There was a time when it appeared that Islamic State, rapidly expanding into Syria, could not be stopped. The world idly stood by as the group used horrific violence in order to carve out its own “caliphate,” under the guise of representing an entire religion. Yet, when they began targeting an area historically defined as Kurdistan, this inaction ceased.
The Kurdish forces, with ranks comprised almost equally of men and women, have been actively combating ISIL. They asserted their commitment to both protecting the people of Kurdistan and their humanistic ideals by trying to prevent the spread of terror.
Yet, despite their efforts, many in the media are quick to highlight that “Kurdistan does not exist” or that “Kurdistan is not a country.” Only one of these is true: Kurdistan is not a country, however, Kurdistan is a nation.
Kurdistan is a nation that transcends the political boundaries of four countries: Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. The mere fact that the people do not yet have a country does not strip away its legitimacy or its existence. This is beyond dispute.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that the general public has difficulty comprehending how a nation can exist without a state and herein lies a fundamental issue. People conceptualize and perceive defined state boundaries as the definitive proof of existence. This rhetoric has brought Kurdistan into a multifaceted struggle: combatting ISIL while also trying to fend off the flawed ideological presuppositions that they don’t exist within the international community.
Two parts of Kurdistan, known as Southern Kurdistan and Western Kurdistan, located in the north of Iraq and Syria, have transformed the structure of these countries. In Southern Kurdistan, internationally only known as the Kurdistan Region, the Kurds have their own semi-autonomous government, their own military (Peshmerga) and their own social intuitions against the backdrop of a thriving economy. In Western Kurdistan, more commonly referred to as Rojava, the Kurds have similarly constructed their own inclusive federative governing bodies, their own military People’s Protection Units and are a seeking to build a more cooperative economy based on the democratization of power.
These two parts of the Kurdish nation are now only nominally a part of Iraq and Syria, and their recent territorial gains and political victories replicate their existence. Kurdistan exists within an alternate geopolitical dimension, one that reinforces the idea that a country does not necessitate sovereignty or legitimacy.
Another part of the struggle for recognition stems from those who are from neighboring countries that vehemently oppose Kurdistan. This can be exemplified in the case of the 1988 Al-Anfal chemical gas attacks on the Kurds or the denial of and strict bans on Kurdish identity and culture in Turkey since the country’s inception.
Today, people viciously assert that “Kurdistan doesn’t exist” or that they shouldn’t seek to establish a country because they should live with their Muslim counterparts. In some ways this may be a genuine belief and call for peace. However, a vast majority of those who have used this same logic are strict proponents of nationalism and completely ignore the socioeconomic, political and cultural disparities between Kurds and other regional peoples.
The hypocritical aesthetic of this argument is evident: denying people the right to decide their own fate, under the facade of some pious behavior, is purely antithetical. These same self-described pious people that are so adamantly against the formation of any Kurdish political projects, because it somehow would run contrary to Islam, are the same upholders of the countless oppressive Middle Eastern states.
For centuries, these opponents have attempted to utilize religion as a pretext to detract people away from the Kurdish cause and their right to self-determination. The irony is that these same opponents of Kurdistan are also anti-Western, yet gladly reinforce the artificial nation states and arbitrary borders created by the colonial European powers.
The era of Kurds being pawns of the hegemonic powers and the consistent denial of Kurdistan’s existence is coming to a close. The current non-binary wars in the Middle East have ultimately facilitated an environment for the Kurds and Kurdistan to emerge as a viable alternative for what the region could be: a democratically decentralized society where the power is not allocated to external states, but in the rightful hands of the people.
These concepts of nationalism, ethnicity, self-determination, identity and human rights are not foreign to Binghamton University students. We are constantly entrenched in the throes of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on campus, and as much some people would like to portray this conflict as the ultimate battle between the East and the West, this simply is not true. This is a Middle Eastern problem. Therefore, for those of us engaged in these discussions, we must remember that this is not the only conflict that will shape the region’s future. We can all expand our comprehension of contemporary struggles through the lens of the Kurdish struggle.
Hooman Ibrahim is a senior majoring in business administration.