Kurdistan: A Complicated Future!!

While the age-old Turkic-Persian rivalry reawaken in Kurdistan…


© photocredit


Letter from Kurdistan


By George Friedman/ Reva Bhalla – At the edge of empires lies Kurdistan, the land of the Kurds. The jagged landscape has long been the scene of imperial aggression. For centuries, Turks, Persians, Arabs, Russians and Europeans looked to the mountains to buffer their territorial prizes farther afield, depriving the local mountain dwellers a say in whose throne they would ultimately bow to.

The hot temperament of this borderland was evident in an exchange of letters between Ottoman Sultan Selim I and Safavid Shah Ismail I shortly before the rival Turkic and Persian empires came to blows at the 1514 Battle of Chaldiran in northern Kurdistan. The Ottoman sultan, brimming with confidence that his artillery-equipped janissaries would hold the technological advantage on the battlefield, elegantly denigrated his Persian foes:

Ask of the sun about the dazzle of my reign;
Inquire of Mars about the brilliance of my arms.
Although you wear a Sufi crown, I bear a trenchant sword,
And he who holds the sword will soon possess the crown.

Safavid Shah I, also writing in Turkish, poetically retorted:

Should one embrace the bride of worldly rule too close,
His lips will kiss those of the radiant sword …
Bitter experience has taught that in this world of trial,
He who falls upon the house of ‘Ali always falls.

The armies fought to the limits of their empires and, after a series of wars culminating in the Treaty of Zuhab of 1639, the Zagros Mountains came to define the borderland between the Ottomans and Persians, with the Kurds stuck in the middle. (…)

For now, Kurdish and Turkish officials and energy executives alike will brush these inconvenient warnings aside; their eyes will remain set on the hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude and billions of cubic meters of natural gas lying beneath Kurdistan’s rocky surface. From their point of view, how could Baghdad refuse the commercial benefits of another viable export line out of Iraq? It’s only a matter of time, they say, until Baghdad comes to the negotiating table on Ankara’s and Arbil’s terms and a win-win solution is achieved.

But matters of territorial integrity, financial sovereignty and nationalism are not easily trifled with at the intersection of empires. This is easy to forget when watching heavy concrete blocks being lifted by cranes over Arbil, a bubble of a city where two five-star hotels are filled with expats and Versace-clad locals who look like they belong in a “coming soon” promotion on the oil riches about to be bestowed on Iraqi Kurdistan.

Just a few miles from that glitzy scene is a crowded, smoke-filled cafeteria filled with women in head scarves, screaming children and a mix of men wearing business suits and the traditional Shal-u-Shepik style of baggy trousers with thick bands around the waist. Carts filled with tea in tulip-shaped glasses, warm sheets of flatbread, Kurdish kabob, hummus, cucumbers and radishes rattle noisily through a maze of long tables. Across from me, a young Kurdish man with bright eyes and an American flag on his phone fidgets in his seat. After a long pause, he says, “you know … we have a saying here. Kurdistan is a tree. After a long time, we grow tall, we become full of green leaves and then the tree shrivels and becomes bare. Right now, our leaves are green. Give it enough time. This tree won’t die, but our leaves will fall to the ground again.”

Full analysis.

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