Vision of an Independent Kurdistan

The crucial significance of Netanyahu’s call for an independent Kurdish state.

kurdIn an address delivered at Tel Aviv University on Sunday, June 29, 2014, Israel’s Prime Minister called for an “Independent Kurdish State” in northern Iraq. Citing the collapse of Iraq amid the ISIS insurgency and sectarian violence, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed the de-facto independence of Iraqi Kurds. Netanyahu has also called for support of the “Kurdish aspiration for independence.” Netanyahu’s support for Kurdish independence is not only strategic, it is emotional as well. Jews and Zionists identify with the Kurdish quest for self-determination of a scattered people that have been discriminated against and abandoned by the international community.

The open recognition of Kurdish rights to self-determination by a major international figure such as PM Netanyahu has finally shone a light on the 40 million Kurdish people without a state of their own. The Arabs have 22 states already, and the international community including the Obama administration, are clamoring for a Palestinian State. This would add another rather unstable state to the existing Arab states. It is therefore a moral imperative to recognize the right of the Kurdish people to an independent state of their own.

Kurds have unsuccessfully sought freedom and self-determination since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. The legal basis of their modern-day independence efforts was the Treaty of Sèvres signed on August 10, 1920. It was annulled in the course of the “Turkish War of Independence” and the parties signed and ratified the superseding Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which was silent regarding Kurdish rights due to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s tactics (founder of Turkey), where he presented himself as the representative of Kurdish-Turkish brotherhood of the newly created republic, and removed all reference to the Kurds.

Turkey has been the major obstacle to Kurdish independence. In recent years however, as the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara found itself more isolated in the region, the vision of a friendly and perhaps independent Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil (Northern Iraq) has been seen more positively in Ankara and Istanbul. A July 14, 2014 visit to Ankara by KRG President Massoud Barzani was widely speculated to be Barzani’s search for Turkish endorsement for an independent Kurdish state.

Turkey is in no rush to endorse an independent Kurdish state. The upcoming presidential elections in Turkey make it necessary for Erdogan to show friendliness toward the Kurds. Yet, as a foreign policy issue, Turkey is in line with President Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who oppose an independent Kurdish state. Not long ago, Turkey, Iran and Syria were in an alliance to forestall any manifestation of Kurdish self-determination.

Sherkoh Abbas is President of Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria (KURDNAS) and the organizer of an all-Kurdish conference in Germany in late August, 2014. He shared his vision of a future Kurdish independent state with this reporter.

“The Kurds merit an independent Kurdistan based on the treaty of Sèvres. Kurds arrived in the region now inhabited by Arabs, Persians and Turks (Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey) more than 4,000 years ago, and have continuously lived in these areas. The Kurds have been moderate, tolerant, pro-western, democratic, and protective of minorities. In fact, the Kurdish controlled areas in Iraq and Syria have recently become a haven for Christians and other minorities seeking refuge from Sunni Islamist radical groups such as the Islamic State (SI). Why then can there be 22 Arab states, one Turkish state, one Persian state, one Jewish state, but no Kurdish state? Why is it that 40 million Kurds do not enjoy the same rights of self-determination as the Arabs, Persians and Turks under the UN Charter that provides for ‘universal recognition of the inalienable right of self-determination?’

U.S. and Western nations support for an independent Kurdistan comprised of northern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan) and northern Syria (Syrian Kurdistan) would accomplish the following: It would expand the area currently under control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) where political and social stability exists, economic development is in full swing, and where security and peace provide a refuge for minorities. It would also serve as a beacon of democracy for the region and prevent radical Islamist groups such ISIS /Al-Qaeda from controlling the resource rich (oil included) Kurdish region of Syria and Iraq. Moreover, it will deny them a base to spread terror in the region and worldwide. The independent Kurdish state would become an economic oasis, and simultaneously serve as a barrier against the threat of Sunni (Islamic State)/Shiite (Iran) radicals threatening U.S. interests and its allies.

We, at the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria (KURDNAS) and our allies, including the Kurdish National Council (KNC) have a considerable influence among the Kurds of Syria. Our people in Syria prefer an independent Kurdistan comprised of Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan. At a minimum, our people seek the Kurdistan region of Syria to be free and confederated with Iraqi Kurdistan.

The current opposition groups in Syria, including the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Coalition do not serve the interests of Syrian people and are instrumental in creating divisions and conflicts, which are aiding radicals groups such as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham changed to Islamic State or (IS) recently) and al-Nusra. Kurds reject an alliance with the opposition groups for just such reasons, and because they are no different than the Assad regime with regards to Kurdish rights. Following decades of Arabization by the Assad regime, which spawned a culture of hate and violence, that denied human and national rights to Kurds and other minorities, it would be farfetched to expect reform from the embattled Assad regime. Hence, the Kurdish need for independence. The KRG in Iraq is a success story unlike the 22 Arab states which are mostly failed states that have achieved little in terms of human and religious rights, women and minority rights and democracy.

While KURDNAS and KNC accept all Kurdish representation, they will not accept the affiliation of PKK and associated groups such as YPG and PYD that can’t be considered Kurdish because they are working for the interests of neighboring regimes and against the interests of Kurdish leaders and organizations.

We recognize that in our region, military power alone can guarantee a nation’s survival. The Syrian Kurdistan region has the capacity to establish a force of 35,000-40,000 Kurdish National Guard or “Peshmerga,”which would providesecurity from external forces and would be under the command of the civilian Kurdish authorities.

As a final comment, I would like to stress the importance of a combined polity of Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan that could serve as a free and democratic Pro-western barrier to the hegemonic ambitions of the Iranian regime and its allies, and similarly prevent the spread of the Caliphate-seekers of the Islamic State.”

The international community and certainly the U.S. should echo Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for an independent Kurdish state. If we believe in what we preach about democracy, human rights, religious freedom, tolerance and shared values, then an independent Kurdish state fulfills our vision. Conversely, the failed unitary states of Syria and Iraq lack all of them. An independent Kurdish state is in the interest of the U.S. and the West. It is also a moral imperative that an historic wrong has been righted.

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