The recent Kurdish struggle

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This article is featured in the ORIENT II 2019

The Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the two Gulf wars against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and 2003, and the Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011, are the main reasons the long-lasting Kurdish struggle recently has come to play such an increasingly important role in Middle Eastern and even international affairs. In addition, the resulting rise of both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq and also another, albeit less established Kurdish government in northeastern Syria, called Rojava (now broadened into the Federation of Northern Syria to include the many other ethnic and sectarian groups that live there), has given the Kurds additional de facto institutional existence and even recognition.

Furthermore, the continuing insurgency of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, its spillover into neighbouring Iraq and Syria, its peace talks with Ankara from 2009 to 2015 and its de facto alliance with the United States to defeat the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria have given the PKK an importance inconceivable a mere decade ago. For example, the PKK played an important role on the ground in Sinjar, Iraq to help rescue the embattled Yezidis from the genocidal IS Jihadis in 2014. Even more, the PKK, through its Syrian affiliate, the Syrian Democratic Forces/Democratic Union Party/Peoples Defense Units (SDF/PYD/YPG), proved the indispensable boots on the ground that defeated IS in such dramatic battles as Kobane (2014-2015) and Raqqa (2017), among others. US air and advisory support, of course, were existential in these battles, which also brought Turkey, Iran, Russia, Iraq and Syria, among others, into the equation. The purpose of this article is to analyse the recent Kurdish struggle regarding the failed independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, the US-Turkish confrontation in Syria, and their continuing profound effects upon Middle Eastern and international politics.

Michael M. Gunter is a Professor of Political Science at Tennessee Technological University. He has published 15 books and over 100 articles on the Kurdish problem. Currently, he is the Secretary-General of the EU Turkey Civic Commission in Brussels and a member of the advisory board of the Turkish Heritage Organization in Washington, DC.

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