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The ideology that constitutes the basis of the movement for Kurdish independence is Kurdish nationalism. The belief that Kurds are a sovereign nation that deserves freedom and autonomy dates back to the times of the Ottoman Empire where they were a significant and vocal ethnic group. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the nation was divided between three newly formed states – Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. As of now, the population of Kurds in the Middle East is approximately 35 million, making them the third-largest ethnic group only outnumbered by Arabs and North Africans. In 2017, the referendum for independence was overwhelmingly in favour of separation. However, the Iraqi government rendered the vote unconstitutional, hence, annulling the results. This paper seeks to entertain the possibility of Kurds acquiring independence in the nearest future and assessing the impact of such a huge historical event. The case of Israel will also be discussed and compared to the case of Kurdistan.
The Case of Israel
The history of Israel started in 1896 when Jews contemplated social and political progress in Europe and decided that they needed to form their own country. Their ancestral homeland seemed to be the perfect place to establish it. The rationale behind the decision was clear: first, Jews were introduced to the ideas of secular nationalism during the Enlightenment. Second, anti-semitism and overall hostility in 20th century Europe was overwhelming and brought Jews to seek shelter elsewhere. Between 1896 and 1948, thousands of Jews resettled to Palestine that back then, was controlled by the Brits (Kaiser & Wegner, 2017). Some of the settlers did so not of their own volition as they fled from persecution during the Holocaust.
To Arabs, the influx of Jews seemed to be a threat to their national integrity, which led to a military conflict between the two nations. Britain could not pick a side nor relieve the tension, and powerless, it turned to the United Nations. In 1947, the UN split the land between the Jewish and Arab populations. To Jews, the UN’s solution seemed beneficial; however, the Palestinians saw it is as a blatant attempt at forcing them out of their land. An international conflict began: the Arab states of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria all waged war against Israel. The war resulted in Israel’s victory whereas more than 700,000 fled the lands (Kaiser & Wegner, 2017). By the end of the conflict, Israel possessed 77% of British Palestine instead of 56% permitted by the UN (Kaiser & Wegner, 2017). Israel founded an independent state, and Palestine was left with none.
Israel and Kurdistan: Compare and Contrast
So far, it seems that international experts are optimistic about the future of Kurdistan. However, it is highly unlikely that Kurdistan will take after Israel’s model of independence. In this section, several criteria will be used to contrast and compare the cases of the two nations. When it comes to similitudes, both nations had or have populations big enough to fight. It is not to say that a bigger number of people ensures victory, but the more supporters join a movement, the brighter its prospects. Second, both Jews and Kurds have a strong sense of self-identity and determination, which motivates them to promote the cause that they deem right. Third, Israel was established at the time when Britain was no longer a mighty empire and could not stand for its rights to its Middle Eastern colonies. The situation in Iraq is volatile, to say the least, so perhaps Kurds will use this as an opportunity to assert their will.
As for the differences, Kurds never had to relocate the way Jews did: resettling takes effort and can even be traumatic. Kurdistan is an official region, which might facilitate the process for its inhabitants. Second, Kurds are more likely to acquire freedom through peaceful methods. Israeli could use force to extend their territories – something Kurds cannot afford, and on top of that, collateral damages would be devastating. Lastly, Israel had a powerful international supporter, the United Nation, that could easily overrule any decision made by Palestine or Britain. Many foreign leaders spoke out in support of Kurds’ independence; however, no one has meddled or offered help to date (Comerford, 2017).
Assessing the Impact of a Potential Kurdish State
There is an apparent reason why Iraq rejects the idea of Kurdish independence. As of now, Kurds play a significant role on the world stage, and their secession would mean immediate implications for both Iraq and other countries. Iraq does not want to lose its major fighting force whose potential was proved in the battle against ISIS. Kurds’ unified efforts dispelled the illusion of the terrorist group’s invincibility and gained international recognition from the military authorities of the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany (Comerford, 2017). Were another conflict to take place on the Iraqi territory, the state would like to rely on its well-trained, experienced forces. In the case of Kurds’ separation, they will have more leverage in upholding and balancing fragile regional order.
However, the ability to defend and coordinate is not the nation’s only virtue. Kurdistan has historically been diverse and pluralistic and promoted respect and co-existence. It is home to such minority groups as Yazidis, Shabaks, Sabean-Mandeans, and Christians (Comerford, 2017). If Kurdistan gains independence, it might present itself as a role model for friendship and reconciliation between various religious and ethnic groups. It will strengthen itself by building tight-knit, resilient communities that capitalize on tolerance and acceptance. The new country’s vision might generate controversy given that Kurds have always tried to alienate themselves from the sectarianism of some of their Sunni Arab and Shia neighbours.
One of the countries that we’re particularly worried about the Kurdish referendum was Turkey as a significant share of Kurds inhabits its southeastern region. Turkish Kurds have advocated for autonomy for quite a long time, and if independent Kurdistan is to happen, they might as well gain more support and encouragement (Solace, 2017). Interestingly enough, Turkey has a stable relationship with Kurdistan as the region is instrumental in its economic activities such as oil export. Before the referendum, Turkey grew increasingly wary and militarized its border with Northern Iraq. Thus, separating from Iraq, Kurds might set an example for other members of the nation abroad, and the newly formed state might as well extend to house more people.
The international Kurdish diaspora has long promoted Kurdish nationalism but never came to fruition. In the case of Iraq, the strive for independence has cost Kurds numerous conflicts with the government and left the nation in doubts about its future. The case of Kurdistan can be compared to that of Israel, a prime example of a state that was founded despite immense internal pressure and ongoing military conflicts. The history of the two nations shows both similarities and differences. In summation, Israel and Kurdistan both have the ambition to seek freedom and take advantage of opportunities; however, Kurds are unlikely to resort to using force or starting a military conflict. Kurds’ separation will have an immense impact on the fragile regional order in the Middle East. Iraq is likely to lose its best military forces, and Turkey and Syria might be confronted with successive referendums organized by Kurds living on their territories. Kurdistan’s pluralism and tolerance toward cultural differences might be seen as controversial by states with stricter doctrines and policies.
Comerford, M. (2017). Why Kurdistan matters. Web.
Solace. (2017). Impact of the Kurdish referendum and potential risks. Web.
Kaiser, W. C. Jr., & Wegner, P. D. (2017). A history of Israel: From the Bronze Age through the Jewish Wars. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.