‘Con­flict, De­moc­ra­ti­za­tion, and the Kurds in the Mid­dle East,’ By David Ro­mano and Mehmet Gürses

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - DENİZ ALİ GÜR

It is quite hard to de­fine the Kur­dish is­sue for sev­eral rea­sons. The is­sue has a deep his­tor­i­cal back­ground, many di­men­sions and is a trans­bor­der and transna­tional is­sue, so there is no sin­gle Kur­dish is­sue. There are dis­tinc­tive Kur­dish is­sues in four con­tigu­ous coun­tries, but the Kur­dish is­sue in any one coun­try is hardly iso­lated.

This vol­ume, edited by David Ro­mano and Mehmet Gurses, seems to be the prod­uct of an at­tempt to over­come these trou­bles. Thir­teen chap­ters in four sec­tions (“Au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and the Kurds,” “Democ­racy in Di­vided So­ci­eties,” “The Kurds and De­moc­ra­ti­za­tion” and “Re­gional Is­sues”) ex­plore the so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal as­pects of the Kur­dish is­sues in the given coun­tries and the links be­tween the Kur­dish com­mu­ni­ties within dif­fer­ent na­tion-states, pro­vid­ing a de­cent scope for such a goal, but there are a num­ber of flaws in these con­tri­bu­tions in terms of method­ol­ogy and per­spec­tive.

This is a vol­ume of col­lected es­says on sev­eral as­pects of the Kur­dish is­sue, so it should be re­mem­bered that the chap­ters are un­der the re­spon­si­bil­ity of their au­thors rather than the ed­i­tors. How­ever, it should also be noted that all con­tri­bu­tions share a com­mon per­spec­tive to some ex­tent, which is ex­plained in the in­tro­duc­tion by the ed­i­tors. First, Ro­mano and Gurses em­pha­size the trans­bor­der and transna­tional na­ture of the Kur­dish is­sue, the for­mer re­fer­ring to the in­ter­ac­tion among the Eastern, Western, North­ern and South­ern parts of Kur­dis­tan and the lat­ter to the con­texts of the na­tion­states rul­ing the Kur­dish ter­ri­to­ries and bring­ing into ques­tion the “con­ta­gion ef­fect” (1-3).

Sec­ond, the au­thors dis­cuss the Kur­dish is­sue(s) in the Mid­dle East by putting the de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion par­a­digm at the cen­ter. The de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion par­a­digm al­lows the reader to adopt ei­ther a pes­simistic or op­ti­mistic view since democ­racy is de­fined sub­stan­tively, in­clud­ing “re­spect for civil and po­lit­i­cal free­doms, and the pro­gres­sive im­ple­men­ta­tion of greater po­lit­i­cal […] equal­ity” -even though the Mid­dle East lacks such a prac­tice of democ­racy -while it is also con­sid­ered to be “a con­tin­uum rather than an ab­so­lute” (8), so the signs of progress can be seen to be promis­ing. The no­tion of democ­racy adopted in the vol­ume leads to a call for “the need for a sig­nif­i­cant change in the re­gion,” i.e. the fall of the cur­rent gov­ern­ments in the Mid­dle East and es­pe­cially the one un­der the lead­er­ship of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad in Syria (11). Such a one-sided view is quite prob­lem­atic, as noted be­low.

With re­spect to the first point above, the ex­tent of the pa­ram­e­ters dis­cussed in this vol­ume should be noted. Both the trans­bor­der and the transna­tional di­men­sions of the Kur­dish is­sue(s) in the Mid­dle East are dis­cussed from dif­fer­ent as­pects. Top­ics dis­cussed in the es­says in the vol­ume in­clude: The trans­for­ma­tion of the po­lit­i­cal struc­ture in Tur­key; the shift in Turk­ish for­eign pol­icy to­ward Sun­nism and the goal of a Sunni axis and cor­re­spond­ingly, re­flec­tions of the Shi­iti­za­tion of the state in Iraq; the shift in the conception of Iraq’s Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Gov­ern­ment (KRG) in Turk­ish for­eign pol­icy as an al­lied power; the new state struc­ture in

There are dis­tinc­tive Kur­dish is­sues in four con­tigu­ous coun­tries, but the Kur­dish is­sue in any one coun­try is hardly iso­lated

Iraq af­ter the 2005 con­sti­tu­tion; the war in Syria and the con­flict be­tween Syria and Tur­key; the his­tor­i­cal back­ground of the Per­sian­ized conception of Ira­nian na­tion­al­ism and dif­fer­ent stages in the history of the Is­lamic Re­pub­lic of Iran; the eth­nic di­men­sion of pol­i­tics in the Mid­dle East; so­cial change and de­vel­op­ments in the po­lit­i­cal cul­ture of Kur­dish com­mu­ni­ties; and the newly emerg­ing so­cial and po­lit­i­cal ac­tors in the Kur­dish ter­ri­to­ries. The sixth chap­ter, which has the ti­tle “Com­mu­nal Groups, Civil Con­flict, and De­moc­ra­ti­za­tion in Latin Amer­ica,” pro­vides an in­sight into the Latin Amer­i­can con­text and widens one’s view­point into eth­nic con­flicts. Fur­ther­more, that chap­ter tells the reader about the ma­jor axis of the vol­ume al­ready given in the ti­tle, i.e. the de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion par­a­digm. In­deed, it is the conception of this par­a­digm that paves the way for a one-sided un­der­stand­ing of the Kur­dish is­sue(s) in the Mid­dle East.

The vol­ume is wor­thy of praise for the ex­tent to which it dis­cusses the above­men­tioned is­sues, but it also has prob­lems in terms of method­ol­ogy and per­spec­tive. For ex­am­ple, Eva Savels­berg ar­gues that the self-rule in Ro­java func­tions as an ob­sta­cle to de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion since it hin­ders the fall of the cur­rent regime and it does not in­clude any rel­a­tively strong Kur­dish par­ties other than the Demo­cratic Union Party (PYD) (8586). How­ever, Savels­berg does not dis­cuss why the Syr­ian Kurds ought to work for the fall of the regime or the claim that they are found­ing par­tic­i­pa­tory mech­a­nisms through can­tons for a stronger democ­racy. The lat­ter ap­proach seems pos­si­ble only by con­sid­er­ing the main­stream lib­eral def­i­ni­tion of democ­racy to be the only pos­si­ble one.

A one-sided ap­proach to Ro­java is the out­come of the one-sided ap­proach to the war in Syria, since al­most all of the au­thors of the vol­ume de­fine it as the “Syr­ian Revo­lu­tion” and Ro­mano and Gurses de­fine de­vel­op­ments in the Mid­dle East as a “rev­o­lu­tion­ary wave” and the “Arab Spring,” dis­cuss them a mat­ter of the “fall of sec­u­lar dic­ta­tor­ships” and do not

The no­tion of democ­racy adopted in the vol­ume leads to a call for ‘the need for a sig­nif­i­cant change in the re­gion’

men­tion the ex­is­tence of ji­hadists or the Syr­ian claim of for­eign in­ter­ven­tion (10-11). It is prob­lem­atic to ex­clude the view­point of the Syr­ian side and their sup­port­ers such as Rus­sia, Iran or the anti-Amer­i­can­ist scholars. More­over, the one-sided ap­proach to the Syr­ian war leads to er­rors of fact, e.g. Robert Lowe defin­ing Tur­key’s role in Syria as sup­port­ing demo­cratic change (232). Con­sid­er­ing that the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment had been quite of­fen­sive to Syria, claim­ing that it could reach Damascus in three hours or that they would soon per­form salaat in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, this is quite an er­ror of fact.

The one-sided ap­proach is prob­a­bly most vis­i­ble in the first chap­ter, which has the ti­tle “Tur­key, Ke­mal­ism, and the ‘Deep State’,” writ­ten by Michael M. Gunter. Gunter de­fines the “deep state” as an “om­nipo­tent force with ten­ta­cle-like hands reach­ing ev­ery­where” (17-18) and “aim­ing to en­force the Ke­mal­ist vi­sion of a Turk­ish na­tion­al­ist and sec­u­lar state” (20). Gunter’s po­si­tion is prob­lem­atic for two rea­sons: (1) He does not re­fer to the al­ter­na­tive literature of regime shift that de­fines the trans­for­ma­tion in Tur­key as the foun­da­tion of a rather re­li­gious po­lit­i­cal regime un­der the tyranny of Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan; (2) he seems to ig­nore knowl­edge about the in­va­lid­ity of the ev­i­dence that came to light in the afore­men­tioned tri­als.

The main short­com­ing of the vol­ume, shared by sev­eral au­thors, is their strate­gist-like stance. A scholar does not have to act as a voice for the op­pressed, but to act as a strate­gist hin­ders one from de­vel­op­ing an ob­jec­tive ap­proach to the sub­ject. Sev­eral au­thors ad­vise the Ira­nian po­lit­i­cal elite and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to see the eth­ni­cal di­men­sions of Ira­nian pol­i­tics and “not to wait un­til peo­ple are march­ing in public squares” (61) and de­cry the Kur­dish mili­tia in Ro­java for fight­ing the Is­lamic State in ter­ri­to­ries where Kurds do not live, rather than an­a­lyz­ing the ide­o­log­i­cal di­men­sion of the is­sue (100-101). That they ex­pect the war in Syria to bring democ­racy (226) is prob­lem­atic, and this tes­ti­fies to the con­tra­dic­tion be­tween ef­forts to an­a­lyze a case and ef­forts to di­rect the poli­cies of dom­i­nant ac­tors. This lat­ter in­ten­tion un­for­tu­nately over­shad­ows much of this vol­ume’s po­ten­tial.

Both the trans­bor­der and the transna­tional di­men­sions of the Kur­dish is­sue(s) in the Mid­dle East are dis­cussed from dif­fer­ent as­pects

Oct . 14, 2014 PHOTO: REUTERS, ÜMİT BEKTAŞ

The fu­neral of four Kur­dish women killed dur­ing the bat­tle for Kobane is held in Su­ruç, Şan­lıurfa province.

Oct . 18, 2014 PHOTO: REUTERS, KAI PFAFFENBACH

The Kur­dish is­sue(s) in the Mid­dle East has both trans­bor­der and transna­tional

di­men­sions, as the Kobane is­sue

has shown.

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