Kurds are now key to a Middle East solution



The Kurds have never been as influential in the Middle East as they are today, argues Henri Barkey, director of the Middle East program at the Wilson Center. They hold the balance of power in Iraq and Syria, and are in the midst of an insurrection in Turkey. But this Kurdish awakening is different from previous ones — in Iraq in the 1970s or Turkey in the 1990s. Powers great and small have to contend with Kurdish demands as never before, he writes for the Financial Times:

Turkish Kurds have either been in a state of insurrection or resolute political activism since the 1990s. That has been down to the PKK’s prowess and, more recently, because the main Kurdish political party, the People’s Democratic party, or HDP, performed extremely well — and won support from a broad range of liberal Turks — in the first of two national elections in 2015. The Kurdish issue has come to dominate Turkey’s politics. In the process, it has also transformed itself from a primarily rural to an urban and far more sophisticated movement.

It goes without saying that when people say “the Kurds” they are simplifying to the point of meaninglessness, writes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Steven Cook:

Besides the geographic distribution across Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, the Kurds are hardly a cohesive and consistent group in terms of worldview, political goals, and relationship to the states in which they live. Are the Kurds terrorists, allies in the war against the Islamic State, or a nation in need of a state? The answer is yes to all of these, which makes things extraordinarily difficult for American policymakers and underlines why observers cannot just invoke “the Kurds.” 

Iraqi Kurdistan’s arguments for sovereignty are reasonable, according to Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq. It is different than Arab Iraq: it is more stable, more prosperous and more tolerant, he has argued:

For years, Iraq’s Shiite-led government has failed to treat Sunnis or Kurds as equal partners. Many Sunnis now so profoundly oppose the government that they have aligned themselves with a terrorist organization that even Al Qaeda considers extremist. The Sunnis demand federalization and autonomy for their provinces, an end to de-Ba’athification, and the delegation of local security to local forces.

For their part, the Kurds were incorporated into Iraq against their will, and endured much of the 20th century under repressive, often murderous, rule, adds Khalilzad, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

In Iraq and Syria, the Kurds are there not only to fight against the Islamic State, but also to defend a precious democratic experiment, The New York Times reports.

Turkey’s approach to resolving the Kurdish issue should be rooted in European models and liberal politics, not the Syria war or failed Ottoman-era policies, Washington institute analyst Soner Cagaptay argues in Foreign Affairs.

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