The recent referendum for a “Free Kurdistan” in northern Iraq is another crucial link in a long chain of events that will further fracture and bleed the Middle East region. And caught in the middle is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Many in the West are tired of Erdogan’s Ottoman revivalism, but somehow, he has outsmarted them up to now. It is said that he has dealt with opposition with an iron fist. Still, it is quite a feat to remain in power once the proponents of the “new Middle East” want you gone.
And the new Middle East is coming whether Erdogan (below) likes it or not. War is simmering in Turkey’s back yard. The second phase of the Arab Spring, the making of the new Middle East, has begun.
The heart of the Kurd problem goes back to a secret 1916 agreement among the French, British and Russian empires that drew the current boundaries of the Middle Eastern countries (except Israel, which was a later development).
The Sykes-Picot Agreement divided the Kurds among Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey in a contiguous region separated only by state boundaries. But despite these state boundaries, Kurds are deeply connected, extending all kinds of support to one another, and are one of the largest stateless ethnic groups in the world. Kurds became US allies in the 1990-91 Gulf War, and their importance for the United States was substantially increased in post-2003 Iraq.
The Kurdish Peshmerga are now the single most important on-ground ally of the United States against ISIS, both in Iraq and Syria. The US has, in recent years, armed the Kurds in both of those countries to the teeth, and nothing could be more unnerving than this for governments in the region that have kept Kurds marginalized for decades.
The referendum for “Free Kurdistan” in northern Iraq, which includes oil-rich Kirkuk, is unacceptable for the regional central governments. Non-Kurds in the region see it as the first step toward a domino effect of Kurdish separatism in all four countries having a Kurdish presence. As Kurds in Iraq have voted in favor of a Free Kurdistan, the Kurds in Syria (which Turkey sees as terrorists), supported by the US, are implementing a plan to establish an independent Kurdish parliamentary system in Syria.
In the eyes of respective central governments, the question of Kurdish self-determination and independence is not just a matter of territorial integrity but a path to further multi-dimensional war in a region already devastated by years of ethnic and sectarian civil war.
Marginally, the United States and other Western countries came out against the September 25 referendum in the Kurdish and disputed territories in northern Iraq. However, the criticism fell short of opposing the referendum itself, criticizing its timing instead. This coupled with Israel’s open support for the Kurdistan referendum is translated in the region as America’s “hidden agenda” aimed at further dividing and weakening any opposition to US interests, including Israel.
All four relevant central governments have explicitly declared …read more