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Putin Announces His Support for a Unified Kurdish State

By DAVID ROMANO 20/3/2014

Now that I have readers’ attention, I have to admit that Vladimir Putin did not in fact announce his support for a unified Kurdish state. Our world remains too full of double standards for that. What Putin actually said was that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, “The Russian nation became one of the biggest, if not the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders.”

With some 27 million Russians living outside of Russia, which includes places as far away as the Americas and Western Europe, Putin is right that the Russian nation in 1991 became “one of the biggest to be divided by borders.” If we’re talking about the number of people cut off from a state of their own by the vicissitudes of borders, however, they’re not the biggest one. With some thirty to forty million people and no state of their own anywhere, the Kurds hold that dubious honor. After the Ukraine secured its independence in 1991, the Kurds became the world’s largest stateless nation.

Given the snap referendum in Crimea and this week’s even quicker annexation of Crimea by Russia, Mr. Putin appears to be a fervent believer in the right to national self-determination. The majority ethnic Russian population of Crimea yearned to become part of a Russian state, you see, and Mr. Putin felt obliged to fulfill the Crimeans’ wishes. Attaching Crimea to the Ukraine in 1954 was a historical mistake, according to the Russians, and it seems such mistakes should be rectified.

I know most Kurds like seeing this kind of thing play out internationally. They reason that the less sacred the world’s established borders become, the better. The more people talk about rights of national self-determination, the greater the chance that the international community will finally recognize as much for the Kurds, they believe. The injustice of the post-World War One drawing of political borders can also be rectified, they hope. Crimea, South Sudan, East Timor, Kosovo – it’s all music to Kurdish ears.

There’s a discordant note in the music, however: it’s the cacophony of double standards and hypocrisy the world over. When it comes to Syria, for instance, Mr. Putin holds state sovereignty and non-interference sacred. The Syrian Kurds can hold all the referendums and local elections they like, and not one of the world powers – including Russian lovers of self-determination – will so much as recognize their efforts. The United States and its Western European allies were all for Kosovars’ self-determination and the creation of the Republic of Kosovo, and it couldn’t have mattered less to them that the whole enterprise violated Serbian law. They even bombed Serbia while its main patron and ally – Russia – was still too weak to do much about it. Now that it’s one of their friends losing territory, however, suddenly arguments like “this is totally in violation of Ukrainian law!” are supposed to matter.

If any part of Kurdistan ever finds itself poised to declare its independence, therefore, they had best not rely too much on norms, principles or precedents. Only nations with powerful friends or enough power of their own benefit from these hypocrisies.

David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since August 2010. He is the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and author of The Kurdish Nationalist Movement (2006, Cambridge University Press). 


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furter | 20/3/2014
I have no beef with your larger point here, and there's no doubt that principles of national self-determination are not applied in a consistent way. However, there are serious distortions of fact in your column. When Putin said “The Russian nation became one of the biggest, if not the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders,” he was clearly *not* stating that more Russians live outside Russia's borders than is true for any other ethnic group. The "Russian nation" he is describing is the whole ethnic Russian population - somewhere around 150 million people - who, in his view, ought to be one sovereign state. That's three times bigger than even the most generous estimates of the population of Greater Kurdistan. Second, to compare Ukraine's stance in Crimea to Serbia's in Kosovo is laughable. Whatever one thinks of the justice of U.S./allied bombing of Serbia, it was clearly in response to active, often genocidal, military action by Serbian forces. I am as suspicious of "humanitarian" justifications for military intervention as anyone, but you're comparing apples and oranges here. The larger question here is the wisdom of ethnic nationalism as a justification for national boundaries. Obviously the situation is different for a stateless people than for a large and powerful nation like Russia (or even Serbia), but there is every reason to be cautious about equating territory with categories like race and ethnicity that are deeply rooted in mythology.
Ahmad Bajalan
Ahmad Bajalan | 20/3/2014
Indeed David, in international relationship there is no ethical or moral standards to measure level of hypocrisy; Power is the yard stick; Crimea is Russia's backyard and Russia has the power to take it and it shall take it and keep it; Turkey took Cyprus and created a state it is the only one recognising it. USA still has base in Cuba. You are right Kurds shall have their own state through their own will and power only at the opportune time when their is a good chance of beating their occupiers; For that south Kurdistan needs One president ( thanks our fortune it is now one) one army ( it is 2 now, still not united), one national security, (it is 2 now); The rest will follow .
Schkak | 20/3/2014
Some day will come and truth,arguments and decency will matter.Thank you David,Thank you Rudaw and HAPPY NEWROZ for all.
dinos | 20/3/2014
How about turkish worst hypocrisy? 20% turks took and occupied 40% of Cyprus! everyone know it is illegal but the EU or US don't even bother do something about it for 40 years! they just talk, now they give advise to Russia to not respect a referendum?. USA please do something first about the separatist turks who steal 40% of the Cyprus! the hypocrite turks call kurds separatists every day and want international community to help them and even put PKK on terror list! kurds lived in Kurdistan before turks!!! who is separatists? international law? what international law? if you have many weapons you do what you like!
Qaraman | 20/3/2014
Hitting the nail on the head as always dr. Romano, international hypocrisy just doesn't have limits, the US or EU condemning Russia on Crimea when they did the exact same thing with Kosovo. Iran complaining of other countries "meddling" in their affairs, or pushing for "Shia rights" in the Arab Gulf states while they oppress their own Sunni minorities and meddle in all their neighbor's affairs. Turkey calling Kurds separatists while occupying almost half of Cyprus for separatist turks, or arguing for turkish schools for turkish immigrants in Germany while denying that to 20 million Kurds in Turkey for 90 years. The list is just ridiculously long, so called international law and rules are merely fancy toilet paper used creatively for legitimizing national interest by everyone, no law or rules by it's definition can be that ambiguous.
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