United States President Barack Obama’s hosting the head of the Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Masoud Barzani, at the White House in Washington is a significant development not only for Iraqi Kurds but for all Kurds. The U.S., by hosting Barzanias the equivalent of a head of state,has highlighted its special interest in the Kurds. This interest is not new. It is an intimateness that began to become clear especially after the Cold War. A Kurdish intellectual, now a part of the KRG, who was once a peshmarga wandering the mountains, told me a while back: “We were continuously debating among ourselves during the Cold War whether the Palestinians or the Kurds would be first to have an independent state in the Middle East.” The fact that the Kurds live separated into four countries, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, used to be described as “the strategic misfortune of the Kurds.” It was put forth that if a serious independent Kurdish statehood movement ever emerged in one of those areas, in the final analysis, it would be choked by the four states. That period can be said to have ended with the Cold War.With the Iraqi Kurds’ de facto statehood after the Gulf (1991) and Iraq (2003) wars toppled Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, and with the emergence of the KRG under the auspices of the U.S. and Europe, the possibility of new scenarios emerged.The topic of a federation in Iraq was once upon a time within the red lines of Turkey. It was also Ankara’s longtime policy to ignore Barzani and Talabani. These are history now.Turkey, over time and also with forward movement of life, has reached the correct decision and accepted the fact of the KRG in Iraq. But one question about Iraqi Kurds still exists in Ankara: What if the Kurds declare an independent state and make the de facto situation official, what would Turkey do then?Masoud Barzani told the Al Sharqiya channel in Baghdad, “The fact that Kurds have been persecuted cannot be overlooked. We are also a nation, like the others. We are no less [a nation] than the Persian, Arab or Turkish nations. How many countries has the Arab nation been separated into? Kurdistan is also separated into many nations and a Kurdish state has never been allowed.” Neither a separation nor a union can ever be forced, Barzani said, citing the examples of Czechoslovakia and Germany, and adding, “Those that have been forcefully separated have united after 40 years. A day will come when the Kurdish nation will unite and have the right to self-determination. I do not approve of violence. I don’t see this as an issue to be solved by violence and arms. Everyone should know this. “Because both Barzani and Talabani have kept the ideal of an “independent Kurdish state” warm in their hearts, for all Kurds in the world, including those who live in Turkey, Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Governement is special. It is a “state formation”that is both cherished and monitored closely. Something similar to the feelings and thoughts that all Jews in the world have about Israel is what all Kurds feel about the KRG. While we are discussing whether Kurdish should be an elective course in Turkish schools, Kurdish children in Southeast Anatolia are being sent to Iraqi Kurdistan to attend schools and universities that teach in Kurdish. Are we aware of this? In such an environment, if Ankara and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government start taking steps to put the Kurdish issue on track to a peaceful solution as soon as possible, then Turkey will be relieved, and its room to maneuver and have regional influence will expand. Otherwise, hard times await us.
Hasan Cemal is a columnist for daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared on April 11. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.