‘Conflict, Democratization, and the Kurds in the Middle East,’ By David Romano and Mehmet Gürses
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
The funeral of four Kurdish women killed during the battle for Kobane is held in Suruç, Şanlıurfa province.
The Kurdish issue(s) in the Middle East has both transborder and transnational
dimensions, as the Kobane issue