Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Did a Turkish spokesman really just say that Iraqi Kurds have a right to self-determination?

That report comes from a Kurdish news source, so one has to treat it with caution. But if it's true, it's a bombshell.
The Kurds of Iraq have the right to decide the future of their land, said Huseyin Celik, a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Friday.

"The Kurds of Iraq can decide for themselves the name and type of the entity they are living in,'" Celik told Rudaw in an interview to be published soon.   [....]

In case Iraq gets partitioned, said Celik, “the Kurds, like any other nation, will have the right to decide their fate.”

Celik believes that Iraq is already headed towards partition thanks to “Maliki’s sectarian policies.”  [....]
Iraqi Kurds are a nation "like any other nation" and "have the right to decide their own fate"? Coming from a Turkish politician close to the Prime Minister, like Celik, this is strong stuff. A decade ago, the Turkish government was threatening armed invasion, if necessary, to prevent any moves toward independence or even autonomy for Iraqi Kurds. And it insisted that Kurdish control of the city of Kirkuk (consolidated last week, as the Iraqi Army fled from northern Iraq) was an unacceptable red line that would trigger such an invasion.

Well, their outlook has been evolving; but would still be a bit startling to discover that it has evolved quite this far. Celik is a significant figure in the AKP. If he is being quoted correctly here, and if he was authorized to say this publicly, then his statement would mark a major step forward in the gradual process of accommodation between Turkey and the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government.

It would also help confirm the growing impression that the Turkish government is giving up on the possibility of a stable and friendly Arab-ruled Iraq, and would prefer having a stable buffer between eastern Turkey and Arab Iraq—even if that means accepting an independent Kurdistan next door. (Kurds are overwhelmingly Sunni, at least, unlike most Iraqi Arabs.  From the AKP's perspective, that's probably a factor.)

Irish nationalists once used to say that "England's trouble is Ireland's opportunity." I'm sure that a lot of Kurds have been having similar thoughts about the current troubles of Arab Iraq. On the other hand, none of this would be possible if the Iraqi Kurds themselves hadn't made effective use of their opportunities over the past two decades to build up the foundations of a viable and (in regional terms) fairly successful proto-nation-state under very difficult conditions. And they live in a sufficiently dangerous and volatile neighborhood that everything they've accomplished could still come to grief. Meanwhile, this is a sign of how far they've come since the Anfal genocide a quarter-century ago.

=>  Of course, no one in the Turkish government is about to suggest that Kurds in Turkey have any rights to political self-determination. But I'm sure they wouldn't see this as inconsistent. Their attitude, I suspect, is that Turkey is a real, serious nation-state whose unity and territorial integrity have to be treated as sacred and unquestionable ... whereas neighboring countries like Iraq, and perhaps Syria, are just the Middle Eastern equivalent of banana republics. ("Tribes with flags" is the way an Egyptian diplomat once dismissed the Arab countries east of Egypt.)

For Arab governments and publics, on the other hand, the notion that non-Arab minorities in the Arab world (Kurds, Jews, Berbers) have any rights to self-determination is anathema. But in the case of Iraqi Kurdistan, they might not be able to prevent it from happening, like it or not.

—Jeff Weintraub