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The political geography of the Kurds

By GKHAN BACIK Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has changed Turkey's position vis--vis the Kurds dramatically. Maliki's grand ambition is to geopolitically realign Iraq with its historical Shiite ideology, alongside Iran. Such a strategy, although criticized by some countries such as Turkey, is not totally baseless. The Shiites have a clear majority in Iraq. More, the US-led Western intervention destroyed the Iraqi state and nation and opened the way to the present-day sectarianism. Even though Maliki's strategy is fraught with danger in the long term with regards to Iraqi unity, it forces Turkey towards a more realistic approach to the Kurdish problem. For example, Turkey has now realized that its prime interests in the region require strong cooperation with the Kurds in Iraq. Although Turkey will not take any action that would further disrupt Iraqi unity, it will not hesitate to deepen its engagement with the Kurdish region despite the resistance from Baghdad. Ankara's cooperation with Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Iraqi Kurdish Autonomous Region, will indeed reduce regional pressures on Turkey. But is that enough to overcome the Kurdish problem itself? Before venturing to answer, one should analyze the political geography of the Kurds. Today, Kurds live in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. None of these countries has developed an efficient strategy to incorporate them as equal citizens. Thus, with regard to the Kurdish issue, all these states have failed. However, more critical is the political stratification of the Kurds. In general, Kurds have long been categorized as either traditional or modern. For instance, the Naqshbandi, an Islamic religious order, was very influential among Turkey's Kurds but was almost devastated by the Kemalist regime, particularly after the 1960 coup. If Kemalism had an ounce of sociological wisdom, it would not have brought its struggle with Islam to the Kurdish regions of Turkey. The differentiation that produced the labels traditional and modern was more sociological in kind, linked to Islam and urbanization, respectively. As expected, the traditional Kurdish base, strongly linked to Islam, was characteristically silent on political issues. So it was from the modern group, the urban Kurds of Turkey, that the first generation of Kurdish nationalists emerged. These urban Kurds, no longer part of their traditional setting, took to nationalism instantly. Paradoxically, this recourse voiced itself in leftist and secular jargon, that being its only option thanks to the political poverty in Turkey on the Kurdish issue of conservative and right-wing politicians alike. Unlike in Turkey, Kurdish nationalism in Iraq was championed by Barzani-like traditional religious groups. Therefore, the Kurdish political geography has two major models: Kurdish nationalism through the traditional elites (the Barzani model) and Kurdish nationalism through the secular elites (the calan model). The foregoing tableau presents a serious question to Turkey: Who will persuade the Kurds in Turkey to move away from the calan model? So far, the struggle in this matter has been in the domain of the Turkish security apparatus. Additionally, the Turkish state includes no Kurdish organization, nor does it offer any Kurdish alternative. Governors, military officers and other public figures have limited roles in such issues. Like many others, the Turkish state, as a Weberian machine, stops at 4 p.m., but life in all its complexity goes on. In other words, Turkey has failed to generate an alternative model to counterbalance the calan model. Thus, despite its inner problems (such as

authoritarianism, corruption and even terrorism), the calan model has a virtual monopoly of influence on the Kurds of Turkey. There is no other model. That is why it is not surprising to observe that in today's Qamishli, a northern Kurdish city in Syria, Kurds are not divided over being pro- or anti-Assad. They are divided over being pro- or antiKurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). So what is the answer? The answer is no. Turkey, including the conservatives and the Kemalists, has no political or social capacity to solve the Kurdish problem and will not have it unless it does something revolutionary to produce that capacity.


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