The Kurdish question: have the regional underdogs had the last laugh?

Published February 7th, 2013 - 12:35 GMT

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Iraq bombings
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Image 1 of 8: A series of bombings in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Kirkuk threatened to rock the stable province. But Kurds have had the last laugh over messy post-war Iraq, pulling in international investment and issuing their own visas. Their capital is still a haven of peace compared to Baghdad.

Iraq oil
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Image 1 of 8: Iraqi Kurds are literally sitting on a potential gold mine, with corporate giants like Exxon Mobil lining up to drill the province for oil. While Baghdad has threatened to take over the contracts, Kirkuk is still running the show. After all, business is business.

Iraq Kurdistan
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Image 1 of 8: The invisible line between Iraq proper and Kurdistan has been a source of tension for many years. While Baghdad has sent in helicopters to spy on the region, Kurds have been lining up their armies, gearing up for the inevitable showdown.

Syria Kurds Assad
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Image 1 of 8: Syrian Kurds have been walking a tightrope recently, trying to work the conflict to their favor. While President Assad was no fan of the minority, a marriage of convenience has worked to get Kurds their own autonomous region on the Syria/Turkey border.

Syria Turkey Assad Unite
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Image 1 of 8: Backing the Syrian regime over the rebel fighters, the Kurds of Turkey and Syria have come together to battle against Assad's opposition. Under the guidance of the PKK party, the alliance could move dreams of a ‘Kurdistan’ one step closer.

Kurdish leader
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Image 1 of 8: Imprisoned in exile for well over a decade by Turkey, the leader of all Kurds, Abdullah Ocalan, is rumored to be getting his life sentence reconsidered. Serious about the peace process, Turkey’s PM knows that Ocalan is the key to ending the violence.

PKK france funeral
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Image 1 of 8: Turkey’s fight with their Kurdish population spilled over into the rest of Europe earlier this year when PKK activists were killed in France. But, having moved the battle outside his home country, their Turkish killer must face the full wrath of the French law.

Kurdish Iran leader
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Image 1 of 8: After they agreed on a ceasefire with Tehran in 2011, Kurdish Iranians have gone from strength to strength, according to their leader, Abdullah Mohtadi. For the Kurds, more international sanctions means more Iranians looking for an alternative government: perfect for their cause.

The Kurds were promised a state by Britain during the Great War. But unlike the Jews, they shared a common fate with the Palestinians — dispossessed of an imagined homeland promised them by the world’s only superpower.

After decades of rebellion, insurgency and campaigning, the Kurds may be closer than ever to achieving their goal of a nation-state. Despite intermittent bombings puncturing the relative calm of Iraqi Kurdistan, the region remains the most stable area of the country. The devolution of powers to Erbil from Baghdad means Kurds have control over several facets of statehood, including limited security powers.

The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq is perched above oceans of untapped oil reserves, which foreign companies are keen to exploit. Even a tense standoff with Baghdad over the contracts is unlikely to change the situation on the ground. Support from the West is too valuable to throw away, and Iraq must fear isolation if it acted on its threats.

In Syria, the 22-month civil conflict has been exploited by the Kurds, who have managed to position themselves well for a future statelet on the Syria-Turkey border. Washington too seems to favor Kurdish independence. 

With help from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, dreams of an autonomous state on the border might not be too far fetched. Turkey, however, will do its utmost to stymie the loss of its territory and with Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan still in jail, it’s unlikely a settlement can be reached.

The most recent assassinations of Kurdish activists - this time in France - has stirred even more support for the Kurds. Even in northwest Iran, where a small population of Kurds resides, a ceasefire has been signed, and pressure from the West on Tehran could see them claim more rights if the Iranian regime is further weakened.

Given all of this, many Kurds must be asking the question: could this be the year the Kurdish quest for self deterimination, yielding  a nation, becomes a reality?

 

Could Kurdistan ever really exist? What would it mean for the Middle East? Tell us what you think below.

 

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