A text by a jour­nal­ist and sur­pris­ing trav­eller, a lover of the Mid­dle East, atten­tive to the polit­i­cal solu­tions under­way despite recur­ring wars, and bloody upheavals of decrepit nation-states drawn with rulers and treaties, or vio­lent­ly erect­ed against the mosaics of peo­ples, their his­to­ry, reli­gions, cul­tures and com­mon pasts.

A liv­ing present, exam­ined under the light of a fun­da­men­tal reflec­tion that only rein­forces the nec­es­sary notion of the demo­c­ra­t­ic con­fed­er­al­ism par­a­digm (Eng­lish trans­la­tion to fol­low) under devel­op­ment in North­ern Syria.

Of the dangers of nationalism, even when it is Kurdish…

Did Ira­ki Kur­dis­tan bare­ly escape the dra­ma of independence? 

We could almost put the ques­tion seri­ous­ly so prob­lem­at­ic had this pro­ject­ed Kur­dish scis­sion become in so many of its aspects. It is dis­con­cert­ing to see how the march toward that end had become incar­nate in the sole per­son of Mas­sud Barzani to the detri­ment of healthy polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions and representatives.

Indeed, this pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion was not ini­ti­at­ed fol­low­ing a par­lia­men­tary debate and a vote by deputies as pro­vid­ed for by the coun­try’s leg­is­la­tion, but fol­low­ing the per­son­al injunc­tion of a leader with no legal man­date with­in the gov­ern­ment he has run for four years. This real­i­ty is large­ly ignored over by inter­na­tion­al medias as well as with­in Ira­ki Kur­dis­tan itself. One need only spend a few days in Bashur, in Ira­ki Kur­dis­tan, to real­ize how this pre­oc­cu­pa­tion is not a super­flu­ous one.   The ban­ners in Barzani’s effi­gy are omnipresent in the ter­ri­to­ry con­trolled by his Par­ty’s mili­tia. The cult of per­son­al­i­ty sur­round­ing Mid­dle East­ern men in pow­er is cer­tain­ly omnipresent. How­ev­er, it rais­es a prob­lem once the per­son­al­i­ty in ques­tion con­fus­es his per­son with the insti­tu­tions he is sup­posed to man­age and when he intends to legit­imize his author­i­tar­i­an and arbi­trary deci­sions by hold­ing his peo­ple hostage over a ques­tion as com­pelling as an hypo­thet­i­cal independence.

For a long time, the aspi­ra­tion to state­hood has come to embody the panacea, the ulti­mate sal­va­tion to the ills suf­fered by the Kurds, the great for­got­ten ones in the hag­gling car­ried out by the pow­ers recon­fig­ur­ing region­al fron­tiers dur­ing the pre­vi­ous cen­tu­ry. The Lau­sanne Treaty was an affront and a name­less curse for this peo­ple which aspired to  its place in this new order gov­erned by a sim­ple prin­ci­ple: one nation = one state. Not only did this rule not apply to the Kurds but it would prob­a­bly not have resolved the dis­pute it would have cre­at­ed by the same token. The fact is that until the end of the Ottoman Empire, peo­ples and reli­gious minori­ties lived inex­tri­ca­bly inter­wo­ven with each oth­er. Gov­erned by an enti­ty that over­looked nation­al char­ac­ter­is­tics, they did not enter into oppo­si­tion with one anoth­er, as was the case later.

The Nation-State, a polit­i­cal mod­el ini­ti­at­ed in Europe by the Treaties of West­phalia in 1648, reshaped the con­ti­nen­tal map by redefin­ing rela­tion­ships among the States while respect­ing the sov­er­eign­ty of each. The suprema­cy of the Nation-State, that took greater impor­tance in the 19th cen­tu­ry and tri­umphed over mul­ti-eth­nic empires at the end of World War I, had already demon­strat­ed the dead­liest impuls­es imag­in­able  it could gen­er­ate. The after­shocks fol­lowed in the Mid­dle East (Turkey and Israel, to men­tion only the most aggres­sive) and in the rest of the world (Rwan­da, Indone­sia, India/Pakistan, Ex-Yugoslavia…) up until today (Myan­mar and its Rohingyas).

Did the Kurds escape find­ing them­selves on the wrong side of his­to­ry because they were the vic­tims rather than the insti­ga­tors of the injus­tice, as it might have been the case, had they tak­en their place in the con­cert of Nation-States? 

Would they also have end­ed up mar­gin­al­iz­ing oth­er minor­i­ty groups who would then have found them­selves against their wish­es with­in the ter­ri­to­ry of a Kur­dish Nation-State? Every­thing would then have depend­ed also on the behav­ior of the lead­er­ship, on the solid­i­ty and trans­paren­cy of the local insti­tu­tions. Barzani had announced that the minori­ties in the noto­ri­ous con­test­ed ter­ri­to­ries, the bone of con­tention between Bagh­dad and Erbil, would be “wel­come guests” in the Kur­dish enti­ty, imme­di­ate­ly reduc­ing them to the rank of sec­ond-class cit­i­zens behind the Kur­dish ele­ment incar­nat­ing the peo­ple par excel­lence of the new Nation-State. Should they set­tle for this half-mea­sure which is not with­out recall­ing the sta­tus of dhim­mis the Caliphate used to ascribe to its sub­jects in the past?

Nation­al­ism pro­duces smoke­screens at many lev­els. Play­ing on the sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty of the mass­es, it evades the com­plex­i­ty of human rela­tion­ships, the het­ero­gene­ity of social bod­ies, the neces­si­ty mankind has of spread­ing ideas and cul­tures rather than freez­ing them and bind­ing them in out­dat­ed straight­jack­ets, of ide­al­iz­ing a His­to­ry in which it is just as wrong­ly assumed that the ances­tors lived sealed off in moun­tain­ous self-sufficiency.

In assum­ing a social and polit­i­cal body where one com­mu­ni­ty is large­ly in the major­i­ty and dom­i­nant, nation­al­ism denies minor­i­ty groups the pos­si­bil­i­ty of exist­ing as oth­er than minori­ties. More seri­ous­ly, it makes of those, gen­er­al­ly on the fron­tiers, a com­mon ene­my to be opposed and dom­i­nat­ed by the same token. Domes­tic minori­ties iden­ti­fed with those out­side groups are then sin­gled out as fifth columns and con­sid­ered trai­tors by definition.

How then could one have resolved the dilem­na of Arab and Turk­men pop­u­la­tions in Kirkuk? There are no solu­tions to this in nationalism.

Oth­er minori­ties locat­ed in these dis­put­ed ter­ri­to­ries and who were sub­ject­ed to the admin­is­tra­tion of the Kur­dis­tan Region­al Gov­ern­ment (KRG) since 2014 breathed a huge sigh of relief when Ira­ki forces dis­loged the pesh­mer­gas from their lands. Why? Because the Kur­dish forces behaved like col­o­niz­ers for whom only one thing mat­tered: incor­po­rat­ing these ter­ri­to­ries in their pro­ject­ed State inso­far as they con­tained a suf­fi­cient crit­i­cal mass of Kurds and of minori­ties they could co-opt. The oth­ers then became a prob­lem to be resolved through intim­i­da­tion or coer­cion. The KRG pro­to-State had already demon­strat­ed its drift toward a repres­sive machin­ery. It intend­ed to mod­u­late soci­ety to serve its vain and alien­at­ing ambitions.

Barzani, vain­glo­ri­ous par excel­lence, con­fused the KRG with his own per­son for too long, prob­a­bly encour­aged in this assump­tion by over­ly-obse­quious advi­sors such as BHL. The most fer­vent wor­shipers of this idol did not hide their love and devo­tion for the leader max­i­mo just fall­en from the throne on which they had raised him. There were many express­ing their rage as night fell on the streets of Erbil, Dohuk, Zakho, honk­ing their horns in uni­son, shoot­ing off salves from their kalach­nikovs. For these mass­es sud­den­ly turned tur­bu­lent, Barzani’s res­ig­na­tion was expe­ri­enced like a cas­tra­tion. On the night of the par­lia­men­tary ses­sion where Barzani threw in the tow­el, they gath­ered in droves at the doors of the Kur­dish par­lia­ment, weapons drawn, ready to lynch deputies of the oth­er Par­ties, accused of every ill. They did not hes­i­tate in attack­ing the jour­nal­ists on the premis­es — not those rep­re­sent­ing the agen­cies of Barzani’s clan, those who spent days rehash­ing the most sor­did fab­ri­ca­tions con­cern­ing the fate await­ing the Kurds of Kirkuk with the advanc­ing Chi­ite troops thirst­ing for blood, those who ignit­ed minds ensnared by the thought of tak­ing their place in a Kur­dish State. In KDP bas­tions, fanat­ics attacked and burned down the premis­es of rival par­ties, accused by the crowd of sab­o­tage of the old dream and on the plan metic­u­lous­ly put in place by Barzani to lead the Kurds to the cher­ished inde­pen­dence. Their idol being infal­li­ble by nature, it was incon­cev­able for these night avengers that he be the slight­est bit respon­si­ble for the cat­a­stro­phy they are liv­ing today. Hence­forth, there are only two camps, that of the King’s faith­ful brought to his knees, and that of the trai­tors to the nation.

And yet, every­thing had been well packaged. 

A ref­er­en­dum with a sim­ple ques­tion: Yes or No, are you for Kur­dis­tan’s inde­pen­dence from Irak? The ques­tion touched on a raw nerve. “No Kurd can anwer by the neg­a­tive to this ques­tion and not feel sick there­after for the rest of his days,” a Kur­dish friend once said to me. In fact, the stakes go way beyond the dialec­tic of the yes or the no offered by the urn.

What insti­tu­tions for Kur­dis­tan? What about cor­rup­tion and the econ­o­my in tat­ters in Ira­ki Kur­dis­tan, what about inclu­sive­ness for minori­ties? Must one wait for inde­pen­dence in order to re-estab­lish a democ­ra­cy scorned for almost four years now by a clan of prevaricators?

Nation­al­ism can­not make right all these ques­tions. This rigid project, filled with mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions leaves not room for debate or the search for con­sen­sus and nego­ti­a­tion with oth­er parts of Irak look­ing on from afar, still stunned by the bar­bar­i­ty of the Islam­ic State and who see the Kur­dish House as mov­ing toward a non-ami­ca­ble divorce that is more of the order of a repu­di­a­tion after hav­ing put all the com­mon belong­ings in the trunk of the car. Is there any rea­son to be sur­prised by the vio­lence of the reac­tion in Baghdad?

Nation­al­ism is an opi­um that clouds the most sen­si­ble of minds and turns them over to the addic­tion of vio­lence by mak­ing them strive for arti­fi­cial par­adis­es. At the doors of a new cen­tu­ry, it is time to turn the page on this dead end street.

All peo­ples should know that the dis­course the Nation-State sells them about their sto­ry is noth­ing but a pack of lies. Thus, no one is igno­rant of the fact that these same Kurds have elab­o­rat­ed anoth­er alter­na­tive to such chimera dis­guised as a muse gnaw­ing at the Mid­dle East. A soci­etal mod­el that is tru­ly inclu­sive, par­tic­i­pa­to­ry, that does not weigh down the indi­vid­ual under a lead­en man­tle of pow­er, that does­n’t wrap him in unre­al­is­tic promis­es but that rais­es him up, as best it can, to the respon­si­bil­i­ties of the human con­di­tion, and which attempts to rev­o­lu­tion­ize, once and for all, the mad­ness that has for­ev­er gan­grened the world.

It would be life-sav­ing for these new alter­na­tives (Eng­lish trans­la­tion to fol­low) to unfold also in Ira­ki Kur­dis­tan, and even beyond. 

Auteur : “al Ghaz­a­li” 

As sup­ple­men­tary read­ing, Kedis­tan offers these arti­cles explain­ing the ori­gins of Öcalan’s pro­posed alter­na­tive, demo­c­ra­t­ic con­fed­er­al­ism, present­ly being imple­ment­ed in Rojava.

The Man who talked in Öcalan’s ear | 1
The man who talked in Öcalan’s ear | 2


Trans­la­tion by Renée Lucie Bourges

Français : “Kur­dis­tan • Des dan­gers du nation­al­isme” Cliquez pour lire

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