[We publish below a translation of “‘Questione curda’, Stato Islamico, USA e dintorni” by the Italian collective Il Lato Cattivo. Though there are limitations to the text (for example it largely ignores the Arab Spring) we think it provides an insightful analysis of recent geopolitical conflict in the Middle East. Thanks to Nicole, Marco, Matthew, and the authors for help with the translation.]
The following text was originally prepared for a public meeting — held in Bologna at the beginning of September 2014 — with Daniele Pepino, author of Kurdistan. In the Eye of the Cyclone (in “Nunatak” no. 35, summer 2014). Unable to attend the meeting, we subsequently altered the initial draft; what results can be read either as a series of marginal notes on that article, or as a stand-alone text.
Kurdistan. In the Eye of the Cyclone has the merit of presenting a clear picture of the political forces that act in the Kurdish region; but the article gives rise to a series of questions that we would like to pick up. Beyond a simple valorisation of the intervention of the PKK militias in support of the Yazidi, threatened by the Islamic State (IS), in northern Iraq, the author mobilizes a veritable apologia for this organization and its alleged “libertarian” turn (the so-called democratic confederalism). Moreover, the absence of a description of the social and class forces of which the various organizations are an expression, presents their work as the product of simple subjective choices made by indeterminate individuals. Finally, a number of issues, from the financing of the PKK to the framework of alliances that goes into defining the Middle East, are too perfunctorily dealt with. Of course, one would need to write several books in order to comprehensively address all these points; the following notes are accordingly not any less sketchy. But we can in this way examine in a different light both the recent evolution of the “Kurdish question”, as well as the conflicts that are going on once again in the Middle East. If this can be of any use for us, or for others, it lies in the fact of not posing the question of autonomy (whatever that means), but that of communism.
THE KURDISH QUESTION: A HISTORICAL DIGRESSION
Source: The Economist
The emergence of a specific “Kurdish question”, beginning at the end of the First World War, is inscribed in the chaotic process of the formation of nation-states in the Near and Middle East. Everywhere, the formation of a modern nation-state requires that the borders of an administrative state match those of a single national population. Multinational states are generally problematic or exceptional situations. The nation-state, i.e. the state of capital, is mono-national, because the relationship between the individual and the state cannot tolerate loyalty to intermediate communities—state and nation must coincide. This process is nothing “natural”, it is a process of homogenization that includes every kind of bricolage, and can avail itself of forms of soft assimilation as well as the most brutal ethnic cleansing. If it is true that for Western Europe the population puzzle has been a less important obstacle than in the Balkans or the Middle East, the reason lies not so much in the greater or lesser complexity or insolubility of the puzzle itself, but in the fact that, in Western Europe the formation of nation-states was realized with the momentum of an endogenous capitalist development, made possible by a precise sequence of previous modes of production, while in the Balkans and the Middle East it followed from a development of capitalism that originated elsewhere, and the inter-capitalist rivalries that emerged as a result. The fragmentation of the Ottoman Empire, or rather its division between the victorious war powers Britain and France, led to the foundation on the one hand of Iraq and Syria under the respective mandates, and on the other that of Turkey, with the rise of the nationalist movement of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk). The latter found himself immediately confronted with the multinational character of the future Turkish state (Turks, Kurds and Greeks of Anatolia), although the situation had already been “simplified” by the extermination of the Armenians in 1915–16 at the hands of the “Young Turks” (1.2 million deaths). As for the Kurds, the Treaty of Sèvres (10 August 1920) had sanctioned the possibility of creating a small independent Kurdistan, provided that this corresponded to the collective will of the Kurdish people and that an Armenian state was also built from some provinces of eastern Anatolia. These conditions were rejected by tribal leaders and sheikhs (landowners), because the territory of the proposed Kurdish state was small relative to the region actually occupied by the Kurdish population, a territory that would have been further reduced by the emergence of an Armenian state. An embryonic Kurdish nationalism then tried to join the Kemalists whose response after consolidating their own position was to crush Kurdish dissent along with the Marxist element at Koçgiri (1921), before imposing through the treaty of Lausanne (1923) a revision of the Sèvres agreements of three years earlier, finally fixing today’s Turkish borders and in doing so leaving Southern Kurdistan to the British Mandate.
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