The Kurdish people—comprising areas of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran—of the Levant are enigmatic in their tenacity to resist all forms of imperialism and compulsory religiosity—except Shah Ismail’s savage proselytization of 16thcentury Persia during his Safavid regime—yet seemingly maladroit in their ability to form a constitution to establish an autonomous, non-suzerain nation-state of their own, despite their penta-millennia existence in the region. To preempt total annihilation of their people, the Kurdish populace would sometimes acquiesce to the demands of their formidable occupiers in instinctual preservation. This culture, however, though persisting into present-day, mustn’t negate their fierce fighting spirit and willpower to survive against all odds. With American forces ever present in Southwest Asia (i.e. the Middle East), it is possible, yet unlikely, for the Kurdish people, with Western support, to form their own politically independent entity.
In order to understand the context of this archaic Mesopotamian enclave and their longstanding fruitless effort to establish a permanent, autonomous quasi-tribal state, one must investigate the history of the Kurdish people as well as their contact with foreign/invading forces. Endemic violence greatly impeded the Zagros-based tribe since its nascency and annalistic presence since the Bronze Age (denoting the period between the late 4thand early 3rdmillennium BC) (Westermann, 1946, pp. 679). For frame of reference, the Kurds preceded the inception and destruction of the Assyrian Empire, the world’s first imperialistic power, which engrossed much of the Middle East, by the Medes (from whom they claim descent) in 8thcentury BC (Minorsky, 1945, pp. 73-74; Gunter, 2004, pp. 199). Their—meaning the Kurds—proto-civilization fractured into various tribes due to military campaigns, religious conquests, and internal conflict (i.e. “tribalism”) (Entessar, 1984, pp. 911; Gunter, 2004, pp. 198). With the destruction of the Abbasid Caliphate by the ruthless Mongols in 1258 AD (Entessar, 1984, pp. 911; Minorsky, 1945, pp. 74), Turkish consolidation of the Middle East after the capture of Cairo and the holy cities (e.g. Mecca, Medina) in 1517 CE (Cleveland & Bunton, 2009, pp. 41; Westermann, 1946, pp. 680), and the influx of colonial powers (e.g. Britain and France) in the 19thand 20thcenturies, the Kurds, entrenched in warfare and encumbered by the inundation of avaricious political entities, in light of the proliferation of advanced arms, made a calculated decision to preserve their existence by subjugating, as they always have, to international hegemonies with caveats and surprising tenacity.
A history rife with contentious tribalism, though nationalist endeavors to establish a Kurdish confederation have foundered, with the exception of a short-lived kingdom in the tenth century AD, it seems an independent Kurdistan isn’t entirely implausible (Westermann, 1946, pp. 680; Hevian, 2013, pp. 95, 96). If colonial powers can depose and re-install monarchs and dictators, they can, if so desired, aid in the drafting of a comprehensive democratic, federalist constitution (Cleveland & Bunton, 2009, pp. 299; Rahman, 2016). With colonization and provincial appropriation resonant in the Middle East, further regional intervention, however, may only exacerbate ubiquitous anti-American sentiments. Post-World War I, the British, citing violence against Christian Armenians and strategic division to mitigate organized rebellion, hampered Kurdish progression towards independence (Eskander, 2000, pp. 145). Continued repression of the Kurdish people in the Levant and Greater Middle East (e.g. Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran) by local forces preempts collaboration amongst the Kurdish factions. Therefore, outside parties/contemporaries such as the United States, buttress selected Kurdish factions, providing financial and military aid, to procure and secure like interests.
The Kurds, steeped in guerrilla warfare, have proved resilient in their five thousand year history. A post-9/11 world isn’t anomalous, as the region has endured myriad invasions and occupations. To prolong survival and their multi-generational “nomad-herdsman” lifestyle, the Kurds, in concession with Western—that is, mainly American—forces, combat illicit and dubious actors (e.g. al-Qa’ida, ISIL/DAESH), thus securing foreign aid and ensuring domestic mobility (Westermann, 1946, pp. 679). According to President Trump’s National Security Strategy, the goal of the United States is to stabilize the region politically, economically, and militarily to secure the safety of American interests. Furthermore, the eradication of “jihadist terrorists” and their malign ideology is imperative for the neutralization of opposition forces in the region (The Executive Office of the President of the United States of America, 2017, pp. 48-50). This grand strategy, inherited from the Bush and Obama administrations, to preclude the advancement of Islamic terrorism beckons international intervention from coalition forces, compromising to hamper this imminent threat to American interests and the global economy. By supplying the People’s Defense Units (YPG)—a Marxist, Syrian-Kurdish affiliate bordering Turkey, Iraq, and Syria—with the necessary arms to thwart Islamic fundamentalist efforts in the region, the United States benefits significantly from the strategic placement of this stateless, transnational people group (Bradley & Parkinson, 2015). Nevertheless, despite the Kurds’ military assistance, it is unlikely they will ever successfully establish an autonomous constitutional democracy.
The United States, though displaying altruism and fighting for global humanitarianism, cannot, and will not, in accordance with current foreign policy and fiscally reasonable defense strategies create political institutions abroad for merely sympathetic purposes. There must be legitimate, world-altering conditions for such dramatic action. Since the Kurds have unfortunately endured much persecution from their neighbors, the likelihood of an internationally recognized non-suzerain political entity is nil. This, however, shouldn’t negate their importance in the War on Terror.
Complications incur with various political actors inserting themselves in the international arena. The prolificacy of divided interests plagues the multi-front war against Islamic fundamentalism—a borderless, meta-ideology transcending all ethnicities, nations, and cultures. For example, in the war against ISIL (DAESH), the United States, providing ancillary arms to Marxist Kurds in southern-Turkey/northern-Syrian, remains leery of their counterparts, as some are affiliated with terrorist organizations (e.g. PKK) (Hevian, 2013, pp. 97; van Bruinessen, 1984, pp. 11; Bradley & Parkinson, 2015; Cleveland & Bunton, 2009, pp. 530). Furthermore, Sunni Kurds fight for independence in northeastern Iraq while US Special Forces aid Iraqi forces in the war against ISIL; Russian President Vladimir Putin props up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a war criminal, while President Trump, closely abiding by Obama’s Middle East doctrine pro tem (Goldberg, 2016), fights ISIL, investigates Russia, and indignantly sustains Syria’s semi-secular regime to impede Islamic fundamentalists from filling the vacuum; Turkey, a NATO ally, incessantly berates and inhibits Kurdish pro-independence resistance while encouraging US efforts to arms the Kurds in the fight against ISIL; and, lastly, Iranian and Saudi interests in the region— with proxy wars in Iraq, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon, as these act as petulant skirmishes to bankrupt each other, perpetuate NATO involvement for monetary purposes, and utilize religion as a catalyst for regional dominance—compete economically to preclude further Western involvement and ensure a long-term role in the international game. With this panoply of multi-platform intersections, a concerted effort to establish an independent, transnational Kurdistan is virtually, though not impossible, futile, as these hyper-proxy, covert warfare powers are intransigent, devoid of sympathy for a tribal-nomadic confederacy. Moreover, one could argue a Kurdish quasi-polity is ideal, choosing survival over complete dissolution.
Though seemingly absurd, the interspersed progeny of the Medes (i.e. the Kurds) could, in essence, contend their survival is contingent upon their non-existent, ever elusory nation-state. If a country technically doesn’t exist, it cannot be destroyed; therefore, conserving their mores and herdsmen lifestyle in vacuo perpetuates their mobility, authenticity, and simplicity. The Kurds, given their unique geographic location, can—and do—utilize their familiarity for political and economic means. A Kurdish referendum ruptures the geo-political schema/landscape, declaring competency in a volatile region seemingly devoid of rationality. Nevertheless, though the Middle East is an enigma, with its posterity ensconced in constant ancestral evocation, continually reopening the never-congealing, ever-festering wound of un-forgiven sins, the Kurdish people, regardless of political declaration, act as a bastion for classical liberalism. It is, therefore, conducive for the United States—for the integrity of the region, American interests, and prospective democratic institutions—to continue supplying financial and military aid to non-terrorist Kurdish factions (e.g. YPG) to stymie Islamic fundamentalist efforts for a caliphal entity and maintain international relevance.
Furthermore, the question of oil and the concentration of Middle Eastern petro-power also factors into the opposition of Kurdish independence. With vast oil reserves beneath much of Kurdish-occupied territory, surrounding nations (e.g. Turkey, Iraq, Syria) comport themselves in a monopolistic manner to inhibit the exportation of oil under Kurdish ownership. However, with American forces aiding Kurdish factions in the fight against ISIL, though “oil deals in recent years have directly challenged Baghdad’s claims to exclusive control of Iraq’s natural resources,” officials within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have negotiated trade with Turkey to mitigate war and increase economic independence (Ottaway & Ottaway, 2014, pp. 138-139). Moreover, “If Iraq’s Kurdish territory were a country, it would probably qualify for OPEC membership” (Rascouet & Murtaugh, 2017). Such a potential for economic dominance should encourage absolute autonomy, but the Kurdish people have chosen “to pursue their own economic interests within that order” to maximize malleability and ensure the influx of foreign aid (Ottaway & Ottaway, 2014, pp. 141).
Summary and Conclusion
A diagnosis of Kurdish political impotence derives not from inept political organization, (though that may be a secondary or tertiary component) but external forces repressing the penta-millennia, Zagros-based indigenous tribal people. Their resilience, however, is admirable and readily, with prudence, imitable. Moreover, the unconscionable perpetuation of war and loss of life for religio-political aspirations and regional domination manifests itself in the counter-truth regime of Iran, the liberty-phobic reactionism of Syria, and the contagious expansionist nostalgia of history’s temporal caliphates. Russia and NATO—especially Turkey and the United States—must, despite the patent political contest, collaborate, though begrudgingly, to not leave Southwest Asia (i.e. the Middle East) to its own devices. A solitary Middle East would result in cataclysmic consequences, as various dubious actors desperately try to acquire nuclear weapons. For the preservation of democracy and its willing adherents, it is imperative for the Western coalition and regional allies (e.g. Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia) to reside patiently for a stable force such as the Kurds to 1) establish an officially recognized constituency or 2) remain interspersed across the northern Levant without a central, congruent polity yet receive a profundity of foreign aid. This, in accordance with US policy, is ideal, as another revolution or civil war could exacerbate tensions and falter the grip around ISIL and al-Qa’ida.