A Case for Kurdistan
Most nations in the Middle East – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey – are quilts of national and religious minorities. Each of these four nations has within its borders unhappy Kurds, who want nothing more than their own self-governing Kurdistan. While America has historically helped the Kurds, we have also, too often, treated Kurds as if they were pawns in some geopolitical chess game.
We would be wise to reconsider that whole strategy and support the broad Kurdish desire for an independent homeland. This might antagonize Turkey, an ally of America in the Cold War and a nation relatively resistant to Islamic extremism, but this “ally,” once a rare friend of Israel in the Middle East, has become increasingly hostile to the Jewish state and friendly towards Palestinian terrorism.
Nearly all the Kurds of the Middle East live in four countries: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The 15 million Kurds in Turkey, if these people acquired their independence because of the support of America, would surely be more pro-Israeli that the current Turkish government. Iraq has about 7 million Kurds, and effective independence for these Kurds is already being thought about seriously. Iran has about 8 million Kurds, and no nation is more hostile to our goals than Iran. Syria is a human rights and political disaster. Its 3 million Kurds can only be better off in a new Kurdistan.
Kurdistan would help our purposes in the region. Kurds oppose Arab imperialism. They are not Arabs, and throughout history, Kurds have suffered from various types of regional imperialism. The Kurds are more religiously tolerant than most Muslims and resist Islamic radicalism. Although most Kurds are Sunni Muslims, there are Kurdish Yazidis, Kurdish Yarsans, Kurdish Jews, Kurdish Zoroastrians, and Kurdish Christians. The stark division of the sexes in orthodox Islamic regimes does not exist among Kurds. To these people, who have struggled so long to have a nation, Kurdish independence trumps religious militancy.
All the Kurds want is to be able to live in their own homeland after thousands of years under other rulers and to live in peace with their neighbors. The case for Kurdistan has strong similarities to the case for Israel in 1948. These Kurds want a homeland so that they can live without persecution in a nation that is their own, and Kurds have no more aggressive designs on neighboring nations that the Jews of 1948 had toward the Arab states. Like the Jews of Israel since independence, Kurds would be robust defenders of their own independence.
In other respects, Kurdistan would be like that other nation in the Middle East that has worked: Lebanon. This “Switzerland of the Middle East” combined prosperity, freedom, and neutrality. The Lebanese, like the Kurds, were a people made up of different religions who had decided to live in peace. As long as that modus vivendi existed, Lebanon was a happy island of tranquility inside a troubled region. Indeed, Kurdistan might well pick up the role once played by Lebanon in the region.
The oil revenues of northern Iraq would provide the Kurds with a good chance to replicate the prosperity that once made Lebanon the envy of everyone in the region, including Israel. Kurdistan might provide a refuge for persecuted people in the Middle Eastern – like Iraqi Christians – to establish an unmolested life while still remaining in the region. These minorities often are the educated professionals who stabilize and pacify countries while also providing economic flexibility and hope.
This free Kurdistan would also make clear that our support for nations that manifest the long-suffering aspirations of peoples who have been unjustly denied their own nation is a universal principle, not one applied exclusively to Israel. This has, in fact, been American policy for a long time. The “Captive Nations” of the old Soviet Union were supported by a long train of bipartisan American political support.
We have likewise supported the end of Serbian domination of the old Yugoslavia by the birth of new true nations from this old unhappy federation. Today we recognize not only the Ukrainians as occupying the moral high ground, but the Tibetans as well. This has been a guiding principle of our nation almost since its inception.
Sometimes, in foreign policy, it is possible to simultaneously do the right thing and the smart thing. Helping bring Kurdistan into this world does both.