The political geography of the Kurds
By GÖKHAN BACIKIraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has changed Turkey's position vis-à-vis the Kurds dramatically.Maliki's grand ambition is to geopolitically realign Iraq with its historical Shiite ideology, alongsideIran. Such a strategy, although criticized by some countries such as Turkey, is not totally baseless.The Shiites have a clear majority in Iraq. More, the US-led Western intervention destroyed the Iraqistate and nation and opened the way to the present-day sectarianism.Even though Maliki's strategy is fraught with danger in the long term with regards to Iraqi unity, itforces Turkey towards a more realistic approach to the Kurdish problem. For example, Turkey hasnow realized that its prime interests in the region require strong cooperation with the Kurds in Iraq.Although Turkey will not take any action that would further disrupt Iraqi unity, it will not hesitate todeepen its engagement with the Kurdish region despite the resistance from Baghdad. Ankara'scooperation with Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Iraqi Kurdish Autonomous Region, will indeedreduce regional pressures on Turkey. But is that enough to overcome the Kurdish problem itself?Before venturing to answer, one should analyze the political geography of the Kurds. Today, Kurdslive in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. None of these countries has developed an efficient strategy toincorporate them as equal citizens. Thus, with regard to the Kurdish issue, all these states have failed.However, more critical is the political stratification of the Kurds. In general, Kurds have long beencategorized as either traditional or modern. For instance, the Naqshbandi, an Islamic religious order,was very influential among Turkey's Kurds but was almost devastated by the Kemalist regime,particularly after the 1960 coup. If Kemalism had an ounce of sociological wisdom, it would nothave brought its struggle with Islam to the Kurdish regions of Turkey.
The differentiation that produced the labels “traditional” and “modern” was more sociological in
kind, linked to Islam and urbanization, respectively. As expected, the traditional Kurdish base,strongly linked to Islam, was characteristically silent on political issues. So it was from the moderngroup, the urban Kurds of Turkey, that the first generation of Kurdish nationalists emerged. Theseurban Kurds, no longer part of their traditional setting, took to nationalism instantly. Paradoxically,this recourse voiced itself in leftist and secular jargon, that being its only option thanks to thepolitical poverty in Turkey on the Kurdish issue of conservative and right-wing politicians alike.Unlike in Turkey, Kurdish nationalism in Iraq was championed by Barzani-like traditional religiousgroups. Therefore, the Kurdish political geography has two major models: Kurdish nationalismthrough the traditional elites (the Barzani model) and Kurdish nationalism through the secular elites(the Öcalan model).The foregoing tableau presents a serious question to Turkey: Who will persuade the Kurds in Turkeyto move away from the Öcalan model? So far, the struggle in this matter has been in the domain of the Turkish security apparatus. Additionally, the Turkish state includes no Kurdish organization, nordoes it offer any Kurdish alternative. Governors, military officers and other public figures havelimited roles in such issues. Like many others, the Turkish state, as a Weberian machine, stops at 4p.m., but life in all its complexity goes on. In other words, Turkey has failed to generate analternative model to counterbalance the Öcalan model. Thus, despite its inner problems (such as