A Nation on a Ball and Chain

Since November, the most important political actors in the world have sat at various tables, ambitiously and naively endeavouring to resolve the Syrian crisis. Efforts to reach a compromise have been hindered by the contradicting positions held by the innumerable actors with stakes in the crisis. These quarrelling parties will meet again at the ongoing Syria III proceedings held in Geneva.

There is one notable omission from the already elaborate and overcrowded peace process. The Kurdish people, with their unrivalled defensive tactics, guerrilla prowess and pro-western social development, have almost single-handedly made steady political and territorial gains in the region — yet they are singularly absent from the proceedings and still haven’t been granted the one thing that they have wanted since the beginning: a sovereign state.

Kurdistan’s recent history is coloured by a series of failed attempts at creating a Kurdish state. Turkey, hosting the largest Kurdish population, responded to Kurdish nationalism with a policy of ethnic cleansing and forced resettlement, and in 1978, the tension between Turks and Kurds heightened with the founding of the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party), a party with strong leftist Marxist tendencies. The PKK was quickly branded a terrorist organization by Turkey and the EU. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Kurds were granted semi-autonomous rule. The ascent of the Islamic State destabilized the region to the point where the Kurds could reclaim "their" territory back from the then-crippled Iraqi government. Finally, Kurdistan became a de facto autonomous state.

At the onset of the Syrian civil war, Kurdish communities began organizing to establish their own political administration. Kurdistan and Rojava confronted the aggressive expansion of ISIS — known to them as Daesh— into their region. To counter Daesh’s aggression, the YPG (People’s Protection Unit) and the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) began a vicious and unrelenting counter-offensive to the south, in the process liberating key strategic points such as the Mosul Dam and the trade route between Raqqa and Mosul. Currently closing in on Mosul, Kurdistan has greatly reduced ISIS morale and numbers, weakening their offensive.

But as evidenced by Kurdistan’s exclusion from the peace proceedings, the West doesn’t seem to care, let alone agree with their newfound autonomy. This grave oversight will cost the West.

Kurdistan’s location has unparalleled geopolitical value, as it sits between volatile nations such as Iran and Iraq. It is beneficial if the West has a unified territory with vast amounts of experience in guerilla warfare — a counter-balance effective against the Daesh onslaught. The Kurds have tactical knowledge of asymmetric warfare that could enable more effective and integrated military cooperation in training and combat in the region.

Turkey is a substantial NATO ally for the US, and the Incirlik Air Base in the south is a key position for US jets to attack Daesh strongholds. With these strategic interests in mind, the US has kept quiet on the situation, showing little to no interest at upsetting Erdogan. Furthermore Turkey seems to use the agreement with their American ally as a cover for attacking Kurdish forces who, by Turkish standards, are marked as terrorists. Erdogan’s offensive in the north of Iraq and Syria has taken a strong toll on the already battle-worn YPG and KRG forces and, with the end of the ceasefire between the PKK and Turkey, doesn’t seem to be getting better. The government in Erbil, representing the Kurdish dream is, as of right now, an important strategic ally to the West which is not recognized as an independent state for a reason: whatever the political status of Iraq is, Turkey would never agree to giving the Kurds their own land. Seeing how much damage Kurdish militia can cause, Erdogan cringes at giving them their own free space.

Through the rapid institution of autonomous rule within their territories and the defense of their newly self-proclaimed borders, while surrounded by hostile and volatile neighbors such as Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, the Kurdish militias continue to constitute the main offensive against the northward expansion of Daesh The Kurdish forces have suffered the highest casualties, despite the passive support of the West, which has come in the form of tactical training and military equipment. When it comes to recognition, the Western stance towards the KRG remains inconspicuously ambiguous. On one side, the US praises the Kurdish achievements, yet doesn’t officially condemn the air strikes on YPG defensive lines and KRG territories by Turkey.

It’s imperative that the West recognizes the benefits of recognizing Kurdistan as a sovereign state. The Kurdish populace demands sovereign authority of the land that they have claimed rightfully theirs for decades. It is vital that the West moves toward increasing political and economic cooperation with Kurdistan beyond the "benefit of the moment" and creates a stable trade line that doesn’t require black market oil trading to get by.

While carefully observing the sensibilities of neighboring countries, we need to work towards Kurdish sovereignty. Turning our backs on them could see our own weapons and training turned against us, ultimately destroying any chance of an ally that might help stabilize Iraq and Syria in the future.

Robin Wegner

Robin studies International Law and Politics in Munich, Germany, and has a keen interest in International Security and political theory.

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