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Reopening the Kurdish question: states, communities and proxies in a time of turmoil*

Ana Villellas Ariño y Pamela Urrutia Arestizábal, Investigadoras del Programa de Conflictos y Construcción de Paz.
NOREF
The Kurdish question involves the aspiration to self-determination of the Kurdish people; their continuing failure to obtain a state of their own; the problematic accommodation within the states where they live; and the desire for recognition of their rights. It remains a critical issue across the Middle East, affecting Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. The influence of unresolved Kurdish demands is all the more acute in times of regional upheaval and uncertainty. Kurdish groups have served as “proxy” forces in conflicts, have undergone cooptation by failing authoritarian regimes, have adhered to the wave of popular mobilisations and have remained mindful of the possibility of using the region’s turmoil to secure better treatment or finally carve out an independent state.

Nearly a century after the failed Sèvres Treaty, a number of experiences and organisations now stand out as political reference points for the estimated 23–30 million Kurds living in the Middle East: the trans-state armed challenge posed by the PKK, the quasi-state in a federal Iraq, the splintered Kurdish awakening in Syria and the tensions affecting a largely ignored Kurdish population in Iran. While recent trends have pointed to a new sense of pan-regional identity, old schisms and local imperatives mean that different Kurdish communities have often sought to advance their interests at the expense of Kurds in other countries, generating chronic fragmentation and popular disillusionment with leaders.

On the basis of an analysis of the challenges in each of the four countries with significant Kurdish minorities, this paper argues for a comprehensive international approach at state and regional levels to prevent the Kurdish question from being a source of further discrimination, instability and violence, as well as an exacerbating factor in broader regional crises. Recognition of rights and promotion of a dialogue-based settlement remain overwhelmingly the best routes for engagement.

* El informe forma parte de una serie que analiza el futuro del Estado. La serie ha sido coordinada y co-publicada por el Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF) y la Conflict Research Unit del Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael, con el apoyo de la Fundación Ford.

El texto completo está disponible en la web de NOREF: http://www.peacebuilding.no

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