Kurdish Awakening is a comprehensive examination of the sweeping developments in “Greater Kurdistan” over the past few decades, analyzing the growth of this nationalistic yet fragmented movement and illuminating its geopolitical implications.
Kurdish Awakening examines key questions related to Kurdish nationalism and identity formation in Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. The world’s largest stateless ethnic group, Kurds have steadily grown in importance as a political power in the Middle East, particularly in light of the “Arab Spring.” As a result, Kurdish issues—political, cultural, and historical alike—have emerged as the subject of intense scholarly interest. This book provides fresh ways of understanding the historical and sociopolitical underpinnings of the ongoing Kurdish awakening and its already significant impact on the region.
Rather than focusing on one state or angle, this anthology fills a gap in the literature on the Kurds by providing a panoramic view of the Kurdish homeland’s various parts. The volume focuses on aspects of Kurdish nationalism and identity formation not addressed elsewhere, including perspectives on literature, gender, and constitution making. Further, broad thematic essays include a discussion of the historical experiences of the Kurds from the time of their Islamization more than a millennium ago up until the modern era, a comparison of the Kurdish experience with other ethno-national movements, and a treatment of the role of tribalism in modern nation building. This collection is unique in its use of original sources in various languages. The result is an analytically rich portrayal that sheds light on the Kurds’ prospects and the challenges they confront in a region undergoing sweeping upheavals.
Kurdish Nationalism in Comparative Perspective
Historical Setting: The Roots of Modern Kurdish Nationalism
The Dual Relationship between Kurdish Tribalism and Nationalism
Kurdish Integration in Iraq: The Paradoxes of Nation Formation and Nation Building
The Evolution of National Identity and the Constitution-Drafting Process in the Kurdistan-Iraq Region
Rachel Kantz Feder
Forging an Iraqi-Kurdish Identity: A Case Study of Kurdish Novelists Writing in Arabic
A Tale of Political Consciousness: The Rise of a Nonviolent Kurdish Political Movement in Turkey
Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak
The Role of Language in the Evolution of Kurdish National Identity in Turkey
The Kurdish Women in Turkey: Nation Building and the Struggle for Gender Parity
The Kurds in Syria: Caught between the Struggle for Civil Equality and the Search for National Identity
Toward a Generational Rupture within the Kurdish Movement in Syria?
The Kurds in Iran: The Quest for Identity
The Nostalgic Republic: The Kurdish Republic of 1946 and Its Effect on Kurdish Identity and Nation Building in Iran
Conclusion: The Kurdish Momentum
By Ofra Bengio
This book addresses a crucial issue in a dramatically changing Middle East: the emerging Kurdish challenge to the current state system. While most of the world’s attention since December 2010 has been directed to the Arab Spring, the sweeping developments in Greater Kurdistan, which encompasses about thirty million Kurds living in parts of Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran, suggest another geopolitical shift is under way that will shape the Middle East for years to come. This shift provides fresh ways of understanding the historical and sociopolitical underpinnings of the ongoing Kurdish Spring and its impact on the region.
Filling a gap in the literature on the Kurds in many respects, this book provides a panoramic view of all four parts of the fragmented Kurdish homeland and brings to the fore the Kurdish voices that were subsumed for the greater part of the twentieth century by hegemonic, state-centered narratives. The book focuses on the various Kurdish communities and their interactions with host states, delineating the gradual metamorphosis of these community efforts into a coherent national movement with different constituent parts. The volume discusses important aspects of Kurdish nationalism and identity formation not addressed elsewhere—in such realms as literature, gender studies, and constitution making. It also contains broad thematic essays, including comparisons of Kurdish nationalism in Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria with nationalisms of other peoples in Europe, Asia, and Africa; up-to-date research on the historical experiences of the Kurds from the time of their Islamization more than a millennium ago to the modern era; and discussions of the role played by tribalism in modern nation building. The authors use original sources in various languages, including Kurdish, Turkish, and Arabic. The result is an analytically rich portrayal that sheds new light on the Kurds’ prospects for autonomy or independence as well as on the challenges they confront in a region that is currently undergoing sweeping upheavals.
This collection of studies focuses on nation building and identity formation among the Kurds in the four parts of Kurdistan. According to the terminology applied in the four host states, these regions are northern Iraq, eastern Turkey, northern Syria, and Kordistan [in Iran]. But Kurdish nationalists employ a different terminology, one that portrays Kurdistan as one unit, Greater Kurdistan, divided among four countries. Hence the terms: rojhalat (east, Iran), bashur (south, Iraq) bakur (north, Turkey) and rojava (west, Syria). Similarly, when using names and titles, they prefer the term “Kurdistan” to “Kurdish” in order to emphasize their entitlement to the homeland of Kurdistan. One example is the use of the term “Kurdistan,” not “Kurdish,” in the names of almost all Kurdish parties, for instance, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Another example is the name of the Kurdish entity in Iraq, namely the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Each of the regions experiences distinct dynamics, in accordance with the sociopolitical developments in the respective countries. Although Kurdistan is fragmented, its parts are nonetheless connected by thin threads, which had grown steadily stronger by the turn of the twenty-first century. At times these parts function as complementary, interconnected vessels, and at other times as rivals and competitors. Recognizing this duality is crucial for understanding the complex relationship between the four parts. This volume sheds light on the complexity of the Kurdish scene, while also bringing to light the mosaic of voices and views it represents.
The term “nation building,” which was coined in 1963, refers to a range of different ideas and concepts. For the purpose of this discussion I would like to choose a simple, yet lucid, definition of the term, namely “a wide and diverse range of policies: from state consolidation to identity policies, to democratization efforts.” If we take this definition as a basis for evaluating the “degree” of nation building among the Kurds, the conclusion reached will be that the picture is diversified, as the Kurds in each part of Kurdistan have achieved a different degree of nation building. Thus, as demonstrated in this volume, Kurdistan in Iraq is the most advanced, having progressed in all three arenas mentioned above. The Kurds in Turkey are focused mainly on identity policies, while those of Syria are in the initial stages of state consolidation, and in Iran the Kurds are lagging behind in all three categories. Still, it must be stressed that as a strategy all the Kurds have consistently called for democratizing the political system of the state as a sine qua non to guarantee their rights and have refrained from secession.
Indeed, the terms “democracy,” “democratic,” or “democratization” have become part and parcel of the Kurdish national discourse in all four regions. For example, the major Kurdish parties have names such as the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Iran (KDPI), which was established in 1945, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq (KDP), which was established shortly afterward. One party in Syria and one in Turkey actually carry the same name. Similarly, a key slogan in all areas has long been “autonomy for the Kurds, democracy for the state.” The chapters included in this volume illustrate, each in its own way, the Kurds’ insistence on democracy, since their basic rights were always trampled upon by totalitarian, authoritarian, or military regimes.
Every nation has to cope with the question of collective identity in the process of nation building. But for the Kurds this task was especially challenging and agonizing in the twentieth century. This was so because all the host states attempted—periodically, and with different levels of forcefulness and various rates of success—to divest them from their identity as individuals and as a group. The states employed a number of strategies to achieve this goal. Considering language as a most important symbol of identity and a tool for identity formation, all of them at some point banned the use of the Kurdish language. Concurrently, they implemented policies of Arabization, Turkification, or Persianization, depending on the case in question. In Syria, the government even divested a great number of Kurds of their citizenship. As shown by Duygu Atlas, the most extreme case is that of Turkey. Not only was the written and spoken language forbidden for a long period of time, but the Turkish policy reached a point of absurdity in which the letters Q, W, and X employed in Kurdish were banned and their use could result in criminal prosecution. Kurdish names were forbidden, as was all Kurdish political expression and organization.
If one were to compare Kurdish identity formation in premodern times with that in the twentieth century, one would most probably conclude that, ironically enough, the process was much easier and more natural in earlier times. As Michael Eppel shows in his chapter, “Historical Setting: Roots of the Kurdish National Movement,” even though the Kurds were Islamized early on, they managed to keep other markers of identity intact. Moreover, under Ottoman rule they managed to establish principalities that were autonomous despite falling short of being independent states. By contrast, in the twentieth century the nation-states that were established on the ruins of the Ottoman and Persian empires perceived themselves as extremely vulnerable and therefore felt a need to safeguard their own identity, cohesion, and unity by suppressing the identity of the Kurds. Moreover, they saw it as the right of a nation-state to impose the nationality of the dominant group, be it Turks, Arabs, or Persians, on the ethnic and national minorities. Accordingly, in equating identity with loyalty, the new nation-state rationalized that a person or a group that insists on keeping its identity is disloyal to the state and should be treated accordingly. In other words, the multiculturalism of the premodern period was seen as a threat to the modern state. Thus, throughout modern times the struggle was between nation-states and a nonstate nation, the Kurds.
These policies impeded the development of a natural and spontaneous Kurdish identity. As a result, the twentieth century witnessed recurrent attempts to suppress Kurdish identity on both the cultural and the sociopolitical level, because this very identity seemed to endanger the unity and the integrity of each of the four states ruling the Kurdish homeland.
Like nation building, identity formation also can vary in form and intensity. In the course of modern history, the Kurds have grappled with problems of split identity, dual identity, or crisis of identity. All of them at some point have been forced to choose between their identification with the state or with the nation, which in turn caused an identity crisis. As Nader Entessar and Hussein Tahiri suggest in Part V of this book, the dual identity of the Kurds in Iran, for example, has been a major obstacle for Kurdish nation building there. What is certain, however, is that at the turn of the twenty-first century the Kurds in all four regions were struggling to reclaim the identity that had been denied them over the greater part of the twentieth century.
The Kurds’ endeavor to reclaim their identity was bound to meet with strong reactions from the four host states, which feared that any concession in this regard would jeopardize their very existence and lead to Kurdish separatism. In fact, Turkey, the state where Kurdish identity was most repressed, was the state in which reclaiming it was the most agonizing and traumatic. In Turkey, the Kurds were labeled “mountain Turks” until quite recently and all the markers of their unique identity were effaced. It was hence there that the Kurdish backlash was most violent, including terrorist activities by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karker\en Kurdistan, or PKK), whereas such actions were quite rare in the other Kurdish areas. As Hay Eytan Yanarocak illustrates in his chapter, even when political parties were formed openly in Turkey in the early 1990s, they continued to have symbiotic relations with the PKK, the military arm, which posed as the champion of the Kurdish national movement as a whole.
At the other pole stand the Kurds of Iraq, whose special identity was recognized by the state and backed by international law in the form of “local languages law” as early as the beginning of the 1930s. Even if it was not always honored, this law accorded Kurds in Iraq the right to use their language as well as some degree of autonomy, all of which conferred upon them important advantages over their brethren in the other countries. Sherko Kirmanj’s study proves that the Kurdish identity in Iraq is indeed far more crystallized than in other areas. The Kurdish case in Iraq, where the Kurds have accomplished their greatest achievement, a quasi-Kurdish state, may also suggest a strong correlation between identity formation and state building.
For most of the twentieth century, the Kurds of Syria were a silenced minority. This is not to say that significant changes were not brewing underneath the surface. Theirs was a double struggle, against the Syrian government as well as within the Kurdish community itself. On one level, the Kurds fought to reclaim their Kurdish identity and also, as Eyal Zisser emphasizes in his chapter, to gain the very right to citizenship that had been denied some of them earlier on. On another level, the Kurdish youth initiated an internal revolution against the older generation because they considered it too passive. Jordi Tejel concludes that this could have caused a generational rupture within the community. However, the events of summer 2012, during which the Kurds took control of the Kurdish area evacuated by the Syrian army and declared Kurdish autonomy, put to rest the generational split, at least for the time being.
Reclaiming Kurdish identity in Iran has been more complicated because of the dual identity that has accompanied Kurds there from time immemorial. The Kurds of the Ottoman Empire had engaged in a fight to regain autonomous privileges that they had lost in the mid-nineteenth century, but no such process took place in Iran until the early twentieth century. As Entessar makes clear, the Ottoman-Persian dichotomy thus had a strong impact on the Kurds in the twentieth century. One can indeed argue that the Kurds of Iran are in a dormant situation, but this is not likely to continue forever, as earlier experiences have shown that cross-border influences are almost axiomatic and Iran might not be an exception to the rule.
The Kurdish struggle over matters of identity and nationhood was not just against the four host states, but also within the Kurdish societies themselves. A crucial issue is that of tribalism and its impact on nation building. The received wisdom is that tribalism competes with the evolution of a national movement and more often than not impedes it. However, Eli Amarilyo presents a much more nuanced and complex picture of this phenomenon in Kurdish society, which is quite unique and differs greatly from that of tribalism among Arab societies. In the Kurdish case, tribes and head of tribes did at times contribute to the process of nation building.
Although this volume has no specific chapter on religion, it is important to emphasize certain religious points raised in different chapters that reflect on Kurdish identity. Like tribalism, religion has played a dual role in Kurdish societies. On the one hand, religious leaders have assumed an important role in galvanizing Kurdish movements. On the other hand, the multitude of religious sects was divisive. Thus, for example, Muslim Kurds persecuted Yezidis to the point where some Yezidi groups disavowed the Kurdish national movement and are now attempting to develop a separate identity of their own. The Kurdish Sunni and Shiʾi sects in Iran do not see eye to eye on the issue of Kurdish identity and the Kurdish national project, and there is rivalry and animosity between the Naqshbandiyya and Qadiriryya Sufi Tariqas, whose modern embodiments are the Barzanis and Talabanis.
On another level, it is also important to investigate the role of women in Kurdish society and their contributions to the national project. Here, too, the level of engagement and politicization is not identical in all regions—the most active without question are the Kurdish women in Turkey, who, as Heidi Basch-Harod demonstrates, had to battle for both their place in society and their role in the Kurdish national project. Both of these battles are at the heart of identity issues. The Turkish women’s achievements have been quite impressive in comparison not only to other Kurdish societies but also to Middle Eastern ones as a whole.
In the realm of culture and literature, the main problem for writers and artists has been restrictions on their use of the Kurdish language to express their identity and worldview. Kurdish-language writers have faced a threefold challenge: bans by the state on the use of Kurdish, the fact that Kurdish itself has not yet been standardized, and the targeted public’s lack of mastery of the language. Yet, even when Kurdish writers chose to write their novels in the language of the state, in Arabic for instance, they could not refrain from identifying with the Kurdish cause. The complexity of dual identity is illustrated clearly in the novels analyzed by Ronen Zeidel.
If Kurdish identity formation and nation building were severely obstructed in the twentieth century, this is all the more true of state building. Though nearly all the wars in the last century held the promise of a Kurdish independent or autonomous state, all of them ended in a catastrophe with regard to the Kurdish national project. The end of World War I, with its 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, aroused the expectations of a possible Kurdish state but ended with the Kurds being divided among five states. The end of World War II brought about the establishment in Iran of the first Kurdish republic in history, the Republic of Mahabad, but this too turned into an ephemeral dream within months. Nor was the outcome of the 1980–1988 Iraqi-Iranian war any better for the Kurds of Iraq, who became the cannon fodder of that war.
This pattern of wars turning into Kurdish catastrophes suddenly changed in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. Initially, the end of this war seemed to follow the old pattern, but by 1992 a Kurdish entity had been created—with all the ups and downs of state building. The Iraqi war of 2003 turned out to be even more crucial for the project of Kurdish state building. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) assumed all the trappings of a quasi-state. In addition to national emblems and state institutions, it drafted a constitution of its own, which is one of the symbols of statehood. As Rachel Kantz Feder explains, this constitution illustrates the complexity of Kurdish-Iraqi relations, while also indicating the big strides the Kurds made on the way to a separate Kurdish state.
Developments in Iraqi Kurdistan began to have synergic effects on all the other parts of the Kurdish homeland as early as the 1990s, but the turning point came at the beginning of the twenty-first century, when transborder influences and even signs of pan-Kurdism became more salient. Thus, in contrast to a more passive stance and fragmented vision throughout most of the twentieth century, the Kurds seem to have become much more assertive, dynamic, and more unified in their vision, including their view of a Greater Kurdistan, at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
A combination of internal and external sociopolitical factors may explain this transformation. The new mass media boosted the use of common language and accelerated communication among Kurds all over the world. Kurdish Internet sites became a tool for circumventing the physical borders separating the four Kurdish regions, spreading Kurdish among the younger generation and in countries where it was banned. The Kurdish discourse was also revolutionized. Old Kurdish names of places, like Hewler (Erbil) or Amed (Diyarbakır), were retrieved as part of an identity revivalism. Rewriting history also became part of the new national undertaking. The Treaty of Sèvres, the Republic of Mahabad, and the chemical attacks on Halabja in 1988 were all added to the arsenal of collective memory and became engraved in Kurdish identity, contributing to the advocacy of Kurdish statehood.
The role of the Kurdish diaspora has also become crucial, especially with the influx to the KRG of intellectuals and businessmen who were willing to contribute their experience and vision. The KRG itself has become the epicenter of Kurdish nationalism, with Masʿud Barzani taking on the pan-Kurdish mantle and the entity becoming the hub of Kurdish politicians, activists, students, entrepreneurs, and fighters from all over Kurdistan.
Concurrently, geopolitical changes also had an impact. The rise of ethnonationalism in various parts of the world contributed significantly to Kurdish self-assertion and to their demand for self-determination. The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and withdrawal in 2011 gave another boost to the Kurds, though this may not have been the American intention. The weakening of the host states as a result of regional and international dynamics, including the American withdrawal from Iraq, has changed the balance of power between the state and its minorities, especially the Kurds. The formation of new states, South Sudan and Azawad in 2011 and 2012 respectively, brought home the message that the borders that separated the Kurds in the aftermath of World War I were no longer sacred. The culmination came in the so-called Arab Spring, which helped galvanize the Kurdish Spring in Syria as well as Turkey.
Comparing the experience of the Kurdish national movements with other national movements, Benyamin Neuberger finds great similarities between them. True, the Kurds lagged significantly behind ethnonational groups that managed to establish a state of their own. Still, with the important transformations that are taking place both among the Kurds themselves and throughout the world that surrounds them, one cannot exclude the possibility that one part of this fragmented homeland will eventually manage to proclaim its independence. The most likely candidate is, of course, the KRG.
This volume comprises five parts, each reflecting one aspect or one part of Kurdistan. The first part comprises three general chapters.
In his chapter “Kurdish Nationalism in Comparative Perspective,” Benyamin Neuberger presents a comparative analysis of Kurdish nationalism in Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria, relating it to the nationalisms of other peoples in Europe, Asia, and Africa. He analyzes Kurdish national identity, addressing a wide range of topics such as geopolitics, the colonial legacy, the variety of “imagined communities,” and the roles of ethnic origin, language, religion, history, territory, and topography. He also expands on the connection of Kurdish nationalism with socioeconomic modernization, “tribalism,” conflict and war, autonomism, and secession. Finally, the chapter considers the role of international relations in nationalist struggles.
Michael Eppel’s “Historical Setting: The Roots of Modern Kurdish Nationalism” delves into the distant past. Eppel points to the emergence of the Kurds as a collective group, tracing the appearance of Kurdish tribes and emirates throughout Islamic history. He argues that Kurdish nation building and the creation of a national narrative by the modern Kurdish national movement require a closer examination of the collective memory, of the historical developments that affected the development of the Kurdish identity, of language, and of the sociopolitical conditions that preceded the rise of modern nationalism.
Eli Amarilyo discusses “The Dual Relationship between Kurdish Tribalism and Nationalism.” On the one hand, he suggests that as a military system, tribalism constituted the primary framework by which the Kurds conducted their national revolts. On the other hand, tribalism as a cultural system, with its proneness to divisiveness, rivalry, retribution, and short-lived alliances, has created an ongoing obstacle to Kurdish national unity. He concludes that Kurdish tribalism is a multifaceted phenomenon, with some characteristics which serve as a basis for the development of national movements and others which constitute a barrier to national unity.
The second part of the book deals with the Kurds of Iraq. In his chapter “Kurdish Integration in Iraq: The Paradoxes of Nation Formation and Nation Building,” Sherko Kirmanj claims that despite promising security and economic developments, Iraq remains fragile, primarily because the underlying sources of instability have yet to be resolved. His study examines a number of documents and sources in an attempt to identify the main obstacles to the integration of Kurds into Iraqi society. Kirmanj concludes that the absence of core national values, myths of descent, common memories, shared beliefs and culture, and belief in a common destiny are major impediments to creating a unified Iraqi national identity. Kurdish identity has hence become stronger in the KRG.
In “The Evolution of National Identity and the Constitution-Drafting Process in the Kurdistan-Iraq Region,” Rachel Kantz Feder analyzes the various official and nonofficial Kurdistan Regional Government draft constitutions (none of which have been ratified) in an attempt to explore issues of national identity in the Kurdistan-Iraq region after 1991. The chapter investigates how both internal and external political dynamics have impacted the ruling elite’s representation of national identity and core issues such as communal membership, ideological orientation, and self-determination. A comparative analysis of the drafts reveals the political elite’s deemphasis of the Kurdish right to independence, a development that has widened the gap between the leaders and the many constituents in the Kurdistan-Iraq region.
Ronen Zeidel highlights another aspect of Kurdish collective imagining. Zeidel’s chapter, “Forging an Iraqi-Kurdish Identity: A Case Study of Kurdish Novelists Writing in Arabic,” is based on four novels by Kurdish writers from Iraq who write in Arabic rather than in Kurdish. For Kurdish writers, writing in Arabic should have been a loaded issue. Yet in looking at the biographies of these and other such prominent writers, their choice of Arabic seems logical. Zeidel uncovers a genuine Kurdish-Iraqi or Iraqi-Kurdish identity, one that is often overshadowed by the more dominant ethnic identities: Kurdish and Iraqi Arab. On the whole, the essay reflects the complexities of multiple identities in a region that is undergoing sweeping changes of identity formation.
The third part of the volume addresses the Kurds of Turkey. In his chapter “A Tale of Political Consciousness: The Rise of the Nonviolent Kurdish Political Movement in Turkey,” Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak analyzes the history of the nonviolent Kurdish political movement and its symbiotic relationship with the insurgent PKK. While tracing the roots of this movement to the establishment of Kemalist Turkey, the essay focuses on political activism from the 1960s onward. Portraying the Kurdish political parties’ struggle for existence in the face of a debilitating electoral system, Yanarocak concludes that this activity has had a positive impact on the Turkish political system. Indeed, it has contributed to the democratization process in Turkey.
In her chapter “The Role of Language in the Evolution of Kurdish National Identity in Turkey,” Duygu Atlas examines the centrality of the Kurdish language to the development of Kurdish identity and political movement in Turkey. Following a brief theoretical discussion on the relationship between nationalism and language, Atlas analyzes the changing state policies toward the Kurdish language—from the early Republican period to the 2009 “Democratic Opening” initiative—and the Kurdish responses, in particular the intensification of political activism that the initiative generated. This chapter also deals with the social and political obstacles to language rights.
Heidi Basch-Harod addresses the subject of “The Kurdish Women in Turkey: Nation Building and the Struggle for Gender Parity.” She argues that while Arab and Iranian women of the Middle East have for many generations used the state apparatus to negotiate and gradually gain some measure of civil and political rights, Kurdish women cannot claim the same legacy. But paradoxically, she maintains that over the past three decades, tens of thousands of Kurdish women in Turkey have played an increasingly active and essential role in the Kurdish nation-building movement that is taking place within the Turkish state. Parallel to this activism is an ongoing campaign, led by Kurdish women, to promote women’s rights in Turkish society as a whole.
The fourth part of the book addresses the situation of the Kurds in Syria. Eyal Zisser provides a panoramic view of this community in his chapter “The Kurds in Syria: Caught between the Struggle for Civil Equality and the Search for National Identity.” Analyzing the fluctuations in the relationship between the state and its minority, Zisser maintains that the Syrian state moved from an initial policy of tolerance and patience to one of cultural, ethnic, and national repression under the Baʿth Party. He concludes, however, that the outbreak of the Arab Spring in Syria presented them with a window of opportunity, while at the same time posing new challenges and dilemmas.
Jordi Tejel’s study focuses on Kurdish youth. His chapter “Toward a Generational Rupture within the Kurdish Movement in Syria?” posits that in the aftermath of the Syrian uprising of 2011, growing numbers of Kurdish youth felt alienated from the traditional Kurdish parties, either because they wished to establish bridges with their Syrian counterparts, or because they sought a more radical solution to the Kurdish issue in Syria, namely autonomy. Consequently, Tejel claims, the danger of a generational rupture affected all parties, without exception. He maintains that the PKK’s successful buildup of the party in the 1980s and 1990s, the Qamishli revolt of 2004, and the 2011 “Syrian revolution” were behind the increasing alienation of Kurdish youth from the traditional political arena.
The fifth part of the book deals with the Kurds of Iran. In his chapter “The Kurds in Iran: The Quest for Identity,” Nader Entessar emphasizes that the Kurds have been an integral part of the Iranian sociopolitical mosaic since the time of the ancient Medes. The advent of modern nationalism, however, prompted them to demand recognition of their national identity from the central government in Iran. This drive for self-determination led to the establishment of the short-lived Kurdish Republic of Mahabad in the 1940s. Nonetheless, the Kurds of Iran continued to push for autonomy during the Pahlavi monarchy as well as in the Islamic Republic.
Hussein Tahiri examines the role of the short-lived Mahabad Republic in Kurdish memory in his essay “The Nostalgic Republic: the Kurdish Republic of 1946 and Its Effect on Kurdish Identity and Nation Building in Iran.” Tahiri maintains that though it survived for only eleven months, the republic has continued to inspire Kurdish nationalists. At the same time, Tahiri points out that the perceived historical affiliation between the Kurds and Persians and the Iranian state’s assimilation policies have contributed to the development of a dual identity among the Kurds of Iran: Kurdish and Iranian. This dual identity has prevented the emergence of a distinct Kurdish identity and the development of pan-Kurdism.
In her conclusion Ofra Bengio analyzes the changing paradigms in the Middle East among the nation-states as well as among the Kurds. She argues that the upheavals in the Arab countries which started at the end of 2010, the withdrawal of the American forces from Iraq at the end of 2011, and the rising hostilities among Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran worked together to weaken the nation-states and strengthen the Kurdish identity and the Kurds’ drive for nation building and state building. Thus, the changing geopolitical system in the Middle East together with the strengthening of the Kurdish subsystem might end up altering the geopolitical map of the region that had been enshrined by the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916.
“Researchers of Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran—in addition to broader international studies—will find this book to be significant. Kurdistan is becoming far more important in regional politics, and this will increase over the next few years. . . . This book is a sober, academically nuanced reading of a very complex and transformative situation.”
Gareth Stansfield, Al-Qasimi Chair of Arab Gulf Studies, Professor of Middle East Politics, and Director, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter
“This book complements many previous studies not only by [taking account of] contemporary developments, but also by exploring the changing role of the Kurds in their host states, the region, and the world. The experience of more than 30 million Kurds without a state is not unlike many other ethnic and religious groups that make up so many nation-less states. The literature on the Kurdish identity and issues of assimilation has moved beyond the politics of imperialism and self-determination to a rich world of multidisciplinary scholarship. This book plays a positive role in continuing the process.”
Charles G. McDonald, Professor Emeritus, Department of Politics and International Relations, Florida International University