Looks like the Kurds are about to get screwed again, once again affirming their own adage: “The Kurds have no friends.”
Two major developments, and likely lots of other smaller ones, are contributing to this worrisome potentiality.
The Sept. 25 referendum on independence for “Iraqi Kurdistan” turned out 73% of registered voters, and they voted in favor to the tune of 93%.
Already on edge because of the very occurrence of the referendum, the four countries that hold sway over Kurdistan have energetically moved to squelch Kurdish hopes. Syria has been, for obvious reasons, the most quiet.
Turkey has come forth with an anti-independence and anti-referendum position, which hardly is a surprise. Yet, despite some initial indications to the contrary, Ankara is still allowing Kurdish oil to flow into and through its territory—again, no surprise. It is known as “black gold” after all. Erdogan is of course lecturing Erbil about its “mistake” in proceeding with the referendum despite international opposition—another “no surprise” situation—pompously explaining that the Kurds expected to make gains because of the referendum but instead lost ground.
And, literally, they did. Iranian-backed Iraqi irregular forces marched into Kirkuk and the Kurdish Peshmerga retreated with only one significant clash. The fall of Kirkuk indicates both Iran’s level of influence in Iraq, since those Shiite forces would not have moved without Tehran’s blessing, and Baghdad’s level of ire and the Iraqi government’s (Prime Minister Haidar Abadi’s) desperate political need to reassert control, even though the pre-eminent role of the Shiite forces exposes that the government probably lacked the wherewithal to do the work itself. But it’s gone along with the move; there’s an election coming next year in Iraq, after all.
The other major development in the region is the winding down of the ISIS/Daesh campaign. Once those religious fanatics are more thoroughly beaten, however, the relevance of the Kurds in Iraq and Syria decreases. The interest in the Kurds on the part of the major involved, non-proximate powers—the U.S., Russia, and some European states—will wane, and soon the gentle axes of Ankara, Baghdad, and Damascus may once again swing toward Kurdish necks.
Two interesting positions regarding the Kurds in general and the referendum in particular have emanated from Israel and Russia. Israel is alone among significant powers to opine that it may be time for the Kurds to progress on their long road to statehood. This may simply be a case of the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend-ism. Israel is certainly at odds with Iran, Iraq, and Syria. But even Turkey, its erstwhile “friend,” now has a very tense relationship with it. Note the complete concurrence with the states the Kurds are ruled by. It is also especially interesting, since Israel and Iran were the agents of U.S. pressure on Iraq in the mid-1970s and armed/supported the Kurdish uprising led by Mustafa Barzani, the father of the current Kurdish Regional Government’s President, Massoud Barzani. Once each of those three powers got what they wanted, the Kurds were hung out to dry, and Barzani, along with his family and closest supporters, ended up in the U.S.S.R. (in Baku of all places), plotting, unsuccessfully, to establish Kurdish independence.
Which brings us to Russia. I cannot believe the connections established in Mustafa’s day have been allowed to wither. He was known as “the Red Mullah” because of the Soviet connection. It seems to me that it would be in Russia’s interests to support the Kurds. But then, once we consider that Syria is a Russian-allied state, that Iraq is unstable and subject to Iran, and that Iran has generally been friendly with Russia of late, the picture starts to change. Things come into full focus when we consider that Turkey and Russia are in the midst of what can only be described as a rather hot-and-heavy “romantic” (or “extra-marital”) affair, while relations between the U.S and Turkey are probably at their lowest ebb since the establishment of Ataturk’s so-called republic. Why would Russia want to rock that boat?
And where does all this leave Armenians? Artsakh has spoken supportively of the Kurdish referendum. Armenians are generally well treated under Kurdish governance in Iraq and Syria. Instability in the region that helps Kurdish aspirations may also lead to opportunities for restitution from Turkey.
But it can also backfire. The occupation of Kirkuk, the issuance of an arrest warrant by Baghdad for the KRG’s vice-president, and the turmoil created among the Kurds themselves, have led to the general elections in Iraqi Kurdistan, originally scheduled for Nov. 1, to be postponed.
I wish I had diplomatic training/experience so I could invent some devious way to turn this mess to Armenians’ advantage. Does anyone have any ideas as to how to proceed? Such initiative could come either from the Diaspora or Yerevan, perhaps both. Let’s get on it.