The Kurdish Spring in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring

By Michael M. Gunter
Submitted to Session P2979 (The Kurdish Spring, 2012 Annual Meeting
Intl Rltns/Aff
19th-21st Centuries;
The purpose of this paper is to survey what might be termed the Kurdish Spring in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Fieldwork in Turkey and Iraq, scholarly articles and interviews, online sources and newspapers, among others, will be used as sources. This opening paper for the proposed panel on “The Kurdish Spring” will note that the Kurdish version of the Arab Spring did not just begin in 2011, but in many respects has been going on for decades. Indeed, second only to the perennial Arab-Israeli dispute, Kurdish nationalism remains a continuing and leading factor of instability in the geostrategically important Middle East. Furthermore, since the Kurds sit on a great deal of the Middle East’s oil and possibly even more important water resources, Kurdish nationalism probably will become increasingly more salient in the coming years. However, the Kurdish issue no longer seems intractable as the Kurds have actually established an autonomous state in northern Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Given continuing U.S. diplomatic backing as well as wise KRG leadership, it is not naïve to believe that the KRG will be able to survive and even prosper amidst all the birth pangs of post-Saddam Iraq and now the Arab and Kurdish Springs. The situation for Kurdish nationalism in Turkey, of course, is more problematic. However, a quick comparison with where the Kurdish issue stood in Turkey just one or two decades ago when the very term Kurd constituted a four-letter word in the Turkish lexicon will illustrate the enormous progress that has been made. The immediate task now is for the writing of a new, more democratic constitution to commence. On a lesser scale Iran too has long been going through its own off again/on again Kurdish Spring, the Mahabad Republic in 1946 being the most famous example. Although the Iranian Kurds are bitterly divided into several competing parties, constant protests and even armed struggle by the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), ensconced in the Iraqi Kandil Mountains just across the border from Iran, continue today. Finally, in Syria, where the Kurdish population is much smaller and not as geographically united as it is in the other three states, the Kurds have broken out of their muted and divided existence to partially and cautiously join the anti-Assad movement.