The Shadow State Conflict

Kurdistan.  You won’t find it on a map, not as a country anyway, for despite the strong nationalistic tendancies that reside among its millions of people, it is not, and has not ever been an independantly recognized state.  Yet, the shadow state which rests in the mountainous region of Northern Iraq provides something of a glimmer of hope in the otherwise embattled and war torn nation.  A glimmer of hope that is, unfortunately, marching to war.

What might be forgotten is that at one point in time, Kurds and Turks were allies, if not friends.  For centuries, Turks and Kurds lived side by side under Ottoman rule, fighting together against the Russians, and fending off British imposition following the first World War.  In the aftermath of this, however, the Kurds would find themselves somewhat betrayed by Ataturk, who in a sense of solidarity for those regions once a part of the Ottoman empire, called for a distinctly Turkish culture which illegitimized the Kurdish culture.

Hopes for the people who inhabited a mountainous region (hence the term “Mountain Turks”) that sits at a crossroads between Turkey, Iraq, Iran, just to name a few key nations, that they would enjoy a place to call home where their history and culture would be respected were destroyed.

In the early 90’s, Kurds would find themselves on the wrong side of hostilities on two fronts.  To there South, after heeding the call from then US President, George H. W. Bush to rise up against the dictator Saddam Hussein, they would find themselves abandoned by the US.  In the end, though, the US did establish a no fly zone over Iraqi Kurdistan, and in the wake of this, a somewhat self sustaining government was formed.

While this was happening, Kurds were busy fighting a civil war in the southeast region of Turkey.

Many of you will know that in the 1980s and 1990s the PKK and the Turkish army fought a running civil war in the south-eastern region of Turkey, whose majority population is Kurdish, and whose regional centre is the city of Diyarbakir. At the same time, Kurds were less than second-class citizens in law, their language being barred from most media, and their nationality being generally referred to as “Mountain Turk”. Most of the left in the west (left and centre-left parties in Turkey were more divided) sided with the PKK as a national liberation movement, in spite of some queasiness over their tactics which included attacks on civilian targets. Nevertheless, given the organisation’s at least formally Marxist politics, and the appalling mistreatment by the Turkish government of those who it stood to defend, it is easy to see why the majority of the left took, and still takes, this stance.

However by the late 1990s the Turkish Army had gained the upper hand and the PKK’s influence was radically reduced. The symbolic capture of iconic PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999 appeared to mark the beginning of the organisation’s end. Furthermore, the election in 2002 of the nominally Islamist AK party led by current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan led to an unprecedented liberalisation of the laws on language in broadcasts and schools, and to a stream of of public investment in south east Turkey being opened up. This in turn seemed to bleed support further from the PKK.

But following the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003, this region in the north has stood out as the one peaceful region of the crumbling country, largely due to its autonomy.  While the rest of the nation is embroiled in sectarian fighting and political powergrabs, Iraqi Kurdistan, no longer in the shadow of Saddam Hussein, has been allowed to flourish, and has proven to be a beacon for Kurds outside its phantom borders, but proves also to be something of an asset of the US who can look to it as one of the few things not ruined by the invasion.

This, however, is on the precipice of taking a dark turn for the worse.  As a result of a PKK led ambush against Turkish forces that left at least twelve dead, Turkey is poised to go into the last bastion of peace in Iraq to huntdown the PKK:

The Turkish parliament last week overwhelmingly passed a motion enabling the Turkish army to cross into Iraq to pursue the 3,500 PKK guerrillas to their mountain hideouts. In the wake of the latest attacks, it will be difficult for the Turkish government not to follow through on its threat of retaliation. “Our parliament has granted us the authority to act and within this framework we will do whatever has to be done,” Mr Erdogan said, adding he would take “an approach that is calm, far from agitation and based on common sense.”

This has sparked a last ditch effort involving the US to stave off the Turkish call to arms in the hopes of preventing the last peaceful part of Iraq from also declining into chaos.  Secretary of State Condi Rice has managed to buy a few days, but the outlook here, between the ultranationalistic currents running through Turkey, and the defiant stance of the Kurds does not bode well for peace.

One Response to “The Shadow State Conflict”

  1. matttbastard says:

    This potential strategy wouldn’t exactly endear the US* to the one area of Iraq (well, ‘Iraq’, anyway) where it enjoys popular support.

    Rock, meet hard place.



  1. Comments from Left Field - On The Ledge... 4 days after the Iraq-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) attacked a Turkish battalion stationed near the Northern…

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