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June 20, 2010 Sovereignty and State Formation in Middle East 

Kurdishaspect.com - By Karim Hasan (independent Kurdish scholar)

Tenth Annual Essex Critical Political Theory Conference University of Essex  Working paper series: # 1 Kurdish National Case/Question 

Abstract

The division of Kurdistan (Izady, 1992); (McDowall, 2004), a historic and a geographic region, between the semi-sovereign states of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria after the end of World War I excluded Kurds from the right to full ‘citizenship’ in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria,  and the right to a Kurdish state ‘a homeland’ (McKiernan, 2006).  These states governed Kurds and Kurdistan through most repressive techniques of political economy, apparatuses of security, and communication technology (Natali 2006).  Kurds have challenged these states’ exercise of sovereign right over Kurdistan.  Kurds have deemed the division of Kurdistan, borderline drawn between parts of Kurdistan unjust, against rules of natural law, justice, and cause of instability for Kurdish and Kurdistan society.  Since late 1980 and 1991 (Makiya, 1998) most democratic member states of the international community have been favoring a lasting settlement for the Kurdish national Case/Question (van Brunissen 2004). Most honest final solution for the Kurdish Question/Case is the foundation of the Kurdish sovereign ‘homeland’ (Ignatieff, 1993). Introduction

This paper is a component of my current research project “Sovereignty and State Formation in Middle East”.  It focuses on the Kurdish national Case/Question, which is the expression of Kurdish right and willingness to form a sovereign Kurdish state – homeland (McKiernan, 2006; Ahmad and Gunter 2005).  It undertakes a genealogical analysis of the Kurdish national Question/Case, and provides an analysis of the ways in which the states which have invaded Kurdistan governed the accurate knowledge of the Kurdish national Question/Case.  Second, it outlines three main theories of sovereignty and state formation, and provides a brief analysis of three case studies of state formation. The ways in which the international community has approached the Kurdish national Question/Case in the Treaty of Sevres (Sykes, 1915), which was later revoked in the Treaty of Lausanne  (Sykes, 1915), Republic of Mahabad in 1946 and the enforcement of no-flay zone north of 36 parallel in Iraq in 1991 (Backer, 1994).  Last, the emergence of the opportunity for the formation of a sovereign Kurdish state in northern Iraq after 1980s Anfal  - genocide  of the Kurds (Committee on Foreign Relations, 1991) and mass exodus of the Iraqi Kurds in 1991 (Middle East Watch, 1991; Human Rights Watch, 1993). 1. Genealogy of Kurdish national Question/Case

What is the Kurdish national Case/Question?.  Is the Kurdish national Case/Question a Turkish, Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian question? Is the Kurdish national Case/Question a local, a regional, an international question or a combination of the three? (van Bruinessen, 2004). This section takes a genealogical account of categorization, classification and characterization of the Kurdish Case/Question aids accurate understanding and knowledge of Kurdish studies and Middle Eastern scholarship. My purpose is an invitation of scholarly attention to rethink the ways in which the Kurdish Case/Question has been defined and understood in the scholarly literature. This genealogical inventory provides a periodization of the ways in which Kurdish national Case/Question in different periods in the local, national, regional and world political rationalities specifics to specific periods.  Kurdish national Case/Question is an “extra-state” question which needs international engagement and settlement. Kurdish national Case/Question emerged in the 19 century - specifically Sheik U’baidullah Nahri’s movement for an independent Kurdish state (McDowall, 2004); (van Bruinssen, 2004) during the centralization control of Ottomans over Kurdistan.  Opposing the centralization policy and the rising sense of Kurdish ethnic consciousness in the late 1800s led to the constructive genesis of the Kurdish national Case/Question (McDowall, 2004).  Clearer expression of the Kurdish Case/Question after the fall of the Ottoman Empire emerged when the Kurds pressed for an independent Kurdish state in the Verssai Peace Conference (Sykes, 1915); (Natali, 2006).  

This genealogical study reveals that by the end of World War I - Kurdish national Case/Question was a clearly articulated Kurdish proposal formulated as the Kurdish demand for a juridico-political administration in “Kurdistan proper” (van Bruinessen, 1994) presented by Kurdish representatives to the Treaty of Sevres Council (Sykes, 1915). However, the proposal did not include the entire historico-geographic Kurdistan. Sharaf Khan in Sharafnama provides the most accurate geographical description of Kurdistan, which is closely related version to the map provided by Iraqi Kurdish Rizgari party.

Kurdish national Question/Case is a specific articulation of modern expression of Kurdish discontent about the Middle East geopolitical rearrangement after the fall of the Ottoman and Qajar Empires at the end of the World War I (van Bruinssen, 2004).  The victorious allied forces convened in France to reconstitute modern Middle East and liquidate the Ottoman property, from which semi-sovereign state system of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria was arranged, the agreements concluded which left Kurds without a state of their own (McDowall, 2004).   Thus, Kurdish national Case/Question is the case of Kurdish demand for sovereignty which emerged in a modern form after the World War, during the formation of modern state system in the Middle East 1918-1923 (Sykes, 1915).  This historical question is Kurdish demand for statehood in historico-geographic Kurdistan, which is a “trans-state” in scope.  The trans-state nature of the Kurdish national Case/Question is indication that it is the concern of all Kurds equally in all parts of Kurdistan to form a sovereign Kurdish state.  

The Kurdish national Case/Question has been described and defined in different ways–depending on the type and the motive of the academic research. For example, the governments which have ruled Kurdistan, in their most positive characterization have described the Kurdish Case/Question as problems of economic development, poverty, institutional and cultural modernization. One of the most negative characterizations of the Kurdish question is that it is a problematic that has been designed specifically to destabilize the region, see Stephen C. Pelletiere The Kurds: An Unstable Element in the Gulf (1984). Carole A. O’Leary (2005) has responded to Pelletiere’s mischaracterization of Kurds and the Kurdish question. Most academic research have articulated the Kurdish Case/Question synonymous to a lack of Kurdish cultural, linguistic, political, social, economic and legal rights in the ‘historico-geographic’ Kurdish regions administered/governed by Turkey, Iran and Syria including Iraq until recent years. My own thesis – as I have pointed out the Kurdish national Case/Question is the result of the absence of a Kurdish ‘juridico-political’ administration governing the ‘historico-geographic’ in “Kurdistan proper” (van Bruinessen, 1994).  More clearly, it is the question of statelessness. Kurds want a state of their own, they have the right to form the state of their own, and only a state will do for the Kurds (Ignatieff, 1993).

The Kurdish national Case/Question can be periodized into four main periods. The first is pre-political organization– party-politics period in the 19 century among Kurdish elites, whose ethnic consciousness were solidified between mid 1800s and the fall of the Ottoman and Qajar Empires (Natali, 2006). The second is the articulation of the Kurdish national Case/Question as a demand of the Kurds organized in party politics for the purpose of establishing a Kurdish state until the end of II World War when the British and American influence on Kurdish politics largely diminished with the rise of Soviet influence on Kurdish politics during and at the end of the II World War. An example is the foundation of the ‘Mahabad Republic’ in Eastern Kurdistan. 

The third period started in late 1940s and ended in 1988. This is the period of the internationalization of the Kurdish national Case/Question specifically in the early 1970s when a peace agreement for autonomy between Kurdish movement and Iraqi regime was signed, solidification of the party-politics in Kurdistan and Kurdish genocide: chemical attacks on Halabja, the Anfal Campaign, mass execution, deportation and expulsion of the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan (Human Rights Watch 1993) and in Turkey. The last period started in 1989 to the present. This is the state formation period in which the Kurdish Question will no-longer exist in the marines of the Middle Eastern politics. 

Inferences, indirect description and definition of the Kurdish national Case/Question has been formulated in terms of ideological programs of those states which have invaded Kurdistan and the political programs of the academic research about Kurds and Kurdistan. Those have described and defined the Kurdish question as social, political, economic, legal rights problem; as a question against capitalist exploitation of Kurds and Kurdistan; as a question against tribalism and religious mystic orders; as purely a question of identity and cultural recognition; as a question of ethnic nationalism; as a question of tribal–religious resistance to centralization and modernization.  A precise account of the Kurdish national Case/Question is that, it may include elements of all of the above but subsidiary to one main articulation: the Kurdish national Case/Question is a ‘juridico-political-administrative’ question of the formation of independent Kurdish state on “Kurdistan proper” (van Bruinessen, 1994), which can only be understood properly by accepting Kurdish right to self-governance, self-determination, self-legislation to statehood.  Kurds who have participated in the formulation of Kurdish national liberation project have called for an international recognition of the Kurdish nation represented with juridico-political administration in historico-geographic Kurdistan.  Thus, without a doubt – it is clearly a question of Kurdish national self-legislation, self-government and Kurdish statehood.  

A recognized juridico-political-administrative body is a three component entity; entails a juridical branch, a political branch and an administrative branch: judicial, legislative, executive.  Kurds call for the ‘international subjectivity’ of the Kurdish peoples–a type of subjectivity that provides the Kurds with freedom and welcomes them into the family of nations with full rights to representation in the United Nations, governance of their own affairs, participation and contribution to the international community the way other nations have been given the right to do so as an entity.  

Kurdish national Case/Question has been understood in relation to ‘nation’, ‘nation-state’, ‘state’, ‘sovereignty’ and ‘post-sovereignty’ in the context of our present condition in the Middle East. What is a ‘nation’ and how is it different from the ‘state’ and ‘nation-state’? Although, these three are not compatible, they have been characterized to denote a ‘sovereign state’ at many instances. 

Kurdish nationalism is not an organized defined political philosophy. Rather, it is shaped by discursive practices of ‘freedom and rights orientation’ and a ‘minimalist’ nationalism. A practice is called ‘Kurdayeti’, means ‘Kurdishness’, ‘being Kurdish’ or practicing Kurdishness has been the functional goal of Kurdish nationalism ( Natali 2005; Ahmad and Gunter 2005; McDowall 1994; van Bruinessen 1992, 2000A). In comparison with Turkish, Persian and Arab nationalisms, which have been ‘aggressive’, ‘offensive’, ‘expansionist’ and ‘assimilating’; Kurdish nationalism has been a weak ‘non-expansionist’, ‘defensive’, ‘pro-diversity’, ‘freedom and justice oriented’ and a ‘local’ movement until recent years.  "http://www.kurdishaspect.com/doc122007KH1.html" 

The politics of peripheralization, denial, oppression and exploitation of Kurds and Kurdistan have blocked clear understandings of the reality of Kurdish right to self-determination by distorting the Kurdish national Case/Question. After the 1988-89 genocide of the Kurds ‘the epistemology through which the Kurd have been known’ came to shift slightly to the advantage of the Kurds, a shift which called for the reconstitution of the knowledge about the Kurdish national Case/Question. 

This epistemic shift calls upon us to take the responsibility to decide on the status the Kurdish national Case/Question. It suggests that change in politics requires change in episteme of the object of inquiry–Kurds, Kurdistan and the Kurdish Question. This signifies the interdependence between politics and episteme which calls for the establishment of an independent Kurdish State.

2. Practices and theories of sovereignty and state formation 

Although modern sovereignty is specific to European state system, such form of sovereignty emerged in the Middle East at the end of World War I.  What is ‘sovereignty’? Sovereignty is a Westphalian conceptualization of ‘juridico-politico-social’ autonomous administrative structure founded on non-intervention principle. Any empirical, theoretical engagement with sovereignty needs to be realized in the context of its domain–‘time, ‘space’ and its people, subjects–citizens. ‘Time’ and ‘space’–history and geography–territory are critical for the realization of sovereignty; they are indications of its epoch, region and are linked to its subjects (Augustine 1950; Machiavelli 1975; Grotius 1925; Bodin 1992; Hobbes 1985; Bartelson 1995; Dacyl 1996). This domain of sovereignty is governed through ‘political economy–apparatuses of security–communication technology’. 

Sovereignty presumes the sanctity of sovereign’s right and rule over its domain ‘historico-geographic-people’. The body, domain and sovereign’s governing techniques have been contentious, as disputation over its territory, treatment of its subjects, citizens and methods of governance do not end. This Westphalian conception of sovereignty emerged in the Middle East after the end of World War I during the constitution of the state of Turkey, Iraq and Syria; however, the domain of these states reveal that these states’ sovereignties have been contested from within since their formation up to the emergence of ‘post-sovereignty’ in the Middle East. The passage of Westphalian sovereignty begun after the end of the Cold War, and practices of post-sovereignty in the Middle East emerged. Post-sovereignty is a global governance model. It is synonymous to post-colonialism, cosmopolitics and diasporas. 

It is an approach and a practice concurrent with the emergence of globalization, global governance of the fragile and failed states through defense, diplomacy, prevention of refugee exodus, humanitarian intervention in conflict areas, and development through aid. Has the emergence of post-sovereignty in the Middle East contributed to improvement of justice, human rights, stability and inclusive societies?

(Rosenau 1994, 2005; Hardt and Negri 2000; Kushner 1999; Spruyt 2005). What is a nation and how is it different from a nation-state and a state? Although, these three are not compatible, they have been characterized to denote a sovereign state at many instances. The state is a defined geographic area, territory that is inhabited by a population. It is represented through a primary juridico-political administrative authority recognized under the international law and in international relations. This recognition grants direct international subjectivity. The concept of the state does not denote that there is the presence of more than one nation within its borders automatically. Rather it emphasizes an administrative-structure that grants a historico geographic-people subjectivity and presents itself as a unanimous indivisible entity. Some nations have a state, status; others like the Kurds are stateless. 

A legally recognized nation is a people who live on/in historico-geographic area within the borders of a state, governed by its local juridico-political administration, which could take a federal, a self-governing autonomous administrative structure; and its subjectivity under the international law and in international relation is arranged through a primary authority, the state. This international subjectivity provides for creation of a nation-state, which represents peoples who inhabit a recognized historico-geographic entity governed by their juridico-political administration. 

A state that is inhabited by more than one nation would be more proper to be characterized as a state of nations, a recognized nation to be characterized as a nation-state, and the state as a juridico-political administrative apparatus that governs populations, nations, peoples inhabiting their respective historico-geographic areas. Through this apparatus an international status is ascertained.  A recognized ‘nation’ in the international law may be defined as those people who inhabit a ‘historico-geographic’ area within the borders of a sovereign ‘state’, governed by national and local ‘juridico-political’ administration, which may take a federal, a self-governing autonomous administrative structure.  Its subjectivity under the international law and in international relation is arranged through a primary authority, the ‘state’. An international subjectivity of a nation provides for the creation of a ‘nation-state’, which represents citizens of a state internationally.  Kurds do not have a legally recognized nation state – Kurdish national Case/Question is the result of lack of a recognized independent sovereignty Kurdish nation state.

The ‘state’ is a defined geographic area, territory that is inhabited by a population. It is represented through a primary juridico-political administrative authority recognized under the international law and in international relations. This recognition grants direct international subjectivity. The concept of the ‘state’ does not denote that there is the presence of more than one ‘nation’ within its borders automatically. Rather it emphasizes an administrative-structure that grants a ‘historico-geographic-people’ subjectivity and presents itself as a unanimous indivisible entity. Some nations have a state, which means having a status; others like the Kurds are stateless. 

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