On Point: The Nationalist Aspirations in Kurdistan and Catalonia

by Austin Bay
September 27, 2017

Kurdistan and Catalonia both have long histories. That's one reason many Kurds and Catalans argue that they deserve their own nation states.

Iraqi Kurds voted September 25, and it appears a majority support establishing an independent Kurdistan in what is now Iraqi Kurdistan. Though the referendum is advertised as "non-binding," Kurdish leaders say the results will empower them to negotiate a "peaceful secession."

On October 1, Catalans will vote on secession from Spain. Current polls indicate Catalan voters will narrowly reject secession. However, ham-handed Spanish attempts to halt the referendum have sparked a pro-secession uptick.

The Kurd and Catalan plebiscites share core issues: historical grievances, secession from internationally recognized states (respectively Iraq and Spain) and the possible creation of an independent state. Common ethnicity would be the unifying factor in the secessionists' states. Ethno-nationalism contrasts with civic nationalism (e.g., U.S. nationalism) where the body politic's unifying bond is not ethnicity, but shared citizenship in a democratic state established and operating under the rule of laws that protect the rights of individual citizens.

Catalan secessionists argue that Spain politically suppresses their unique identity and language. Prior to 1714 (when Spain's Philip V took control) Catalans had their own state. Catalan complaints vaguely echo those of the Canadian Quebecois.

The Kurd complaint is more complex, reflecting their complicated situation. The Kurds 'landlocked wedge of planet earth is a geographic "tweener", divided among northern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan), northwestern Iran, northeastern Syria and a major chunk of southeastern Turkey.

Kurds argue that history demonstrates they must defend and govern themselves. Every other ethnic or political group in their region has proven to be either an enemy or an unreliable ally. Kurds believe they were wronged after WW1. The Treaty of Sevres (August 1920) promised the Kurdish people a state or perhaps several autonomous states conveniently advised by allied political officials. However, feckless Western leaders and the creation of the Turkish Republic denied Kurds their state.

Despite similar objectives, the likely consequences Kurd and Catalan secession differ greatly.

Kurdish independence risks another regional war in the Middle East, one involving Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Though extremists throughout Europe could exploit passions stirred by Catalan secession, Catalan independence risks a war of words and street protests. If it actually occurs, lawsuits over finances, infrastructure and non-Catalan rights will turn European and international courts into judicial battle grounds. Fear of detrimental economic consequences and an appreciation of Canadian political stability among clear thinkers kept Quebec in Canada. Economic loss may keep Catalonia in Spain. The Financial Times estimated that independence could "shrink" Catalonia's economy by 30 percent.

The Kurds, however, already confront war. The Islamic State is now on the verge of elimination in northern Iraq. However, ISIS' 2014 invasion savaged Kurdish cities despite stiff resistance from Kurdish militias.

When ISIS invaded, Masoud Barzani, president of the Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), was already advocating Kurdish independence the Iraqi Shia-led parties dominating the Baghdad government ignored Kurdish interests. Last week Barzani said the KRG's "failed partnership" with the Shia Arab-dominated government was over because the Shia parties had turned Iraq into a "theocratic, sectarian state. " The secession referendum would start the process of "negotiating independence."

The prospect of peaceful secession, however, is dim. Baghdad isn't the only opponent. Turkey and Iran both fear Kurdish separatism. Kurds are the largest ethnic group in southeastern Turkey. Since the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Turkey has said that it will never permit an independent Kurdish state. Turkey is already imposing economic sanctions on Iraqi Kurdistan and said it might invade if the KRG seeks independence.

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


On Point Archives:

On Point Archives: Current 2023  2022  2021  2020  2019  2018  2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002  2001



Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close