Lessons of Yu­goslavia in the un­rav­el­ing of the Mid­dle East

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS -

The ex­pand­ing Mid­dle East­ern con­flict in re­cent years and the merg­ing of sec­tar­ian and eth­nic front-lines may seem like a re­cent phe­nom­e­non, but in re­al­ity it is any­thing but that. The un­rav­el­ing of the so­ciopo­lit­i­cal map of the Mid­dle East is a by-prod­uct of the grad­ual end to dic­ta­tor­ships, which were an al­most nec­es­sary in­gre­di­ent to hold to­gether the Sykes-Pi­cot in­spired Mid­dle East­ern sta­tus quo.

Nowhere is this ex­am­ple more prom­i­nent than in Syria. The Sunni con­flicts in Iraq and Syria are merg­ing as one bat­tle, with com­mu­nal ties across the bor­ders. The Syr­ian Kur­dish bat­tle and the fight for demo­cratic rights nat­u­rally link to the Turk­ish and Iraqi Kurds across the bor­der, es­pe­cially the Kur­dis­tan Re­gion. The Shi­ite pow­ers in Le­banon and Syria are group­ing to de­fend their fu­ture and power­base.

Syria has quickly be­come a se­ries of war within wars in ad­di­tion to a proxy bat­tle be­tween re­gional Sunni and Shi­ite pow­ers.

With 100,000 dead and mil­lions more peo­ple dis­placed, just when will the Syr­ian for­tunes take a turn for the bet­ter? Un­for­tu­nately, in most wars, it is when enough dev­as­ta­tion of lives, in­fra­struc­ture, econ­omy and society takes place when eth­nic, sec­tar­ian or na­tional loy­al­ties are fi­nally ex­hausted by a stark re­al­ity. A re­al­ity is that sooner or later, there is no op­tion but to sit at the peace ta­ble and ne­go­ti­ate.

There is re­vived talk of Geneva II been held next month, but such ne­go­ti­a­tions are only suc­cess­ful when there is the re­al­i­sa­tion that things can never be the same again. The build­ing of bridges must be based on a new re­al­ity. In Syria, it means that the days of a strong man, au­thor­i­tar­ian rule and ul­ti­mately Bashar al-As­sad is over.

Syria will only work with a de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion of power much like in Iraq. With ar­ti­fi­cial cre­ated bor­ders comes a pool­ing of peo­ple that is un­nat­u­ral and un­sus­tain­able. The pride of Syr­ian na­tion­al­ity be­comes se­condary to sig­nif­i­cance of eth­nic or sec­tar­ian iden­tity.

It is not just in Syria where such soft-par­ti­tions are in­evitable, most coun­tries whose dic­ta­to­rial rule was ended by the Arab Spring risk this even­tu­al­ity es­pe­cially Libya. Most of these coun­tries never tasted true democ­racy and thus re­gional splits and bound­aries within each state could be masked. Iraq is a prime ex­am­ple, through the elec­toral polls, Shi­ites may now be the ma­jor­ity but Sun­nis and Kurds would never ac­cept rule of the Shi­ites by virtue of their elec­toral clout.

The un­rav­el­ing of the Mid­dle East needs no greater ex­am­ple than the fall of Yu­goslavia. Yu­goslavia man­aged to mask nu­mer­ous eth­nic and re­li­gious fault lines through the use of force and an iron hand.

The even­tual break-up of Yu­goslavia was bru­tal and bloody but ul­ti­mately the only so­lu­tion was out­right sep­a­ra­tion in most cases and soft-par­ti­tion in some oth­ers.

The con­flict in Bos­nia that started in 1992 and ended with the Day­ton Agree­ment in 1995, ef­fec­tively split Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina into a Bos­niak and Croat fed­er­a­tion and a sec­ond Serb en­tity, Repub­lika Srp­ska.

With the un­tan­gling of bor­ders comes a rush to form new iden­ti­ties and to con­sol­i­date power. As with Yu­goslavia and par­tic­u­larly Bos­nia, the re­sult of that is eth­nic cleans­ing and mass pop­u­la­tion move­ments.

It took count­less lives, atroc­i­ties and suf­fer­ing to fi­nally re­alise that a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment was the only way out of the Bos­nian con­flict and ul­ti­mately this will be the same for Syria. A soft por­tion of course casts doubts on real unity or the prin­ci­ple of a sin­gle state.

This ex­am­ple can be de­scribed no bet­ter than the re­cent Bos­nian foot­ball team tri­umph that saw them reach the World Cup in 2014 for the first time. Foot­ball nor­mally brings the coun­try to­gether but in spite of a truly his­toric achieve­ment, the re­ac­tion of the Ser­bian en­tity, whose nat­u­ral al­le­giance is to neigh­bor­ing Ser­bia, was muted at best. The Croa­t­ian el­e­ments in Bos­nia were hardly more in­spir­ing.

This is the re­sult of bor­ders not re­flect­ing split of eth­nic­i­ties or sec­tar­ian com­po­nents.

The eth­nic group that has suf­fered the most from the ar­ti­fi­cial bound­aries of the Mid­dle East is the Kurds. With de-facto ero­sions in the Mid­dle East­ern bor­ders, they have a unique op­por­tu­nity to build bridges be­tween all parts of Kur­dis­tan.

The Kurds must cap­i­tal­ize when the shape of the Mid­dle East is in a fluid state by lever­ag­ing a strong had in the cur­rent crises they are ex­posed to and have sig­nif­i­cantly in­flu­ence in. This starts with the pro­tec­tion of the Syr­ian Kurds and their new­found his­toric au­ton­omy.

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