The Kurdish factor in the Middle East

Posted in Broader Middle East | 03-Oct-06 | Author: Ioannis Michaletos

Ioannis Michaletos is WSN Editor South East Europe.

The current Iranian crisis due to the nuclear aspirations of that state is inexorably connected with numerous other factors, political, economic or geopolitical. One of the main ones is the existence of the Kurdish nation which has a large minority in the North Western parts of Iran, as well as in the neighboring states of Iraq, Turkey and Syria.

Since March 2003 and the subsequent USA invasion in Iraq, the relations between Turkey, Syria and Iran, have normalized in a great extenti. The crisis between Turkey and USA due to the refusal of the former in supporting the Iraqi war was a crucial step towards the alteration of long standing diplomatic realities in the region. In mid-2004 the Turkish Prime Minister-Tayip Erdogan- visited Damascusii, and both countries then signed a series of commercial and economic agreements. Moreover for the first time Turkey eased its pressure in relation to the control of the waters of the Euphrates River that is vital for the Syrian economy. The Turkish water dam “Kemal Ataturk” virtually controls the flow of the river and this was a paragon of great disagreements between those states back in the 90’siii.

The Turkish- Iranian relations now have also greatly benefited by the USA involvement in the centre of the Middle East, i.e. Iraq. The effect of the American invasion was to an extent a radicalization of certain Islamist elements within the Turkish society and the fear that the Kurdish issue is going to be resolved against the national interests of the country. Thus, the coordination between Damascus, Teheran and Ankara began to emerge. Of course this does not imply anything more or less than tactical moves by these three states in parallel with the developments in Iraq and the Kurdish area.

Moreover the Turkish government in order to get closer with the general tendencies within the Muslim world; has drifted away from the “Turkish- Israeli” axis, as the entente between those states has been called since 1996iv. In a visit in 2005 in the Palestinian territory the Turkish Premier, claimed that the Palestinians live in a large prison because of Israeli policiesv. In February 2006 a representation of the newly Hamas government visited Ankara, move that greatly angered the Israeli side, but was warmly received by Iranvi. Lastly Ankara and Teheran have over the past two years signed commercial deals involving the exportation of Iranian natural gas to the Turkish market.

The Kurdish issue

The Kurdish nation is the only significant nation in the Middle East that has never had its national territory and it has spent its long history divided by other national units. The USA control of Iraq and the expulsion of the regime by Sadam Hussein have created the necessary frameworks from which upon the Kurds are planning to pursue their independence goals. Their support to the American cause in the Middle East and their military experience in guerilla warfare is a factor that greatly worries the countries that accommodate large Kurdish minorities. The USA plans now seem to promote the aims of the Kurds, since a likely Kurdish independence will create a country under firm American influence just in the centre of the most volatile area of the world, namely the Middle East. Moreover Iran would be greatly pressured because of the existence of its handful Kurdish minority, and the Americans would gain a pressure level on Teheran, not easily confronted by the lattervii. On the other hand these entire hypotheses affect Turkey’s posture in its relations to the EU and the West in general. Having to face an increased guerilla movement in its Eastern territoriesviii, it is forming stronger relations with Syria and Iran, which in turn create a backfire in its relations with the West and Israel. A vicious political circle in essence not easily controlled or accommodated. A recent map presented by an American retired Cornellix caused a stir in the internal Turkish political scene and it is fair to say that it is possible for the most nationalistic sectors of the society to gain political strength in the next general elections. The Kurdish issue is one that affects the whole of the Middle East and beyond and the developments in the autonomous Kurdish region in Northern Iraq will sooner or latter become ones of global significance. Whatever the decisions made in the coming years the vital interests of the world are to accommodate a democratic and prosperous Middle East so as to ease the fear of extreme Islamist take over and at the same time to create the necessary conditions for an honest and conclusive dialogue between the civilizations.

On overall, the Kurdish issue nowadays has the potential of becoming the gunpowder of the whole of Middle East, and it is more than certain that it will grasp the world’s headlines over the coming months and years. It is also fair to assume that in such an important area such as the Middle East, every development will certainly have ramifications of a wider scale, and Europe in particular should already have made plans of contingency in order to be fully prepared for any possible outcome. As some eloquently say “If you want to predict the future, create it”.


Further resources:

1) (The history of Turkish-Iranian relations)
2) (On the Turkish-Syrian relations)
3) (On the Turkish-Israeli relations)
4) (History of Kurds)
5) (Middle East news and analysis)
6) (On the future of the Middle East-Predictions)