‘Turks, Kurds and Sunnis’

‘Turks, Kurds and Sunnis’

On the eve of the Iraq invasion, some democrats in Turkey were eager to promote a Kurdish-Turkish-U.S. alliance as a “brilliant” idea. According to this view, such an alliance was required by the Zeitgeist and would serve the interests of Turkey in many ways. 

Since Kurds were in an alliance with the United States at the time and Turkey has always been a strong U.S. ally in the region, the agreement of Kurds and Turks would empower Turkey regionally. Moreover, it would help Turkey solve its “Kurdish problem,” allowing Ankara to hit two birds with one stone. At the time, Sunni Arabs were being seen as the losers in the game, since Iraqi Shiites were also allying with the U.S. 

But times have changed, and now the majority of Iraqi Shiites are gravitating toward the orbit of Iran. Turkey found itself in the same camp with Sunni Arabs especially after the so-called “Arab Spring.” The ultimate choice was made by Turkish foreign policymakers, who came out in favor of the Sunni camp after the process of regime change started in Syria. 

 Now, the “brilliant” idea is thought to include a new front featuring Kurds, Turks and Sunnis as allies of the U.S. and new winners in the region. So, it seems that the Zeitgeist has also changed in such a short period of time! It is true that regional politics have taken a sectarian turn and the present government naturally favors Sunni political goals. It is also true that this political choice may have legitimacy since the majority of Turks and Kurds are Sunnis. Nevertheless, the regional politics are too complicated to be handled merely along sectarian lines. That is why, leaving aside the risks and possible human costs of sectarian confrontations in the region, any prospect for a new power balance based on sectarian lines is unrealistic. First of all, Syria is no Egypt and promoting Sunni political goals may be more difficult and undesirable there – especially if we remember that even in Egypt, more problems have been raised than expected in the wake of the “Tahrir Revolution.” 

In addition, Turkey may further risk its social peace by promoting itself as a Sunni power. Finally, despite the dreams of Turkey to divide Kurds along as many lines (sectarian, economic and cultural) as possible, the Kurdish issue has become more “a matter of national union” in the end. 

As long as Turkey refuses to recognize this fact about the Kurdish issue, any idea of a regional alliance based on a Kurdish-Turkish alliance will be doomed to fail. Turkey’s idea of a regional alliance with Kurds never goes beyond the politics of the elimination of the Kurdish opposition in Turkey via a regional alliance with Iraqi Kurds. Moreover, Turkey is reluctant to recognize the rising political power of Kurds even in Iraq. Instead, Turkey wants to see the rising Iraqi Kurdish political power as the rise of a loyal and “lesser” partner to implement Turkey’s domestic and regional politics. I think all international parties involved in regional politics, as well as Kurdish leaders in Iraq, are quite aware of this fact. It seems that it is only Turkey who thinks that its own concept is justified and legitimate. 

Under the circumstances, it is difficult for history to produce a convenient Zeitgeist for the dreams of Turkey. Therefore, it is more sensible for Turkey to start recognizing the historical, political and regional complexities rather than hoping to design the region in its own image.

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