The Renaissance of Kurdistan in Syria?
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
Potentially, the most powerful nation in the the Middle East, other than Iran, Turkey, and Egypt has always been Kurdistan, which is precisely why the colonial powers after the First World War broke it up into five parts and put them in surrounding countries. The most optimistic scenario for the future is that the fall of Assad may trigger a domino effect of decentralizing power and thereby bring a semblance of peace to this part of the world pending the “second liberation of Palestine” and the creation of a non-statist Abraham Federation to assure security and prosperity for the Jews.
This shift in paradigmatic perspective may also become one of the most controversial by-products of the Arab Spring, especially if it turns into a Muslim Winter. In Syria, the Kurds are interspersed with the Arabs more than anywhere else and have held many positions of Syrian leadership, which makes geographic autonomy difficult. Furthermore, any federative solution, or even a loose confederation, might be seen by most Kurds as merely a first step toward the total independence of exclusivist state sovereignty.
According to Tim Arango’s article, “Kurds Prepare to Pursue More Autonomy in a Fallen Syria,” in the New York Times of September 28th, “Against the backdrop of the raging civil war, Syrian Kurds have already etched out a measure of autonomy in their territories — not because they have taken up arms against the government, but because the government has relinquished Kurdish communities to local control, allowing the Kurds to gain a head start on self-rule. Kurdish flags fly over former government buildings in those areas, and schools have opened that teach in the Kurdish language, something the Assad government had prohibited.
“The Kurds say they are girding for a fight, should the government try to reclaim Kurdish cities or if the Sunni-dominated militias, loosely organized under the banner of the Free Syrian Army and fighting to bring down the government, try to move into Kurdish areas. The Kurds of Syria, divided among more than a dozen factions of shifting alliances, seem united in at least two respects: they are opposed to the Assad government, but deeply suspicious of the ambitions of the Free Syrian Army.
“Much of the Syrian Kurds’ efforts are being guided by Masoud Barzani, the head of Iraq’s northern Kurdish region, whose autonomy and relative prosperity serves as a model for Syrian Kurds. Barzani has sought to play a kingmaker role with his Syrian brethren by uniting the various factions, like he has in the sectarian and ethnic tinderbox of Iraqi politics. In July he reached a deal to organize more than a dozen Kurdish parties under the Kurdish Supreme Council.
“Oppressed for decades under Arab autocrats, denied rights by one post-Ottoman Turkish leader after another, and betrayed after World War I by Allied powers who had once promised Kurdish independence, this time the Kurds are determined to seize the upheaval of the Arab Spring and bend history to their will.
“In the Middle East, historical grievances are never fully in the past, but only prologue to current circumstances. As some Kurds see it, the historical roots of their oppression stretch back centuries, to the exploits of a Muslim Kurdish warrior named Saladin, the first sultan of Egypt, who achieved victory over European crusaders in the 12th century.
Some Kurds believe that what followed in the 20th century — the denial of a Kurdish state by the allies after World War I, support by the international community for Arab autocrats who shunned Kurds as second-class citizens, policies of forcibly removing Kurds from their lands and resettling Arabs, the gassing of the Kurds by Saddam Hussein — was retribution for Saladin’s victories. Mr. Azizi, the professor and politician, said: “The West had been punishing us for what he did. Now I think that punishment is over.”
If the decentralization of power is the de facto model for the future, contrary to the Western centralized model, despite its inherent injustices, of so-called economic and political efficiency, Sudan has perhaps provided a model of peaceful transition, though this is still in the making. Pakistan may be another model, though the correction of past injustices in Central Asia has a way to go.
Can the status quo seekers ever concede that stability may be possible only after they escape the blinders of their paranoid boxes and build a new world beyond artificial states created by imperial invaders and based instead on individual dignity and the resulting sacredness of nations, defined as large communities of persons who share the same view of their own history, the same values in the present, and common hopes for the future. Or will the polytheists who worship their own power embodied in statism merely “fiddle while Rome burns” as civilization gradually disintegrates into barbaric anarchy and totalitarian oppression.
Two thousand years ago, the Roman strategist, Cicero, advised that “prudence is the better part of valor”. The inference is that the longer the successful power seekers rely on the status quo, the shorter may be their reign.