Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Will Kurdish nationalism be affected by the Syrian refugee crisis?

Massoud Barzani’s recent statement of firm support for all Syrian Kurdish refugees and those facing ‘’death and terrorism’’ in Syria clearly signals his commitment to his fellow Kurds, or at least a policy of giving that impression. 

It’s possible that with this move to play a more active role in managing the fallout from Syria, the KRG may just have brought on itself a responsibility it cannot handle. The pressure placed on the administrative and economic capacity of the region will cause significant problems for the government, and the numbers of refugees will just keep growing. Complaints have been made by the KRG that they have received little or no help from the central government in Baghdad or the international community in trying to support the refugees. Their efforts are not sustainable without this outside help. Amongst the population of Iraqi Kurdistan, moreover, there is already a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the KRG itself, which is seen as stultifying and corrupt.
It would though be a mistake to expect the problems that the Syrian Kurd refugees will cause to translate into a sense of resentment towards them from the wider Iraqi Kurd population.  
There is a hugely strong sense of duty to help those Syrian Kurds fleeing the conflict and to protect those still there. In the past, the enormous numbers of Iraqi Kurds fleeing Saddam’s al-Anfal campaign were received by their Kurdish brothers in Syria and Turkey. The numbers involved in the current situation are large but nothing yet near the numbers of Iraqi Kurds involved then, and the Iraqi Kurds will continue to do as much as they can to ensure the support and safety of their Syrian counterparts. Such is the strength of the Kurdish national movement (the idea of ‘Greater Kurdistan’) and the deeply rooted desire for some degree of Kurdish unification. In fact, the lack of outside help being given to KRG efforts to support the Syrian Kurdish refugees will likely further this perception of unity, solidarity and brotherhood for the Kurdish people in the face of a hostile, uncaring region and wider world.

A three day Kurdish conference is to be held in Erbil this month. Roughly 600 diplomats will be attending, representing political parties of ‘Greater Kurdistan’ – Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. One of the hopes of the conference is to establish some sort of Kurdish League (similar to the Arab League) and to spread Kurdish political unity.  It is not likely that much will actually come of the meeting due to ethnicity being the only real thing they all currently have in common. Divisions exist between the PYD and PKK and Barzani’s KNC. Political disunity is also apparent in Iranian Kurdish parties and in Turkey, where the PKK control Kurdish affairs without reference to most any other group. The opposition Change party in Iraqi Kurdistan is increasingly strong, and claim that the ruling coalition in Erbil will use the meeting’s timing to engender goodwill for their own advantage before the elections in Iraqi Kurdistan on September 21st this year. The conference will though set a significant precedent.

Even if these practical divisions remain and nothing comes directly of the conference (and it probably will not), ideals of Kurdish unity and nationalism are so strongly held and deeply attached in the hearts of the wider Kurdish population that they shall continue to be pursued regardless of the problems caused by the mounting pressure of the weight of the Syrian Kurdish refugees.  

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