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Kurds: A Common Issue for Iran, Turkey

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Elyas Vahedi
Expert on Turkey and Caucasus Affairs

Kurds are among one of those peoples in the world that despite considerable population and independent ethnic and cultural identity do not have an independent country. The Kurdish nostalgia, therefore, has been always a dominant feature among Kurdish groups in the region, but conditions characterizing political geography of the Middle East have not allowed Kurds to make their dream of creating a Greater Kurdistan come true. Developments in Iraq subsequent to the occupation of this country by the United States have not only had profound effects on Iraq, but also on Kurdish groups in the neighboring Syria, Turkey and Iran.

In Iraq, Kurds are trying to play a more effective role in the country’s power structure while, at the same time, taking advantage of the existing opportunities to take measures independent of the central government in Baghdad. In doing so, they have sometimes gone to such extremes that they have elicited stern objection of Baghdad. Iraqi Kurds are taking advantage of the oil reserves in northern part of the country outside all the existing legal frameworks of Iraq. At the same time, they hurriedly moved to declare their independence from the central government of Iraq after the northern part of the country was overrun by ISIS terrorist group. By doing so, Kurds actually proved that they do not attach great importance to territorial integrity of Iraq. Of course, when they felt the heat from the ISIS later on, they withdrew from their independent-seeking move. In Syria, the critical situation in the Arab country has caused the government of President Bashar Assad to focus more on fighting against such armed terrorist groups as ISIS and al-Nusra Front. As a result, the government in Damascus has largely left Syrian Kurds to themselves, a clear example of which was the indifference of Damascus toward the situation in the Kurdish border city of Kobani, whose Arabic name is Ayn al-Arab. Therefore, both in Iraq and Syria, Kurds are currently experiencing a semi-autonomous state as a result of the situation in the two countries. On the other hand, the increasing weakness of the central governments in both countries has further highlighted the independent nature of their Kurdish regions.

Unlike Iraq and Syria, Iran and Turkey have central governments that are not only capable of enforcing their sovereignty over their entire territories, but also appear as two major powers in all regional equations. However, regional developments in the Middle East whose gravitational centers have been situated in the geographical expanse of the regional Kurdish regions, have also left their mark on Kurdish groups active in Iran and Turkey. Due to absence of powerful Kurd groups opposed to the Islamic Republic of Iran, major anti-government military moves were carried out by the PJAK group, which had become more active following developments in the neighboring Iraq. However, the two countries reached an agreement in this regard in 2011 after which the activities of PJAK have come to a standstill. As for Turkey, despite the presence of such a powerful Kurdish group as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the government of the ruling Justice and Development Party has entered into negotiations with the Kurdish group. By introducing its democratic initiative known as the Kurdish Opening, the Turkish government has ignored political tradition of the country and entered into talks with PKK as a result of which it has been able to put a leash on insecurity in southeastern and eastern parts of Turkey.

At present, in view of the fact that the central governments in Iraq and Syria cannot play an effective role with regard to the Kurdish issue in their countries, the management of this issue across the region, willingly or unwillingly, rests on the governments of Iran and Turkey. Therefore, through proper interactions with Kurdish groups active in the region, especially the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, governments in these two countries can redirect Kurdish groups toward restoration of rights and long-term welfare of the Kurdish people while playing a key role in maintaining territorial integrity of regional states. Of course, the role played in this regard by other regional and transregional powers, especially the United States and Israel, cannot be ignored. Both these players have always used Kurds as a trump car in order to mount pressure on Iran and Turkey.

Certain remarks made by some American officials on reshaping the political geography of the Middle East have made analysts believe that the United States is planning to change the existing borders in the Middle East in accordance with the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 on the basis of the regional interests of the UK and France. At the time that the agreement was concluded, the White House was following Monroe’s doctrine of isolation and did not receive any share of the legacy of the Ottoman Empire in the Arab world. Now, implementing the new Middle East project, which seeks to break up regional countries, can be considered as one of the most important goals of this project. In doing so, such terrorist groups as ISIS and the separatist Kurdish groups, are playing the role of trump cards in the hands of the United States.

Under current circumstances, when Western circles are talking about theories that are based on redrawing geographical borders among regional countries, and perhaps some Kurdish groups like such discussions, the most logical way to solve the Kurdish issue and manage Kurdish groups is to resort to the standards of human rights and restore the citizenship rights of Kurds in those countries where they sway an ethnic majority. Turkey has been giving up the idea of ethnic unification of the country in recent years and has provided good grounds for the restoration of the citizenship rights of Kurds without any need to war or breakup of the country. In case of serious determination by both sides, this path will reach positive results. As for Iran, necessary grounds for the realization of the ethnic rights of all citizens have been provided, and the relevant policies not only need to be implemented, but must also have serious determination of politicians as their backup. Therefore, the most logical way is for the two governments of Iran and Turkey to not only be serious with respect to implementing domestic reforms, but also interact with each other on a regional scale on the issue of Kurds. On the other hand, Kurdish groups must learn from past experiences and try to realize their rights through legal mechanisms provided by their respective countries.

Key Words: Kurds, Common Issue, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Middle East, Greater Kurdistan, Syria, ISIS Terrorist Group, Kobani, Bashar Assad, PJAK, PKK, Territorial Integrity, Sykes-Picot Agreement, US, Israel, Vahedi

More By Elyas Vahedi:

*Turkey Revives Alliance with Saudi Arabia, Qatar as New Chess Game Starts in Syria: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Turkey-Revives-Alliance-with-Saudi-Arabia-Qatar-as-New-Chess-Game-Starts-in-Syria.htm

*Unfriendly Remarks Mar Iran-Turkey Developing Relations: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Unfriendly-Remarks-Mar-Iran-Turkey-Developing-Relations.htm

*Iran, Azerbaijan Need More Social Understanding to Expand Ties: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran-Azerbaijan-Need-More-Social-Understanding-to-Expand-Ties.htm

*Photo Credit: Global Security

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