IS, Turkey and the Kurdish Question

By Zwan Mahmod:

Kurds are the 'boots on the ground' fighting IS

Kurds are providing the main ‘boots on the ground’ fighting IS

The advance of the Islamic State (IS) in the past year across, first in Syria and then Iraq, both surprised and worried players in the region. Its incursions into northern and western Iraq led to the fall of prime Nouri-Al Maliki as Iraqi Prime Minister and it forced Kurdish involvement. Ground fighting now is being conducted predominantly by Kurdish forces, be it the Peshmerga in Iraq or Kurdish fighters in Syria.

Currently, IS is fighting with Kurdish fighters in the Syrian town of Kobanê, bordering Turkey. Reportedly IS had seized one third of the town, yet US airstrikes – and, in the past 24 hours, air drops – have helped stall the IS advance and slowly push it back. The town’s proximity to Turkey has begged the question: why is Turkey not involved in fighting IS? The answer is simple. IS have inadvertently aided the Turkish government by fighting against the Kurds who are the traditional enemies of the Turks due to a century of territorial disputes. The BBC’s Mark Lowen spoke to Yasin Aktay, the Vice Chairman of Turkey’s governing AK Party, who stated: “Why is Kobanê the most important problem?”. Clearly the ongoing battle for Kobanê is not particularly relevant to the Turkish government and is rather a fringe problem. The Vice Chairman went on to say that both the Kurdish fighters and IS are “terrorists” and that Turkey would not distinguish between them. The old and rather worn out phrase that the “Enemy of my enemy is my friend” seems appropriate here. Turkey has seemed to have found that friend, although a rather unsavoury one. Today’s announcement that Turkey will allow Iraqi Kurd forces to assist the Syrian Kurds in Kobanê could represent a partial shift in position, probably under pressure from the US.

The question now, for the US in particular, is whether or not they continue to expand their help to the Kurds, despite Turkey’s current reluctance and possible future resistance. After all, the US quickly supplied arms to the Peshmerga in Iraq but, until today, not to the Kurdish fighters in Syria, even though both are fighting IS and currently the latter are in greater need. They are clearly playing a large role acting as the “Boots on the ground” that the West so desperately wanted but couldn’t seem to get. So, will a proper and full commitment be made to all Kurds to allow them to fight against IS, which is of course in US interests as well as being a moral obligation? This is the first Kurdish question.

The next consideration is what happens afterwards? What then for the Kurds? The Kurds of Syria deserve an autonomous region of their own, a prospect increasingly likely because of Assad’s weakening hold on Syria. The Kurds of Iraq no doubt want an independent state. This has been seemingly impossible for the past century following the incredible myopia of the British and French at the end of WW1. Yet it is looking increasingly possible, with the fall of Maliki and continued sectarian warfare between Sunni and Shia Arabs. The break-up of Iraq into three would afford the Kurds a good opportunity for independence; with a legitimate claim as the largest ethnic minority in the world without a state, as the force that fought against IS when no one else could or would, and as the only democratic buffer in a region dominated by theocracy and dictatorship. Independence (for Iraqi Kurdistan at least) is not as improbable as it once seemed. This is the second and more important Kurdish question which needs to be addressed.

 Zwan Mahmod is a student at the LSE.

3 Responses to IS, Turkey and the Kurdish Question
  1. kuvan Bamarny
    October 21, 2014 | 15:55

    The debate and question of the independence of kurdistan has always been controversial and conditional in the international community.

    Since the neighboring countries such as Iran ,Turkey and Arabs are Moslems,they do not want to see the establishment of a new independent secular state against their Islamic values and interest at their gates.They have been analyzing the policies and direction’s of Kurds asto which direction it goes.So far they have not been as happy and satisfied as they should with the Kurdish polices towards them.

    They have fear and concerns that an Independent Kurdistan might gradually side with the western world and as a result that would create a state of ideological and interests conflicts in the region.They also have concerns that Kurds might join Nato and host military bases at their gate which for them ,it means Kurdistan would be a threat to their securties.They also perceive that an independent liberal kurdistan would be a source of Judo-Christian values and influence to their societies.

    There is some hope and chance for Kurds to be recognized by their Islamic neighbors,Iran Turkey and Arabs,as an independent state, if their interests and ideology do not conflict with the Islamic neighboring states.Moreever,you have the issue of Sunny and Shia Moslem and their effect on the independence of Kurdistan.

    As for the Western world and Judo-Christian countries,they also do not want to see the establishment of a new independent Islamic state as Kurdistan ,against their values and interest in the region.They would perceive that as a threat to their allies,interests and values in the region.

    The best possible way forward for Kurds is to make sure their rights are guaranteed and protected .Federalism system that is one solution .Diplomatic assertive relations that are based on mutual interests and respect are the way towards eastern and western world.

    • Zwan Mahmod
      October 23, 2014 | 19:01

      They may not wish to see an independent Kurdistan but the Kurds obviously do deserve a state of their own, do you agree?

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