Iraqi Kurds, Spanish Catalans Seek Secession: Dividing Nations For Better or Worse?
United, the People of a nation are stronger than divided. When there is a common cause, or enemy, it can be relatively easy to unite even the most diverse populations. When there are sharp political differences, deep cultural divisions, and irreconcilable grievances, even the strongest of unions face the prospects of secession. The European Union, for example, had managed to unite the highly diverse nations of Europe, which were fierce revivals until the Cold War, as part of an effort to secure the continent’s economic outlook. The so-called Brexit, i.e. Britain’s exist from the EU, amid years of economic hardships has, of course, blunted the EU project.
In the US, the State of Texas has, from time to time, has threatened to secede from the Union. With the American Civil War in mind, secession is prohibited by the US Constitution. The US was formed as a political entity designed to transcend culture and assimilate immigrant populations into a new territory, thus all US citizens have a shared right to all US territory. Most countries, however, were formed out of communities with their own cultures and historic claims to the lands they occupy. As such, the sovereign rights of the Nation come second to the desires of the families and communities that have lived in territories for centuries or more. In their minds, the right to self-govern means the right to secede, which is about to be tested in Spain and Iraq.
The Catalan region of Spain has long regarded itself as a nation trapped within another nation. For years, Catalan’s economic successes, amid the economic shortcomings of other regions, have helped exasperate the culture clash between the autonomous region and the rest of Spain. Catalans see their inclusion in the Nation of Spain as a forced burden. Although Catalans have passively pursued independence from Spain for year, never truly assimilating into the national culture of Spain, 2010 marked a period when session started to become popular among Catalans once again. Spanish courts have deemed a secession vote unconstitutional, but Catalans have moved ahead with one anyway. Doing so has resulted in a great deal of friction between Catalan authorities and Spanish authorities.
In recognizing the chaos an unofficial secession vote in Spain can cause, especially if Catalan’s President decides to act on a favorable vote, it is clear that a similar vote in a far less stable country would be far more troublesome. With Iraqi Kurds having already voted for secession, Iraq faces a very difficult decision. Weakened by corruption, its over-dependence on the US, sectarian divisions, and the Islamic State, among other complication, Iraq must decide whether it wants to try to prevent the Kurds from seceding or support a newly minted Kurdistan. If Iraq tries to prevent the Kurds from forming their own nation, it will likely mean a delayed response and a war effort that it cannot muster. Unfortunately for Iraq, the Kurds have chosen to act at a time most beneficial to them.
The Kurdish secession must, however, be viewed at the regional level. Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran all have Kurdish populations, which have been disenfranchised, because these territories were arbitrarily carved out of European colonials. Instead of creating a nation for the Kurds, the Kurds were placed under the rule of four separate nations, which has resulted in the abuse of the Kurds for generations while fueling conflict. The willingness of Iraqi Kurds to declare independence will likely mean a willingness on behalf of Syrian Kurds. Russia may have helped turn the tide of the Syrian Civil War in favor of the Assad Regime, but Assad has no sovereign power over most of the Syrian territory. With Turkey at war with Kurdish rebels and terrorists, a unifying call for the formation of Kurdistan is obviously alarming. The same must be true for Iran.
A unified Kurdistan would mean a great economic and political loss for Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran, yet it would be a major victory for a disenfranchised population. Quite frankly, the status quo is untenable for the Kurds and their de facto countries. The need to secure proper representation and rights for the Kurds in the governments of Iraq and Turkey will only fuel conflict. Syria and Iran either cannot, or will not, ever give the Kurds the representation and rights they deserve. The formation of a Kurdistan would, therefore, be a victory for democratic governance and human rights. Amid the chaos of the region, the destabilizing fight for Kurdish Independence is a poison pill. It is, however, only a threat if the governments of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran try to use force to stop Kurdish Independence.
Instead, these regional governments and the International Community should support the formation of a Kurdish State. Iraq and Syria can barely be called countries. Syria has no sovereign control over its territories while Iraq’s control is weakening in the face of one crisis after another. The security forces of the region need to avoid unnecessary conflicts in order to prevent further destabilization. The region also needs stable governments and territories to help stabilize the entire region. The Middle East is divided along sectarian lines that fuel their wars. As a part of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran, the Kurds are a source of destabilization. Independent, united, and dependent on the international allies of its neighbors, Kurdistan could add stability to an unstable region.
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