The Implosion of the Kurdistan Dream Spells Disaster for Turkey

For decades the existence of the Regional Government of Kurdistan in northern Iraq has off and on been a useful tool and a source of annoyance for Turkey. It sometimes seemed to be a moderating force in a region racked by the attacks of the radical PKK. But always there was the underlying suspicion that the Kurds were up to something. Something usually meant listening to the siren call of an independent Kurdistan, which might attract the interest of millions of Kurds living in Turkey.

For decades Turkey has lived with this ambivalence. In the end the fear of Kurdish statehood has dominated Turkish policy. The military success of the PKK-aligned Kurdish fighters in northern Syria has led to something approaching panic in the Turkish government and military circles. It then led to a full-scale apoplectic fit when the Kurds of Iraq held a referendum about whether to found an independent Kurdistan. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of independence. But then there was a sigh of relief when the Iraqi government opposed this movement. The rout of the Peshmerga at Kirkuk and the subsequent collapse of the Barzani government in Erbil led more short-sighted Turkish authorities to feel that this gives Turkey relief from the nightmare of a Kurdish state on its border.

But then there is Iran. And Russia. And an American president with no sense of history or strategic reality. Turkey is not the big boy in the region. The collapse of the Kurdish dream could very well become the beginning of a true nightmare. Other vultures will join Turkey in feeding on the Kurdish chaos. If Kurdish youth cannot look forward to an independent nation, they can look forward to the ongoing struggle against their enemies - domestic and foreign. Kurds have a tendency to fight each other when the region is in chaos. And as von Clausewitz said, "War is politics carried on by other means." There may come a time when even Abdullah Öcalan will be remembered as a moderate opponent.

A stable government in Iraqi Kurdistan may be unpalatable to the Turkish authorities, but have they considered what may emerge in the wake of the present chaos? At the very least they will confront a new pool of radicalized Kurdish terrorists  and the growing hegemony of Iran in the region. The Turks should choose their friends and enemies more wisely.


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