Could a state for Greater Kurdistan be on the horizon?

As the Middle East is being remapped, this may be the Kurds’ last shot at having their own state.

Turkish Kurds show the PKK (Kurdistan Wo
The current remapping of the Middle East could possibly see the creation of a Greater Kurdistan state [AFP]

Millions of Kurds, observing the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Tehran last week, must have thought: “What about us? What about our non-aligned nation to be? We should be there. Maybe next time…”

It may be just possible that Kurds – which themselves admit their notoriety for internal squabble – are finally getting their act together; after all, history may be dictating, roughly a century after World War I and its aftermath, which dealt a big blow to Kurds. This is the last chance for the emergence of a Greater Kurdistan.  

After the two Syrian Kurdish parties made a deal – sealed by Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani – to jointly run northeast Syria, Kurdish parties in Iran are also coming together.

Meanwhile, Ankara behaves like a bunch of headless chickens. 

Kurds are carefully paying attention to how Ankara decided to boycott NAM – even though Turkish President Abdullah Gul was personally invited by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi proposed a Syria contact group – Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran – to try to solve the Syrian tragedy.

This means that Egypt – under a Muslim Brotherhood president – privileges mediation for a civil war inside a fellow Arab country, while Turkey sticks to a colour-blind regime change strategy, which would only be possible with a NATO no-fly zone (it won’t happen).

So the pressing question for the Kurds becomes how to profit from Ankara’s each and every move.  

And the winner is… Israel

Not even Turkish public opinion knows what exactly are the contours of Ankara’s policy for Syria – apart from regime change. President Gul claims that Damascus weaponises PKK guerrillas (there’s absolutely no evidence), and that would be a casus belli.

Damascus for its part does not want a war with Turkey.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu – he of the defunct “zero problems with our neighbours” doctrine – is still toeing the line that the country could not accept more than 100,000 Syrian refugees (there are already 70,000 and counting); in this case, some fuzzy “safe haven” would have to be installed in Syrian territory. This Thursday, Ankara will press the complexities of the refugee crisis at a ministerial-level meeting at the UN.  

Ankara has insistently accused both Damascus and Tehran of supporting PKK guerrillas active in Anatolia and the porous border areas. Yet at the same time, Ankara has developed a quite secretive narrative; Turkey, once again, is aligned with Israel’s strategy (the Mavi Marmara incident is now water under the bridge).

Talk to Al Jazeera –
Massoud Barzani: Flying the Kurdish flag

Tel Aviv avidly bets on Ankara becoming the hegemonic regional power in the – still hazy – event of a post-Assad Syria. As Israel has been deeply infiltrated in Iraqi Kurdistan for years, with very good connections – the Mossad uses it as an operational base against Syria and Iran – this will be manipulated as a bargaining chip to seduce Ankara.

Meanwhile, in Syria, the red, green and yellow Kurdish flag is now flying in places like Girke Lege – only 35 kilometres from the Iraqi border and only 15 kilometres from the Turkish border. Over 3 million Syrian Kurds now see an ideal opening to revert the official Ba’ath Party Arabisation policy.

The Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party) President Salah Muslim vehemently denies that there was a tacit agreement with the Bashar al-Assad government. But in fact there was; as long as Syrian Kurds don’t attack Damascus forces, they can do whatever they want in Western/Syrian Kurdistan, which by now is assuming the contours of a an autonomous region.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, by the way, has already delivered the message to Ankara; even in a post-Assad Syria, this should be seen as a fact on the ground. And it happens to dovetail with Israel’s charm offensive among Kurds – emphasising what would be their common agenda.

So what can Ankara do? Invade? Kurdish blowback is bound to be devastating.

Despite official rumblings, Turkish options for invading Western/Syrian Kurdistan are not exactly stellar. The Turkish army’s morale is low – after the purge of several ranking Kemalists. Over 60 generals are in jail, accused of plotting a coup – and lower-ranking officials may even try it again. Alevis and Kurdish conscripts will refuse to fight an AKP-incited war. And the Turkish economy – not to mention tourism – will inevitably go down the drain.

Is there a leader in the house?

One can imagine whether Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Barzani’s political scheming will be enough for him to embrace the Angel of History, and rise to the occasion.

He certainly sees a Greater Kurdistan independent from Arabs, Persians and Turks. But for that to happen in a grand scale he would have to conduct himself as a unifier – not only sharing power inside Iraqi Kurdistan but also managing conflicting Kurdish aspirations in Syria, Iran and Turkey. This implies a visionary streak plus tremendous diplomatic skills.

What’s certain is that Washington and Tel Aviv are on board; this implies that Brussels sooner or later will follow. BRICS members Russia and China are not exactly against it. There are two possibilities here. A Greater Kurdistan forged as a model for the Middle East – in terms of a secular, dynamic, progressive entity respectful of religious minorities. Or yet another Western stooge.

A major geopolitical volcano is erupting. Ankara certainly has not analysed the blowback of weaponising Syrian Sunnis just for the weapons to find their way back into Turkey to be used by the PKK against Ankara itself.

This anti-imperialist analysis may be very useful to understand the Kurdish dynamic. But there’s still much more to it.

Jeremy Salt, professor of History and Politics of the Middle East at Bilkent University, Ankara, and author of The Unmaking of the Middle East, in a conversation with La Stampa‘s world news editor Claudio Gallo, neatly summarised it:

“In 1918 the imperial powers divided the Middle East in a certain way that suited their interests at the time. They are now remapping it again – and again to suit their interests. It is not coincidental that this programme dovetails with Israel’s own long-term strategic planning. Russia and China are fully aware of what is going on, which is why the present situation can be seen as a 21st century extension of the ‘Eastern question’ or of the ‘Great Game’ between Russia and Britain.”

Make no mistake; each day makes it more likely that an unintended – or rather intended – consequence of this Great Game remix will be the emergence of Greater Kurdistan.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His latest book is named Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).