Middle East

The Fear of a Free Kurdistan in the Middle East of the 21st Century

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Dr. Ayla Gol | 01 June 2010

Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and the de facto existence of Iraqi Kurdistan in northern Iraq, Ankara’s fear of the disintegration of the Turkish state has been severely intensified. In particular, a speculative map of the Middle East was published in the American Armed Forces Journal in 2005 that proposed to divide Iraq into three separate states: Sunni, Arab Shia and ‘free Kurdistan’ (See Map 1) with Iranian, Syrian and Turkish borders adjusted accordingly.


The scenario of re-drawing the borders of ‘free Kurdistan’ in the Middle East reminded the historical clauses of the Treaty of Sevres of 1920. The possibility of a free Kurdistan has always been perceived as a real threat to Turkey’s national unity and territorial integrity that led to the construction of hegemonic discourses by the state. Moreover, an independent and prosperous oil-rich Kurdish state in Iraq has the potential to attract Turkey’s citizens of Kurdish ethnic origin to unite with Iraqi-Kurdistan.


Hence, Ankara governments have continued resisting the de jure existence of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq and opted for establishing diplomatic and economic relations via Baghdad. When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki banned the PKK from operating in Iraq in 2006 this was seen largely as a gesture to Turkey. Ankara accused northern Iraqi self-rule of supporting the PKK. While Ankara’s military incursions in northern Iraq occupied the attention of the international community between 2006 and 2009 it remains uncertain as to how the pro-Islamic AKP government will reconcile its Kurdish issue in domestic politics in post-liberation Iraq in 2010.


Search for a Viable Solution? Democratic Engagement


The Kurdish path to radicalisation and the subsequent rise of PKK terrorism was shaped by the repressive policies and hegemonic discourse of the authoritarian states that refused to accommodate ethnic diversity in Turkey and Iraq. On the one hand, a cultural and political expression of a distinct Kurdish ethnic identity was denied by the hegemonic discourses and, on the other, the emergence of a radical minority group among the Kurds that demanded the recognition of cultural rights and ethnic identity. The transformation of the movement from non-violent to the use of violence for their specific political causes led to Kurdish demands to a non-democratic dead-end. It was only after the AKP came to power in 2002 that cultural reforms have been passed through the Turkish Parliament. Undoubtedly, it was an integral part of an attempt to achieve Turkey’s fast-forward membership into the EU. Diplomatic and political pressure from Brussels to improve Ankara’s record in minority rights had positive impacts on the AKP policies towards the Kurds in its domestic and foreign affairs.

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