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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Last updated: July 25, 2010

February 24, 2007


First we take Manhattan...

First we take Manhattan...
then we take Kirkuk

Source: Iraki Kurds National Anthem

As the referendum on the future of Kirkuk is approaching the tensions are rising all around with Turkey rumored to be considering an invasion of the Iraqi Kurdistan. But if until now the Turks may have been deluding themselves about the potential impact of this decision they were quickly brought back to their senses when a local Kurdish politician Hilmi Aydogdu, leader of the Democratic Society Party's branch in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, threatened Turkey with consequences in no mean terms. AP reports:

"The two sides in this war would be Turkey and the Kurds in Iraq. There are some 20 million Kurds in Turkey, and the 20 million Kurds would regard such a war as an attack against them," newspapers quoted Aydogdu as saying.

"Any attack on Kirkuk would be considered an attack on Diyarbakir...

The oil rich Kirkuk was ethnic cleansed from Kurds under Saddam and resettled with Shia and Sunni Arabs. Now its Arab and Turkoman population is dwindling as the Kurds came back to retake the city. For the Sunni Arabs Kirkuk may prove to be of special importance as the Sunni provinces have little or no oil. Ethnic cleansed from Baghdad and Kirkuk and cut off from major Iraqi oil fields the Sunni Arabs may soon find themselves facing an uncertain future after having been jammed back into this landlocked strip of land devoid of any valuable natural resources which is the Sunni heartland.

The all three Kurdish provinces in Iraq are booming. The construction boom is reported to be in full swing all across the land. It's an indication to how well the things are going for the Iraqi Kurds that dozens of thousands of Arabs work as gastarbeiters on construction sites in Kurdistan. While Arab academics are assassinated or flee the country the number of students and universities in Kurdistan has doubled and tripled. And while in Mosul and elsewhere the Sunni insurgents destroy statues considering them unislamic, in Kurdish cities statues of national poets and historical figures are erected on main squares.

The rise of the Iraqi Kurdistan is all the more surprising given that all around them the Sunni insurgents laid waste to power grid and oil pipelines and transportation is under constant sabotage. One can only try to figure out the proportions the economic miracle of the Iraqi Kurdistan could take were the Sunni insurgents and Shia militiamen not to destroy the rest of the country. The Iraqi Kurdistan is a living reminder of the historic chance of gigantic proportions the Arab world missed after the US removed Saddam. Billions of dollars assigned by the congress for reconstruction projects coupled with the American technical expertise and Iraqi oil resources could have easily made the country the true gem of the Middle East.

On checkpoints across the land Peshmerga militiamen are checking entering cars. Only Arab families with children are allowed in. Single Arab males need work permits and a Kurdish sponsor to enter, a precaution against suicide bombers (Israelis, sounds familiar? NB). The Iraqi Kurds know how to protect themselves from the violent instability raging all around them. It's a moment of sweet revenge for the Kurds in Iraq and elsewhere to watch Arab gastarbeiters struggling with the Kurdish language (the Kurds were persecuted to the point that their language was occasionally outlawed). Any additional strengthening of the Iraqi Kurds de-facto independent state is worrying the Turks.

Turkish leaders are concerned that Iraq's Kurds want Kirkuk's oil revenues to fund a bid for independence that could encourage separatist Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey who have been fighting for autonomy since 1984. The conflict has claimed the lives of 37,000 people.

Turkey has not ruled out military incursions into Iraq to hunt separatist Kurds, despite warnings from the U.S., which fears that such moves could lead to tensions with the Iraqi Kurdish groups allied with Washington.

Source

What neither the PKK nor the Turks themselves seem to notice is that Turkey has started developing lots of soft underbelly recently. And it's not only in the form of a flourishing tourist industry - an easy target for preying militants. The Turkey's hands are tied by all kinds of signed and implied understandings with the EU whose membership Turkey has been seeking for decades. As the country keeps modernizing and growing prosperous, its population should be expected to grow more violence averse and less ready to bear costs of attrition wars against violent insurgencies. Tough issues like the genocide of the Armenians at the hands of the Turks at 1915 are raised to public consciousness threatening to soon undermine the morale of the Turkish public and its opposition to the self determination struggle of its minorities.

Turkish civil rights groups in protest over the assassination of a prominent Turkish Armenian journalist who compared Armenian massacres by Turks in 1915 to genocide.


(photo by Reuters)

While the Turks clearly prefer to fight the Kurdish separatism in Iraq rather than in Turkey itself, they are likely to discover that the things actually work all the way round and a Turkish intervention mission in Kirkuk may lead to confrontations deep inside the Turkish Kurdistan. This confrontation may not necessarily take the form of a violent insurgency but rather of a massive civil disobedience campaign. Yet under present circumstances it is precisely this kind of 'soft' insurgency that Turkey may find surprisingly difficult to fight back.

As the referendum on the future of Kirkuk is approaching the rulers from Syria to Turkey to Iran grow tense as they should do. This is because the Kurdish militancy is on the rise around the region. This is because in Kirkuk the Kurds are proving that they are not people who give up readily on what was taken from them.


July 25, 2010

Towards the beginning of the end

But now a growing number of Turks are questioning the merits of cohabiting with the country’s estimated 14m Kurds. Never mind that Istanbul is the world’s largest Kurdish city, or that few of the provinces claimed by the Kurds are ethnically homogenous. In television debates and across the blogosphere support for the idea that the Kurds should go their own way is growing. Onur Sahin, who heads the Chamber of Agriculture in the Black Sea province of Ordu, says his fellow producers no longer want seasonal migrant Kurds to harvest their hazelnut crops.

Source: Turkey and its rebel Kurds: An endless war | The Economist

If they can openly discuss splitting the country, then Turkey has evolved beyond a Middle Eastern country. It's a fact that probably even Erdogan can no longer change.


PS

"The Uncontainable Kurds" linked by Charles is no longer fully available on the New York Times. Those interested can read it in full here.

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