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Sign the petition for Iraq's three-region solution November 23, 2008 How States Use the Kurdish Card as Their Tools for Foreign Policy: Oil, Water, and Geopolitics of Kurdistan in the Middle East

Kurdishaspect.com - By Aland Mizell


The Kurds are the largest ethnic group without a state, numbering twenty-five to thirty million.  Most live in the mountainous region centered in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and parts of the former Soviet Union, known by the Kurds as Kurdistan, land of the Kurds. Existing only on a mythical map, Kurdistan draws a strong allegiance from its inhabitants as well as from those displaced in the Diaspora now living in Europe, Australia, United States, and the Scandinavian countries. After World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Allies reconfigured the region into these nation states, disregarding promises to and treatises with the Kurds, only one indication on a long continuum of the use and misuse of this ethnic group by outsiders. Traced to the ancient culture of the Medes, the Kurds in this ancestral vein appear in Biblical and other early texts such as Xenophon’s Greek work in 400 B.C. mentioning the Karduchoi. In spite of this rich, romantic, ancient history, today neighboring states deny the Kurdish identity, oppress them economically and politically, and use the Kurdish card to gain resources such as water and oil and political power ranging from reinforcement of a regime to accession to the European Union. 

Pre and Post Cold War 

The Cold War period polarizing America and the Soviet Union as well as allies of those powers transformed the politics of the period and left a legacy that continues to affect world affairs today. Even though the histories of the Middle Eastern region stretches back to ancient times, the Cold War era left the impression that the superpowers’ tensions and hostility shaped the world today. However, the ethnic and religious conflicts are rooted in indigenous cultures and crafted by imperialist ambitions as well. In the post Cold War the Middle East region has remained in flux geopolitically and geoeconomically; for example, a combination of the U.S. influence on Turkey and the changing politics of Turkey and Iran has destabilized Turkish and Iranian relations but still figures significantly in maintaining the regional stability. Involvement in each other’s domestic security problems sharpened over the last decade (Calabrese, 1998, p. 84) bringing the charges that each supports insurrection and terrorism against the other. The post Cold War has exposed regional religious, ethnic, and territorial conflicts that previously were covered by the emphasis on the superpowers’ opposition. One longstanding conflict emerging is the struggle of the Kurds against their antagonists.

Statement of the Problem 

After centuries of invaders, the Kurds remain unconquered, unassimilated, and unconverted. More recently, despite more than a century of armed struggle, the Kurds have failed to have an independent state. Lacking solidarity and dominated by tribal, religious, and parochial values, the Kurdish movement has failed to gain autonomy, or in some states, even recognition of their identity. Yet, the geopolitics of the oil and water rich region inhabited by Kurds keeps the fractionalized countries constantly in ethnic conflict. The geopolitics fuel the nationalism of both the Kurds and their adversaries. The Turks refer to them as “Mountain Turks,” and in retaliation for the suppression of their ethnic identity and basic human rights, the Kurds exert nationalistic demands for their recognition if not a region. To understand the external and internal factors that contribute to the Kurdish struggle, this study examines the use of the Kurdish card as a tool in foreign policy. Both internal and external factors prevent the Kurds from having their independence, in part because contiguous as well as distant states exploit the Kurds to achieve their own national interests and affecting their own domestic and foreign policies. 

Purpose and Significance of the Study

To assess the factors that prevent Kurds from achieving an independent state, this study uses an analysis of historical documents combined with a review of literature with some dating from World War I but most from the present.  To contribute to the scholarship on the exploitation of the Kurds, this paper examines the struggles, promises, betrayals, and mistreatment of the Kurds. Determining the internal and external variables will look toward states’ recognizing the Kurds as a separate ethnic identity, ameliorating their continually manipulation, and checking their abuse of the Kurds. 

Review of the Literature

J. Brown (1995) in his insightful article “The Turkish Imbroglio: Its Kurds”  examines the Kurdish problem, the implications for Turkey, and the difficulties posed by the PKK with its terror tactics. It further draws implications from Turkey’s interaction with Europe and the United States in regard to the Kurds, as well as with its neighbors Syria, Iraq, and Iran. It assesses options for resolving the conflict to aid Turkey’s economic and political stability. The  article assumes a Turkish rather than a Kurdish perspective entirely. Martin Van Bruinessen (1996) in “Turkey’s Death Squads” traces the development of Kurdish political parties and their representation of the Kurds. Turkey’s death squads targeted Democratic Party (DEP) members, nationalist Kurds, journalists and others working with pro-Kurdish press, and human rights workers particularly in southeast Turkey. Van Bruinessen faces the reality of the death squads head on and lends his prestigious name to future research on the events surrounding the deaths, the names and numbers of Kurds killed, and the reaction/involvement of the Turkish government. The article “Forced Evictions and Destruction of Villages in Turkish Kurdistan” (1996) offer support for these cruel practices of the state (p. 8-9). 

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