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Kurdisdtan. An Invisible Nation
Kurdisdtan. An Invisible Nation
Kurdisdtan. An Invisible Nation
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Kurdisdtan. An Invisible Nation

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Kurdistan is probably one of the hottest geopolitical scenarios in the Middle East. Divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, this territory is inhabited by more than thirty million people – the world’s largest “nation” without a state – who are a crucial actor in the region. A Fundamental constant in all the Middle East crises, the “Kurd factor” took central stage in the ongoing war against IS. Although the support received from the international community in this circumstance seemed promising for Kurd demands for autonomy or independence, questions about a long-term settlement are still unresolved. What new balances would an eventual victory of Kurds over IS create? What are the relationships between the different Kurd communities? How to reach a solution to the knotty Kurdish question able to satisfy all the actors involved, especially Turkey? Will it be possible to outline a common future for the Kurd communities or will they remain tied to the political destinies of the countries they live in? These are just some of the questions that this report tries to answer through contributions from leading international experts on the Kurdish question.
Release dateJul 20, 2017
Kurdisdtan. An Invisible Nation

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    Kurdisdtan. An Invisible Nation - Stefano M. Torelli


    1. Kurdistan and the Middle East. Historical Divisions and International Plots

    Stefano M. Torelli

    Framing the Kurdish question

    In the intricate mosaic of the unresolved issues in the Middle East, the Kurdish question is undoubtedly one of the most difficult and, at the same time, constantly underestimated. Nowadays, the Kurdish people represent one of the largest stateless nations, whose grievances about un-achieved independence – or at least autonomy – have been systematically disregarded for decades. The Kurds continue to constitute a problem that touches different fields and different Middle Eastern countries. This contributes to making it an extremely complex issue.

    Indeed, one of the main problems concerns its horizontal dimension, as well as the heterogeneity of the Kurdish population itself. Which lives mostly in four different countries: Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. In each of the individual contexts in which they live, the Kurds have different priorities and agendas that often even conflict with each other. This means that it is impossible to speak about a single Kurdistan, but rather of several Kurdistan(s). It is undeniable that the redesigning of the former Ottoman area following the so-called Sykes-Picot agreements¹ led to a situation where the newly created countries (often more the result of European calculations and choices than of the self-determination of indigenous peoples) were forced to accept the new arrangements. This contributed to creating new challenges to the Kurdish minorities living in those territories.

    The area historically falling under the name of Kurdistan is, as already mentioned, on the border between Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. Beyond that division, the Kurds are to all intents and purposes a population unto itself, connected by some specific features and provided with its own cultural traditions, language and common history. The latter has often been intertwined with the destiny of the Arab, Turk, Persian and Armenian peoples that over the years have inhabited the territories historically designated as Kurdistan. However, unlike all these other realities, Kurdistan has never achieved the international recognition leading to the creation of an independent state. This continues to represent the ultimate aspiration and the real dream of the Kurds, although a series of external and internal factors has led, over time, to the impracticability of such a solution. This in turn contributed to complicating the situation in the Middle East and to creating another potential destabilizing factor for the region.

    On closer inspection, the Kurdish question can be likened to the Palestinian, although it has a much lower media and symbolic echo and is not perceived as one of the causes of the conflicts that, almost endemically, characterize the region. Yet many of the events that have marked the recent history of the Middle East have had the Kurds as their protagonists. This was true in the case of the wars in Iraq under the regime of Saddam Hussein and of the historical and political evolution of a country as crucial to the stability of the area as Turkey. At the same time, the Kurds are among the principal actors in the more recent civil conflict in Syria and in the rise of the so-called Islamic State (IS) between Iraq and Syria. Only Kurdish militias from different backgrounds in fact fight the latter on the field. The very ubiquity of the Kurdish factor in the various Middle East crises clearly shows the importance of this issue and how, over time, it continues to be a constant that is unlikely to be set aside, at least until a solution is provided to create a new and lasting balance. It is at this point, though, that we realize how varied the internal Kurdish reality itself is and that it is not possible to speak of a single solution for Kurdistan; instead the question should be resolved in different ways depending on the different contexts involved.

    To better understand how we arrived at the current situation and what constants have driven the dynamics of so-called Kurdistan, we should give a brief analysis of what happened in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was during this period that the Kurdish question became an issue not only regionally, but internationally too. At the same time, these years also saw the rise and development of Kurdish nationalist sentiment as a more structured political ideal than it had been in the past. Nevertheless, several external actors whose interests, in turn, overlapped with those of the indigenous Kurdish populations exploited this same nationalism. In this sense, it can be said that these same external actors partially contributed to instilling among the Kurdish people that sense of community that was almost unknown, decisively influencing the evolution of the Kurdish political

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