The "Kurdish Industry": Is Global Ethics Possible?
There are 28 million Kurds dispersed across five separate international states, representing the world’s largest stateless nation. The Middle East’s once “forgotten people” have gained full visibility in the international arena since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. The most recent discoveries of major gas fields in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and the Kurds increasing role in the revolution in Syria raise the importance of Kurds as an indispensable social and economic factor in the U.S. foreign policy. In fact, on January 8, 2007, The Kurdish History made it as a separate category on Jeopardy!, the famous American television quiz show, which is a clear indication of the increasing strategic importance of studying the Kurdish national movement and its deeply troubling and destabilizing potential consequences, not only for Iraq, but also for the greater Middle East.
There is plenty of research conducted on the Kurdish “problem,” particularly the triangular interaction between the Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and the U.S. foreign policy, and most of the published work on the Kurds analyzes it from the security perspective. The argument is always the same -- Kurdishness is an agent of national or regional conflict, and creating an independent Kurdistan would threaten the territorial integrity of the pre-existing states.
The greater puzzle here is exactly this “Kurdish industry” talk that the situation of Kurds has largely been defined as a “Kurdish problem,” or a “Kurdish question” based on national or international security concerns, and rarely as an issue of human rights or democratization. Framing the Kurdish issue as a security problem cannot be taken as given. A genuine solution requires what Immanuel Kant would call the cosmopolitan (Weltbürgerrecht) right - a universal basis for morality and politics that the principles of freedom and equality are not arbitrarily applicable to some; they are universally attributed to all human beings. Of course, the possible Kurdish independence has practical implications for the region as a whole; however, the claims for an independent Kurdistan should not be quickly dismissed for the sake of regional stability. The recent past is full of examples of the international community’s support for various nations’ right to self-determination: South Sudan, Kosovo, Montenegro, Eritrea and Palestine are among the many. Hence, solving the Kurdish issue entails a cosmopolitan commitment on a decision to grant the Kurds formal recognition of their ethnic heritage, with cultural, social and political rights, and reconfigure the “Kurdish industry” as an issue of human rights, democratization and cosmopolitanism.
Submitted by Elcin Haskollar
The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not represent the opinions of Rutgers University or the Division of Global Affairs.