x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Violence weakens Kurdish interests

Kurds in Turkey and the neighbouring countries need to think carefully whether the PKK represents a political future that they wish to share.

The idea of a Greater Kurdistan, long an aspiration, has gained renewed energy amid regional uncertainty. Syria's violence has opened a space for Kurdish self-governance in some towns and cities. In Iraq, the Kurdish autonomous region plays a stronger diplomatic role than ever before. As the Irbil-based newspaper Kurdish Globe said last month: "An independent Kurdish state is more viable today than at any time."

Yet viable doesn't make it probable. The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in Turkey has scaled up violence as the situation worsens in Syria, with the most recent attacks on security posts killing at least nine Turkish troops near the borders with Syria and Iraq. Kurds in Turkey and the neighbouring countries need to think carefully whether the PKK represents a political future that they wish to share.

In every country where Kurds form a sizeable population -Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran - they have experienced differing levels of discrimination. Their very existence was denied in the early days of the Republic of Turkey when they were referred to by the pejorative term "Mountain Turks". There is little surprise that Kurdish groups would seize an opportunity for ethnic empowerment.

The territorial integrity of these states, along with the incredible risks attached to breaking the borders as they now stand, must be considered. Dividing countries into communal homelands - perhaps another for Alawites and Alevis, and one for Druze as well? - is a recipe for instability in already uncertain times.

The ideal of a unified Kurdish state also papers over very real differences between Kurdish communities and groups. Kurds share a language, but speak many different dialects, and while many are Muslims, many others follow other faiths. Even more profound are the political differences. Just within Syria, there are many splinter groups; the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian offshoot of the PKK that has cooperated with the Assad regime, may be the most powerful, but it hardly represents the sum of Kurdish interests in the country or the region.

The Iraqi example shows that Kurdish autonomy, short of territorial independence, can be a workable model, if sometimes beset by tensions with Baghdad. Kurds in Syria and Turkey have their own circumstances to deal with, but neither is served by the violence the PKK seeks to inflame.