independent state. This might well succeed, following the example in South Sudan.

 But inconceivably, the Kurdish declaration for autonomy in Turkey, last month was greeted with total silence. In short, a people meeting many more prerequisites for political seld-determination  failed to elicit even a modicum of  world sympathy so liberally accorded the Palestinians.

However the ongoing 'Arab Spring' could eventually shift into a 'Kurdish Summer', if their leaders, execising wiser statemanship, will find a way to join hands in what seems to become their golden opportunity. As dramatic changes are sweeping the entire Arab world, new chances could emerge for Kurdish independence as well. With the dilemma in Ankara growing steadily, the future of Turkey's Kurdish minority is  inevitably shifting into its national focus. The long unfulfilled quest of the Kurds for independent statehood is now emerging as a major barrier in Turkey’s path to the European Union and in Ankara’s relations with the United States.
Hardly a day goes by without Turkish threats to enter northern Iraq, still held by US forces,  in pursuit of Kurdish PKK rebels waging a 32-year-old guerrilla war that has claimed countless lives. This very concept, even Turkish officials say, is dynamite under the foundations of the 
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's led republic.

But should something sofar unexpected happen and the United Nations will at last follow suit with a declaration of an independent Kurdistan, the Kurdish troubles will be far from over. In fact, they might face an onslaught of three neighbors, determined to destroy the fledgling creation before it matures into a strategic threat to them.

Turkey cannot afford an independent Kurdistan, it would be losing some of its highly strategic and economic assets. In fact, without Kurdish eastern Turkey, the entire nation coherence would break apart.  Iran will fear the establishment of a dangerous  Sunni stronghold on its eastern border, destabilizing the already highly ethnic sensitive Sh'ite republic.
It seems that military intervention  will become the only option and Turkey's military might will be dominant in this dangerous venture, which might have unprecedented repercussions throughout the entire region.

The Turkish General Staff  certainly realizes that any military action aimed at the Kurdish enclave in south-eastern Turkey would be a high-risk operation. The area is mostly mountainous and difficult to enter with armored forces. The Turkish army has already experienced such kind of fighting against the PKK. From  1984 to 1999 alone, the army battled  PKK guerillas in southeast Turkey in an expensive conflict which took over 30,000 lives. Should Ankara decide to eliminate the Kurdish declaration for independence, by force, they could face hundreds of thousands determined fighters, many of them trained by the Turkish Army itself during their mandatory service, or as regular officers and soldiers. Up to one-fifth of Turkey's 72 million people are Kurds, meaning that tens of thousands serve in the armed forces at any one time.  
No doubt, the Kurdish Peshmerga instructors will start training the Turkish Kurds to fight a guerilla war in the south Turkey mountains, which provide excellent conditions to ward off large military forces. In such difficult terrain, entire divisions could be broken up by determined fighters, cleverly using their own familiar habitat to establish bunkers in crevices, mine the narrow mountain passes with IEDs, every ridge, nook and cranny becoming a major infantry operation.

Moreover, the Turkish army will face a much more serious problem, once the Turkish conscripts no lonver count among the mandatory and regular service troops. Those soldiers make up a large segment of the infantry and will be hard, if not entirely impossible to replace.

Prime minister Erdogan seems to have anticipated this problem and has already ordered his newly created  army staff  to start hiring professional frontline troops and is examining ways to cut compulsory military service, which currently provides the bulk of the army’s manpower. To build and train a professional army takes time and resources, which will place a heavy burden on Turkey's economy, time which might become critical if the Turkish Kurds will merge with the Iraqi Pershmerga fighters. Under such circumstances, the " new" Turkish army could face the full impact of a seasoned Peshmerga army of more than 100,000 fighters operating in extremely complex and very difficult terrain.

Peshmerga "those who face death" have been in existence since the advent of the Kurdish independence movement in the early 1920s, following the collapse of theOttoman Empire. They are highly  motivated and trained mountain fighters known for their courage and fierce fighting spirit.

In this turbulent part of the world, already undergoing some highly dramatic changes, Turkey will no doubt soon come into world focus, as this political wizard, prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan  is facing his yet most difficult challenge.

Part Two will analyse the economic and military prospects of an independent Kurdistan


  1. The population of kurds who live in İstanbul is more than who lives in eastern part of Turkey.Will Turkey give an aotonomy to Kurds in İstanbul if a Kurdish state established in east?And mr Eshel,there are many kurds in mersin,adana cities which are in mediterrranian coast so please add these cities to the kurdish territory map so kurds have coridoor to the sea.

  2. Kurdish people are denied their basic rights everyday in Turkey!! How can the EU ever consider Turkey a part of Europe? When Turkey has the worst record for abusing their own minority such as the Kurds?

  3. Just wanted to add, most Kurds in Iran have left for either Syria or Turkey since 1979, the economy has been horrible in Iran for the past 33 years. Yet, they are treated horribly in Turkey. It's just soo sad.