• Allan Dyen-Shapiro

The Science Fictional Middle East Part II: the uncertain paradigm of Kurdistan


What would you say about a science fiction plot in which the US was providing money and training to a group of former Marxist-Leninists who engaged in violence against institutions of an American ally so threatening that the US and the European Union have designated them a foreign terrorist organization? Implausible? Welcome to Rojava, or as the locals call it West Kurdistan. Thirty-five million Kurds live here, in Turkey (North Kurdistan), in Iran (East Kurdistan), and in Iraq (South Kurdistan). Okay, only the Turkish government view the YPG (Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units) as synonymous with PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), the Turkish fighters who engaged in violent acts against Turkey in the 80s and 90s. The US goes with the polite fiction that they are distinct. Both oppose ISIS, and they have been the most effective fighters against Islamic extremism.

The PKK’s change in strategy and ideology underlies cooperation with the United States. At the urging of their Nelson Mandela-like leader, Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK have abandoned their campaign for independence in Southern Turkey in favor of a quest for cultural and political autonomy. But the US now considering delisting the group as terrorists because they no longer engage in terrorism and are seeking accommodation with the Turkish government in a way that doesn’t threaten Turkish sovereignty wouldn’t be interesting enough to the likely readers of this post for me to have posted.

What’s truly interesting is Öcalan’s ideology, Democratic Confederalism, outlined in a book of the same name, published in 2011. The anarcha-feminist rebels in Rojava I mentioned in my previous post live by this ideology. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version: nation states represent the rise to power of the bourgeois class who marshal forces of enduring patriarchy, religious and pseudo-religious sanctification, predatory capital and the security state to eliminate freedom and continue suffering. No state could possibly provide freedom. The alternative is much more local free associations of individuals, whether along lines of tribe, religion, common interest, or just about anything else they choose. The only purpose of a state is to coordinate between these local groupings. Rojava represents the first time anarchists have held a territory since the part of Spain held prior to the Spanish Civil War, and its inhabitants seem sincere in their quest to dissolve patriarchy, homophobia, and oppression of minorities in a context where Islam is the dominant religion.

Their program is indeed science fictional. The repressive monarchies, juntas and dictatorships of the Middle East will wither away, and even states allowing some modicum of freedom like Israel will change fundamentally as interest groupings and other affiliations transcend national boundaries.

The first steps, however, are not fantasy. If the US and European Union dropped the designation of the PKK as a terrorist group, they could facilitate talks that have already taken place but are paused, that if resumed, might lead to the sort of progressively less limited autonomy for the Kurds in Southern Turkey that Öcalan envisions. Rojava already enjoys de facto independence from the Syrian government (although the constant attacks from ISIS limit the enjoyment). The Kurdish region of Iraq is autonomous, and today, they voted overwhelmingly affirmative on a referendum for independence.

Also today, the Iraqi Prime Minister has demanded the Kurds hand over control of the airports and national borders to his government by Friday and said he would suspend all flights between Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of the world if they fail to comply. He has also demanded the Kurds hand over all revenue from the oil-rich Kirkuk region. Turkey’s government called the referendum treachery and threatened a blockade. Pipelines through Turkey allow the oil from Kirkuk to reach market.

Iran closed its airspace to flights from the Kurdish region of Iraq and stationed new missile batteries. The top advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader was quoted as saying that independence for Iraqi Kurdistan would be akin to “creating a second Israel.” Parenthetically, Israel was the only government in the world to support the referendum on independence.

So, who wins if any or all of these parties invade Iraqi Kurdistan? ISIS.

Meanwhile, Trump is busy tweeting about football players.

Yeah, I know, no science fiction publisher would buy my story if I included the last tidbit. It would be too unbelievable.


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© 2016 by Allan Dyen-Shapiro

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