Kurdish Peshmerha south of Kirkuk.Photo: Rudaw
The Kurds of Iraq have from time to time being accused of demarcating de-facto borders for a future independent state by digging trenches on their front-lines against Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists. Some of these trenches extend over territories that were once considered disputed between the Kurdistan Region and Iraq. However they are a sure and practical way of preventing those same territories from falling into the hands of ISIS which would be bad for both Baghdad and Erbil for obvious reasons.
Ethno-sectarian fissures are ripping both Iraq and Syria to shreds and clearly the current configurations are no longer practical. Even if the Kurdistan Region remains part of a federal Iraq it must be recognized, and appreciated, that its population has increased massively as a result of the war against ISIS. Since June 2014 it has taken in nearly two million outsiders and has become what will likely amount to the permanent home for Kurds who previously lived outside of the autonomous region as well as Iraq’s remaining Christians, especially those who fled Nineveh. Remember ISIS has essentially cleansed Mosul of its non-Sunni Arab minorities, including Kurds.
Over half-a-million of that cities minorities have fled, many seeking sanctuary in the Kurdistan Region. In recognition of this reality the Kurdistan Region should therefore be given sovereignty over swaths of the Nineveh plains, Kirkuk province and other areas that are disputed as part of a land swap undertaken in recognition of these new realities and the extremely low possibility that Mosul’s minorities will ever return to their former homes.
In neighbouring Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) the necessity of land swaps is even greater. Until June 2015 Rojava was divided into three cantons until the two major ones, Kobani and Jazira, were connected through the border city of Gire Spi (Tal Abyad). The westernmost canton of Afrin is completely cut off from Kobani-Jazira by the 68-mile stretch of territory that is the Jarablus-Azaz line, swaths of which are occupied by dangerous Islamists like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. Turkey objects to Kobani linking-up with Afrin along its border since it doesn’t believe that the Kurds can administrate a territory consisting of up to half-a-million non-Kurds. Which is a fair point.
Nevertheless Syria’s Kurds should be permitted some kind of land corridor that would make their territories loosely contiguous and enable them to travel freely from Afrin to Kobani-Jazira. Have no doubt: Kurds in Aleppo’s Sheikh Maqsood neighbourhood may well have to relocate, abandon their homes, like the Kurds of Mosul and Gire Spi, and what little is left of their lives there and go to either Afrin or Kobani.
Afrin’s villages are currently being bombarded by Nusra terrorists and Kurdish fighters from elsewhere in Syrian Kurdistan are unable to go there to reinforce them and protect their civilians. Such a situation is untenable and urgently needs to be rectified.
A land corridor stretching from the south of the Jarablus-Azaz line in mostly unpopulated areas would not see the Syrian-Turkish border dominated by the Syrian Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) group. On the contrary. Even in Gire Spi the Syrian Kurds have delegated authority to an autonomous administration in recognition of the areas multi-ethnic composition.
All they need is to travel freely and safely between their communities. And since the disintegration of the Syrian state makes that scenario currently impossible they should be permitted to broker deals with those who reside in the territories which divide their territories. These divisions were a result of ethnic cleansing and brutal Arabization programs carried out by the Syrian Baath Party since the 1960’s in ways reminiscent to how the Iraqi Baath sought to Arabize Kirkuk.
Kurds should be permitted to at least partially rectify these grave historic injustices and be allowed the freedom of movement on their own homeland. Given that is no longer safe nor possible in the current conditions new conditions urgently need to be created. The United Nations and the world community should therefore, as part of their broader efforts to end the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, dedicate resources towards solving these unjust and untenable status quos before they lead to yet more inevitable strife and bloodshed.
Paul Iddon is a Rudaw reporter based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.