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 The New Middle East Political Dynamic And The Kurds

 Opinion — Analysis  
  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author


The New Middle East Political Dynamic And The Kurds  3.8.2012 
By Hiwa Zandi
Special to

August 3, 2012

The changing political dynamic of the Middle East may conduce the re-emergence of Kurds as important regional political actors; precedents set from thousands of years. Kurds may finally be in a position to redeem their decades of usurped freedoms. What is more important is the relative power of the Kurds across the region to invest in the changing political dynamic and to establish their status as decisive actors in the new Middle Eastern political equation.

In the last several decades, the Middle East tolerated the abuses of power zealot, despotic rulers. The cold war politics and the economic requirement of access to low-price oil resisted any attempt to change the status quo. The Kurds were idled with the endurances of severe treatment from the part of the despotic rulers and regimes. The bipolar politics and energy interests would avoid Kurds any political advance gaining ground. The Kurdistan Republic of Mahabad (1946) and the Iraqi Kurdistan semi-autonomous entity(1970)culminated as a result of these unamicable circumstances.

The official end of bipolar structure in 1991 would partly vary the prevailing political equation vis-à-vis the Kurdish strategic political status. This however did not prove to be a determinative factor. The Kurdish political status started gaining ground only after the Middle East’s traditional political structure began threatening or harming the Western interests. In the post-cold war era, the terrorist activities orchestrated by the so called Islamic extremist groups surfaced. The fear of rising powers of uncompromising despotic rulers and regimes arose. The threats posed by the Shi’a-crescent dominion (with Iran at the epicentre, stretching to the Shi’a Iraq, Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah) became increasingly assertive. Israel and some regional Western allied Sunni States were particularly alarmed by the Shi’a-crescent security threats. These factors would push for a radical overhaul and redefining of the political dynamic of the region. This changing political environment would also accelerate and bolster the existing Middle Eastern struggle for change.

What is witnessed now an unleashed Middle East set to transform swiftly into apparently modern democratic States. This is being partly charged with curtailing the Shi’a power posture in the region.

How do Kurds from different Kurdish majority areas of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria in particular Kurdistan Region of Iraq, established in 1991 after imposition of no fly-zones over parts of north and south of Iraq, partake in the equation and garner political advances? Kurds may have limited but promising political prospects. With the new Kurdish political entity gaining ground in the Syrian Kurdistan (North Syria), Kurds enjoy a golden opportunity to establish the basis of a viable future for the Kurdish State.

Kurds require procuring strong regional and/or international political and security support for any viable greater future entity.

Within the regional dimension, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)’s viable leverage is to use its economic relations and the divergence of regional political and religious divide for their political interest. Gaining political support within the context of strong economic relations with the neighbouring countries in particular with Turkey and drawing support from the regional States such as Saudi Arabia, Arab Emirates and Qatar in the context of Sunni – Shi’a struggle for dominance are practical. However, any political support gained may not be strategic and conducive to change in the long run. This is because the immediate neighbours of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, an independent Kurdish political entity, have vested interest in the status quo of a divided Kurdistan. The farther nations, being primarily Arabic, may not necessarily be amenable to the emergence of a strong united Kurdish entity as it may mean possible detachment of parts of Kurdistan currently within the political boundaries of Arab Iraq and Arab Syria and their incorporation into a greater independent Kurdish State.

Establishing alliance with the West, being primarily the US and European Union (EU), through mutually beneficial relations is therefore fundamental in the long run for the viability of any Kurdish political entity.

Kurds can provide the West with strategic political, economic and security advantages in return for political support and security protection.
Kurdistan Region of Iraq has proven to be profoundly pro-western and an American ally. No American soldier died in the Kurdistan Region in the war against Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda remnants in Iraq.

Kurdish political behaviour to a large extent is driven by secular ideals. This is being the result of relative congruent cultural character and mainstream democratic political forces. In this context, the KRG is proving to be a relatively successful democratic political experiment which can present as a model for the rest of Middle East.

With their geo-strategic location in the Middle East, Kurds can also play a vital role for the regional security which would also contribute to the security of the Western interests in the region, in particular Israel. Having secular and democratic political orientation, the KRG can contribute to the Middle East appeasement efforts. It can offer the West a barrier to religious fundamentalism in the region. Western policy-makers should encourage these Kurdish potentials and in return provide security guarantee to the Kurds against any regional threat.

On an economic level, Kurds can develop mutually beneficial relations with the Middle Eastern and Western States. The huge energy reserves (oil, gas and other minerals resources) present within the Kurdistan Region can provide immense contribution to the Western nations’ energy needs.
The formation of Kurdo-Western geo-strategic, economic and political relations in consolidating a greater Kurdish entity in the region, however, is not a trouble-free strategy. The antagonistic powers including Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria still control parts of Kurdish land. Historically, these regional powers have acted collectively to destroy any Kurdish political advances. Iraqi Kurdistan has been autonomous since 1991 but without reuniting with the other parts of Kurdistan, it remains a landlocked entity. It cannot export its energy resources to the international market without bilateral cooperation with these States. Kurdistan Region’s unobstructed access to the world energy market is crucial for its long-term development and partnership in the region’s strategic political dynamic.

Under the strong leadership of President Massoud Barzani, the KRG has made reasonable economic progress. International oil giants such as ExxonMobil, Chevron and French Total have been brought into the Kurdistan Region, a step which may ultimately guarantee its long-term security and progress. Kurdistan Region has also developed strong economic relations with Turkey. A recent agreement to transfer oil and gas resources to the world market through the planned pipeline construction is a vital development.

It is however important to understand that the emerging economic relations between the KRG and Turkey may not be a long term strategic arrangement in the energy sector. Turkey’s strategic security interest ultimately clashes with that of the Kurdistan Region. Kurdistan Region’s growing power and the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish entity in the Syrian Kurdistan will politically affect Turkey’s own Kurdish population inhabiting South East of the country to demand similar regional autonomy. Turkish security policy considers any autonomy demand a direct threat to its territorial integrity. For this reason, Turkey will take any counter-effective political or economic measures even in the energy sector to ensure its territorial integrity. This is evident from the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s recent statement in which he warned the Kurdish authorities in the KRG to stop providing any military support to the emerging Kurdish entity in the Syrian Kurdistan.

Therefore, Kurdistan Region’s strategic political, economic and security interest in the region lies in securing a further alternative route of access to the world energy market. The current political developments in Syria in general and Syrian Kurdistan in particular are promising in terms of such geo-political and economic interests. Several districts in the Syrian Kurdistan are now reportedly under the joint administration of the Kurdish National Council (KNC), an umbrella organisation of Syrian Kurdistan parties and Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian Kurdish armed political party regarded as affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The Syrian army reportedly handed over these districts to the Kurds with minimal resistance. Kurds now control Afrin, a majority Kurdish district of approximately 490,000 inhabitants, located at a short distance to the Mediterranean Sea. It appears inconceivable for the Kurds to reach the Mediterranean Sea at this point through the current Syrian borders. However, this may be materialised by the convergence of strategic political, economic and security interests with the imminent future State of Latakia. It is reported that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is working on creating an Alawite dominated State of Latakia on the Mediterranean coast in case he loses Damascus to the rebels. In such a scenario, it is essential for the KRG to take pre-emptive strategic measures in reaching the Mediterranean Sea and securing future energy interests.

In this context, the KRG would have to bolster the emerging Kurdish entity in the Syrian Kurdistan. This conduct would face severe Arab Syrian and Turkish resistance; not naming the other political actors in the region such as Iran and Shi’te Iraq. Turkey would strongly oppose any Kurdish entity in the Syrian Kurdistan not only because of perceiving it as a direct threat to its territorial integrity but also to stop any possible future export of the KRG’s energy resources to the international market outside its territories.

In the face of these impediments, it is fundamental for the Syrian Kurdish factions and their brethren in other parts of Kurdistan to maintain strong unity and cooperation. In this circumstance, undertaking an extensive international political campaign may prove material to consolidate thee merging Kurdish political entity in the Syrian Kurdistan. KRG would also have to play a positive role in the political transition of any possible future Alawite State and take the initiative of establishing strategic political and economic relations.

President Barzani has taken serious steps in this direction in uniting different Syrian Kurdistan political factions under the Erbil pact. As he stated in his recent Aljazeera interview, KRG has also provided military training to the Syrian Army deserters of Kurdish origins to fill any security vacuum in the new emerging Kurdish entity.

Where this may lead to is unpredictable but it is evidently clear that Kurds have the opportunity to become an important regional political actor. Kurds need to take strategic steps to drive the change in the direction that serves their strategic political interest.

Hiwa Zandi, Masters of Laws Student, University of Queensland, Australia. Article for

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  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author


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