Kurdish Unrest Stirs Old Regional Fears
March 21, 2004
The Turkish Daily News
BAGHDAD -- Kurdish unrest in Syria and Iran alarms countries worried that Kurdish gains in postwar Iraq could excite ambitions among their own Kurdish minorities.
For that reason, the recent violence may be unwelcome to Iraqi Kurdish leaders who have sought to dampen Arab, Turkish and Iranian fears thatconsolidating hard-won Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq could inspire contagious Kurdish nationalism.
"They have been trying to show the Americans that they can have autonomy without breaking up Iraq or instigating a regional agenda for separatism," said Gareth Stansfield, an Iraq expert at Britain's Exeter University.
Up to 30 people have been killed in northeastern Syria in clashes that began at a soccer match on Friday.
Last week police in Iran briefly held scores of people when Iranian Kurdish celebrations over the signing of Iraq's interim constitution - which made Kurdish an official language and recognised the Kurdish regional government - turned violent.
About 5,000 Kurds in the Iraqi city of Arbil protested onWednesday at what they called the "massacres" in Syria.
So far, reaction in regional capitals has been muted, although Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam has accused unspecified foreign forces of trying to exploit the trouble. "No one can breach the national fabric of Syria," he declared.
Denied a nation
Historically, Kurds feel hard done by. Numbering some 25 million spread across
Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and other lands, they have no country of their own and have often suffered persecution, notably at the hands of Saddam Hussein. The anniversary of his 1988 poison gas attack that killed 5,000 Kurds in the Iraqi town of Halabja fell this week.
Kurdish guerrillas have in the past fought long rebellions against central governments in Iran, Iraq and Turkey.
Determined to keep the self-rule they have enjoyed since 1991 and eager to expand its territorial scope, Iraqi Kurdish leaders have little interest in upsetting prickly neighbours.
Iraqi Arab leaders backed their rejection of any role for Turkish troops after the U.S.-led invasion, but many Sunni and some Shi'ite Arabs fear the Kurds might one day secede.
Kurds elsewhere are keenly watching events in Iraq, though conditions in their host countries influence their responses.
"There has been a rise in nationalist feeling among Syria's Kurds, but there are several factors at work," Syrian political analyst Samir al-Taqi said.
"What was realised for the Kurds in Iraq, especially after the interim constitution, helped create a political opportunity for this phenomenon," he said, adding that Syria should now try to contain the violence and tackle Kurdish grievances.
Kurds make up about two million of Syria's 17 million people. They have often said they want equal rights and demand citizenship for about 200,000 stateless Kurds.
Iranian political analyst Hossein Rassam traced the unrest in Iran's Kurdish areas to discontent over the banning of reformists in last month's Iranian election as well as joy at the constitutional gains by their fellow-Kurds in Iraq.
He said Iraqi Kurds had no interest in meddling in Iran. "I don't think they want to reach out to the Iranian Kurds too much because this would anger the Iranian government."
Rassam said Iranian Kurds were poorly organised politically and most saw themselves as Iranians. They had been less badly treated than Kurds elsewhere. Iran's Shi'ite clerical leaders remained wary of them, partly because most were Sunni Muslims.
Turkey, recovering from its own bloody conflict with Kurdish rebels, has long looked askance at Kurdish autonomy in Iraq and at U.S. policies that have nurtured it since the 1991 Gulf War.
Sami Kohen, columnist with the mainstream Milliyet daily, said Turkish experts linked the disturbances in Syria to Iraq.
"The fact that the (Iraqi) Kurds succeeded in having most of what they wanted in the new constitution encourages Kurds in other countries to show their faces," he said.
"Turkey has always said that the United States opened a Pandora's Box in Iraq and of course Turks have grave concerns about a spillover," he said, also citing the protests in Iran.
Kohen suggested growing U.S. demands on Syria might haveindirectly emboldened the Kurds there.
Washington says it will soon slap new sanctions on Syria, which it sees as a rogue state that supports terrorism and seeks banned weapons - charges Damascus denies.
"This is read in the region as a signal by the United States to weaken, if not completely destabilise Syria," Cohen said. http://www.reuters.com/
Destabilize Syria, now? I wonder about that. Iraq isn't stable, yet. But, yes, Syria is on my wish list, too!
Re-elect Bush in 2004... and then we'll see how much different the ME will look come 2008.