Last week, when the Turkish troops entered northern Syrian district Afrin, the issue of Kurd’s independence rose to prominence once again. Kurds have been living and settled in the outskirts of Afrin district and the region surrounding it. The Turkish government is of the view that across the border region, assistance is being provided to the separatist movement led by the Kurdish Workers Party.
The US army has also besieged the area in northern Syria and has currently no such aim to exit the region. The US government’s stance is that leaving the region at this juncture would provide a cushion to the ISIS to consolidate its position.
The Kurds are settled in four countries. The total population of Kurds is 35 million. The largest number of Kurds, approximately 15 million, are settled in Turkey. Apart from Turkey, Kurds are residing in Iran, Iraq and Syria. Over the past many years, Kurds have been fighting for a separate state. Following the end of first world war, at the demise of Ottoman empire, the western alliance countries promised the Kurds that there would be a separate state for them, but it was never fulfilled.
In this entire region, Kurds living in Iraq enjoy the greatest autonomy. They were living under the subjugation of Saddam Hussain. The US and the western countries were against the dictatorship and had sympathies with the Kurds living in Iraq. When Hussain launched an attack in Kuwait, the US came to rescue Kuwait. Not only did it play an essential role in the liberation of Kuwait from the clutches of Iraq, but it also declared northern Iraq region as a no-fly zone to show its support for the Kurds, which meant that Iraq’s air force planes couldn’t land in the northern region.
Political experts are of the view that even the US is not serious about fulfilling its pledge for a separate state for the Kurds because its primary goal is to weaken Arab states to nullify any threat to Israel
In 2003, the US armed forces invaded Iraq. The step also paved the way for Kurds to get autonomy in northern Iraq. At present, the Kurds have their parliament and have a separate force by the name of ‘Peshmerga’.
In 2014, the Peshmerga force of Kurds living in northern Iraq became a blue-eyed boy of the US and played an instrumental role in countering the insurgency of the ISIS. Over the past many years, the Kurds living in Syria and Iraq had expressed their strong desire that the US would support its quest for a separate state. In 2017, a referendum was held in northern Iraq, which Turkey, as well as Iran, vehemently opposed. Iraqi Kurds were asked whether they support the idea of a separate state for Kurds living in areas of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey. Ninety percent of the Kurds in northern Iraq voted in favour of an independent state. However, the dream to realise a separate state for the Kurds remains far from being fulfilled.
Iran and Turkey are also against the idea of a separate state for Kurds. During the days of the referendum, Iran had announced that its aeroplanes would not land in Arbil (the capital city of Iraq’s Kurdistan region).The area of Iraqi Kurdistan produces six hundred thousand barrels of oil per day and which is exported via Turkey.
Turkey has threatened that in case of an independence declaration by the Kurds, Turkey would close its route through which Iraq’s Kurdistan region exports oil. Turkey has also expressed that it would place an embargo on its exports, mainly comprising of food supplies, to Iraqi Kurds region. Both Iran and Turkey have the same stance regarding the issue of a separate state for Kurds.
The US has fought the ISIS mainly in Iraq and Syria, and it was due to the support of Kurds’ force Peshmerga that the roots of ISIS have been wiped out. In this respect, Kurds were provided with financial aid as well as weapons to counter the threat of ISIS. The US also support Kurds because they do not support any extremist ideology.
Turkey has reservations regarding the interference of the US in the region. Turkey had apprehensions that the US would support the Kurds movement for a separate state, and to placate such perceptions the US had to declare that it had no such plan of changing the border of Iraq. At present, in northern Syria, Turkish armed forces and the US forces are just a few kilometres away from each other. It is also a notable fact that the US does not want to displease Turkey which is also its NATO ally.
On the other hand, Turkey’s armed interference in Syria is also being supported by Russia. Russia does not want that the northern areas of Syria to declare independence and its support gave a lease of life to Bashar Al Asad in2014. Henceforth, Damascus, Baghdad, Tehran, Ankara and Moscow are in unison against the Kurd’s quest for independence. All these countries are well aware of the fact that when the borders change then, it brings catastrophic consequences.
In the present circumstances, it is more feasible that the Kurds living in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria should raise voice regarding their fundamental rights instead of seeking a separate state.
The writer is a constitutional and human rights lawyer
Published in Daily Times, February 10th 2018.