In recent years, Kurds have become increasingly important in the region of the Middle East. 2011's “Arab Spring” set in motion the broad masses of the people and is accompanied by irreversible, sometimes bloody and tragic, events throughout the Middle East. The ruling regimes forcibly changed in Tunisia, Egypt (twice), Yemen, Libya, a fratricidal civil war in Syria was unleashed, a wave of mass protests and uprisings swept through Bahrain, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania , Sudan, Djibouti and Western Sahara. Large-scale armed clashes and rocket attacks were noted along the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip.
It is still too early to sum up even the most preliminary results of the “Arab Spring”, which continues both in the depth of the political processes in each of the countries listed above and in the number of all new states involved in a series of “revolutions”. There is a real threat of spreading this crisis beyond the borders of the Arab world, in particular, to Turkey, Iran, the countries of the Transcaucasus and Central Asia. Prerequisites for such a development of events are available.
In the current situation, the Kurds are playing an increasingly important role in the region - 40 is a million-strong nation, deprived of its statehood by external circumstances and divided by the borders of four countries: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Several million Kurds live in Europe, the Caucasus, the CIS countries, including Russia. Until recently, the Kurds, who constituted the national minorities of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, were in every way oppressed by the central authorities, pursued a policy of their forced assimilation, resettlement, imposed severe restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language, etc.
The Iraqi Kurds (about 6 million), who secured the status of the subject of the federation with the broadest rights and powers, were the first out of the position of “second-class” citizens. The three northern provinces of the country (Erbil, Dahuk, Sulaymaniyah) that made up Iraqi Kurdistan are developing dynamically and confidently, restoring the infrastructure destroyed by the war, economy, agriculture, life support systems, health care, education, and successfully solve social problems. The favorable legislative climate contributes to the inflow of foreign investment, the accreditation of all new diplomatic, trade missions and transnational corporations. In the 2014, the region plans to independently produce oil and gas and deliver them through Turkey to the world market. The region has become like an oasis of stability and security against the backdrop of the ongoing terrorist war between Iraqi Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs. Moreover, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, acted as an intermediary in resolving the government’s government crisis that lasted for almost a year and contributed to achieving a consensus between the main Iraqi political blocs of Shiite and Sunni Arabs. The Kurds are also fairly well represented in the central government in Baghdad: Iraq’s president is one of the authoritative Kurdish leaders, Jalal Talabani, they occupied 6 ministerial posts, including the post of foreign minister, created a solid Kurdish faction in the federal parliament. According to the existing law, the Kurds should receive in proportion to their number - 17% of the total export of Iraqi hydrocarbons. It cannot be said that there are no problems and controversial issues between the region and the central government of Nuri al-Maliki, but all the most acute contradictions are discussed at the negotiating table and do not yet take the form of open conflicts. The leaders of Iraqi Kurds are realistic about the situation in the country and the region and are not the initiators of their withdrawal from Iraq. By proclaiming independence, the Kurds can be pushed only by the further exacerbation of the armed confrontation between Sunni and Shiite Arabs or the natural disintegration of the state along ethnic and religious lines into three enclaves (northern, central and southern).
No matter how paradoxical it may sound, but the civil war in Syria has noticeably improved the political position of the Syrian Kurds. Facing the possible loss of power, the government of Bashar al-Assad was forced to make significant concessions to its Kurds (an estimated 2,5 million people). Syrian citizenship was finally granted 300 to thousands of Kurds who were deprived of it during the reign of Hafez Assad, hundreds of Kurdish political prisoners were released from prison, government forces were withdrawn from almost all areas of Kurdish compact residence. These measures contributed to the fact that the Syrian Kurds took a position of neutrality in the internal Arab conflict in the country and even created self-defense forces in order to prevent the invasion of Islamist fighters into their territories.
Recently, the national movement of the Syrian Kurds noticeably consolidated. Until March, 2011 in Syria was about 20 of Kurdish political parties and public organizations operating in a semi-legal position, so far they have united into two main political blocs: the Kurdish National Council and the Party of Democratic Union ). Moreover, with the help of Iraqi Kurdistan’s President Massoud Barzani, they managed to create a Supreme Council of Syrian Kurds, whose executive committee is trying to coordinate the activities of all Kurdish political forces in Syria. At the same time, part of the leaders of the Syrian Kurds belongs to foreign diasporas and resides permanently in Europe and the USA. The most radical of them, such as, for example, the representative of the leadership of the Party of the Democratic Union (PDS) Salih Muslim, advocate the creation of Kurdish autonomy in Western Kurdistan or even a subject of the federation of the type of Iraqi Kurdistan. One of the autonomous Kurdish regions has already been proclaimed in the Komyshly region. But most of the Kurdish activists realistically assess the situation in the country (fragmentation of the Kurdish enclaves) and urges their fellow tribesmen to continue to maintain neutrality in the internal conflict in Arab countries. The attacks and punitive actions of Islamist militants against the peaceful Kurdish population only united the Syrian Kurds in the struggle for their rights and freedoms, and accelerated the process of creating self-defense forces. At the same time, their leaders do not refuse to participate in the Geneva-2 conference, continue the dialogue with supporters of Bashar Assad and the opposition, hoping in any way to end the civil war from Damascus to fulfill their basic requirements, which are as follows:
- constitutional recognition of the Kurdish people as the second largest nation in the country;
- the termination of discrimination of Kurds on a national basis and their forced assimilation;
- recognition of the national, political, social and cultural rights and characteristics of the Kurds;
- enabling the formation of local authorities and law enforcement agencies in the Kurdish enclaves from among the Kurds themselves, the proportional representation of the Kurds in the central bodies of legislative and executive power;
- the abolition of restrictions on the occupation by Kurds of positions in the state and military service, for obtaining higher education, etc .;
- the introduction of primary, secondary and higher education and the media in Kurdish;
- accelerated socio-economic development of the most backward Kurdish regions.
The 2013 year brought some positive changes to the solution of the Kurdish problem in Turkey (over 20 million Kurds). The government of R. Erdogan managed to reach agreement in principle with the Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) on a peaceful, phased settlement of the conflict. As you know, the PKK leader is serving a life sentence in prison, the party itself is listed as a terrorist organization in Turkey, the United States and several other countries based in remote mountain areas at the junction of the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Syria, PKK militants have fought a partisan war against the Turkish authorities for many years. The roadmap provides for a ceasefire and all hostilities, the withdrawal of armed groups of the PKK from Turkey to Iraqi Kurdistan, the introduction of amendments to Turkish legislation recognizing the rights of Kurds and other national minorities, the release from prison of political prisoners, including A. Odzhalan, the legalization of the PKK and amnesty all its members, etc. The first stage of the roadmap was completed successfully, the implementation of the follow-up was suspended largely due to the sharp exacerbation of the internal political situation in the country. It should be borne in mind that many Kurds, as full-fledged citizens of Turkey, are already deputies of the Turkish parliament, and the pro-Kurdish parliamentary Party of Peace and Democracy (Mine action) allows to legally defend the rights of the Kurdish minority.
In the most difficult situation, Iranian Kurds remain, some of whom continue their armed struggle against the ruling regime and, thus, provoke the authorities to new repressions, up to and including group executions of Kurdish activists. Iranian Kurdistan covers four provinces of the country - Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Western Azerbaijan and Ilam, whose Kurdish population ranges from 7 to 8 million or 9 - 10% of the total Iranian population. The Kurds also live in northern Khorasan and in northeastern Iran, major administrative centers (Tehran, Sanandaj, etc.). By religion, a significant part of them are Sunnis, but among them are representatives of other areas of Islam and Yezidis.
Modern Iran as a unitary state does not recognize ethnic minorities and prohibits the creation of organizations on an ethnic basis, any Kurdish movement is forced to build its activities from illegal positions. The Kurdish movement in Iran is split, does not represent a single political whole, its constituent structures and their leaders compete and are hostile among themselves for ideological reasons. However, most of them agree that the only way to change the situation for them is to overthrow the Islamic regime with the help of weapons, the chances of creating a Kurdish autonomy by peaceful means are negligible. According to the Kurds themselves, in recent years, about 10 000 their fellow tribesmen were subjected to repression, hundreds of leaders of Kurdish organizations and activists were executed, others are imprisoned or forced to hide abroad.
The leading role in the Kurdish opposition is played by the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (DGF), led by Mustafa Hijri from 2006. At this stage, the KDPI proclaims the main goals of its struggle: the creation of a democratic, independent and federal Iran, the realization of the right of the peoples of Iran to self-determination, the socio-economic transformation of the Kurdish regions, the equality of men and women in society and in the family, the separation of religion and state. The CPPC rejects all forms of armed struggle and considers constructive the unification of all interested political forces abroad, who can say their weighty word on the Kurdish issue. The party’s leadership believes that the West is only trying to take advantage of national tensions in Iran in order to speed up the regime change in Tehran, and the discriminatory sanctions imposed by it affect the Kurdish population in the most negative way.
There are other, smaller, Kurdish nationalist parties in Iran. Currently, the only Kurdish group that continues to wage an armed struggle against the Iranian regime remains the Party of the Free Life of Kurdistan (Pejak), which is considered a branch of the Turkish PKK. In 2009, the United States added PJAK to its list of terrorist organizations.
In view of the fact that other national minorities of Iran, such as the Baluchis, Gilians, Arabs and partly Azerbaijanis, share Kurdish ambitions for autonomy, the question of creating a unified national front is put on the agenda in order to continue the political struggle for the establishment of a pluralistic government in Iran . With the arrival of Iranian President H. Rowhani, who seeks to pursue a compromise policy and maneuver between various political trends within the ruling clergy and political elites, the likelihood of implementing consistent, evolutionary reforms in the sphere of national politics increases. At the very least, Kurdish leaders are counting on stopping the persecution of their political parties and beginning a dialogue with Tehran. In this context, they consider the begun processes of establishing a dialogue between Iran and the United States. In their opinion, Washington should not limit its demands only to Iran’s nuclear program, but also seek to revise the whole range of issues related to ensuring human rights in the country in general and national minorities in particular.
Thus, the role and importance of the Kurds in the political life of each of the countries of their compact residence is steadily increasing. It seems that the period of silencing the Kurdish problem or attempts to solve it by means of coercive pressure and discrimination of the Kurds on a national basis is coming to an end. The authorities of Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria are increasingly forced to reckon with their growing Kurdish minorities and are trying to resolve the contradictions and conflicts with them by peaceful means. Kurds are involved in the work of central and regional authorities, measures are being taken to accelerate the socio-economic development of the Kurdish enclaves, they are allowed to form their own political parties and public organizations, introduce training and media in the Kurdish language, etc. Of course, this process is uneven in each of the countries listed above, but the general trend towards the recognition of the legitimate rights and freedoms of the Kurdish ethnic group prevails.
The Kurds themselves at the level of a national idea or slogan continue to advocate for their national independence and the creation of a Kurdish state, but, based on the current objective reality, they do not require immediate withdrawal from the existing countries of their compact residence. Moreover, given the secular, secular nature of the Kurds and their tolerance towards the representatives of other ethnic groups and religions, the Kurds began to play a connecting role in the now disintegrating Iraq and Syria, supported the positive steps and reforms of R. Erdogan in Turkey, it is possible that and H. Rowhani to some extent can count on the support of the Kurdish electorate in their future political struggle against the Conservatives. It is generally recognized that it is the Kurds who can become a reliable barrier and, as it were, a counterweight to the further expansion of radical Islamist groups in the region.
At the same time, it is impossible to exclude new attempts by external players to play the “Kurdish card” in their national interests, provoking them to armed demonstrations against the central authorities under the slogans of separatism. Today, such a threat exists in Syria and Iran, where opponents of the ruling regimes in the face of the United States, their Western allies, the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, Turkey and a number of other countries seek to overthrow Bashar al-Assad at any cost and thereby further isolate Iran in the international arena. However, Kurdish leaders, who have a certain negative experience of contacts with representatives of Western democracies, are unlikely to agree to continue playing the role of a “match” assigned to them by Washington, which, if ordered from overseas, can set the region on fire at the right time.