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The uses of sacred space: a DoubleQuote

Friday, December 5th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — these two tweets hopefully speak for themselves ]
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Merciless:

and Merciful:

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The world seems filled with these simultaneities of the gruesome and the glorious.

And what of man?

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no..

An interesting peek into the PKK

Monday, November 12th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — the PKK and religion, my own ignorance and curiosity ]
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Flag of the Iraqi Kurds, not a PKK flag -- but see below...

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The PKK is important in a “first cousin once removed” kind of way, if I’m understanding Karen Kaya‘s piece in SWJ this past May correctly:

As Turkish military and government officials often say, the PKK is to Turkey what Al-Qaida is to the U.S., or that “the PKK is Turkey’s Al-Qaida.”

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So I was trawling the web today, and the mention of religion in this paragraph from McClatchy caught my eye:

Volunteers who join the Kurdish insurgency against Turkey must abandon Islamic religious practice and must forego “emotional ties” to anyone outside the group, as well as swear words and sex, or face trial and prison, according to a Syrian-born Kurd who defected from the group to Turkey over the summer.

People who “defect” not uncommonly offer prejudiced accounts of the organizations they’ve left, so I read on to see how trustworthy this source might be:

The 21-year-old defector, who surrendered in June, brought with him not only a tale of life inside the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known by its Kurdish initials as the PKK, but also detailed information about a planned attack inside Turkey that helped Turkish authorities beat back the PKK offensive.

McClatchy obtained a copy of a 19-page Turkish-language account of his debriefing, which was dated July 4 and was not marked classified. The debriefing contained his name, but McClatchy is identifying him only by his initials, R.S., to protect family members who might still be in territory held by the PKK’s Syrian affiliate.

It seems his military intelligence was quite accurate — so far so good. Next, my own curiosity naturally led me to wonder what the PKK’s religious stance, apart from being opposed to Islam, might be. After all, it’s called the the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and was founded on Marxist principles…

Okay, I skipped a few paragraphs, and found this:

R.S. portrayed the PKK as anti-Islamic. Performing daily prayers, fasting and reading the Quran are among the offenses that could land a recruit in prison, he told Turkish authorities. Instead, fighters were told that the religion of Kurds is Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s most ancient religions, and they should worship fire. There are said to be fewer than 200,000 Zoroastrians today, mostly in Iran and India.

Now that’s a fascinating glimpse behind the curtain.

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For an alternate viewpoint, here’s the University of Utrecht grad student in Conflict Studies and Human Rights, Wladimir van Wilgenburg, writing for Rudaw in English and sounding knowledgeable, though his own or Rudaw’s potential biases are unknown to me:

The idea that Kurds are actually Zoroastrians is not something new. Kurdish nationalists such as the Bedirkhan brothers tried to revive Zoroastrianism and Yezidism as the original religion of the Kurds in the 1920s and 1930s. By this the Bedirkhans aimed to separate the Kurds from their Muslim neighbors and give them a glorious pre-Islamic history that had once boasted many empires.

They did not emphasize much on the Kurdish Islamic warrior Salahadin al-Ayyubi that rallied the Muslims against the crusaders in the twelfth century. Similarly, Turkish nationalists tried to promote Shamanism as the original religion of the Turks. But despite these efforts, Islam remained an important element among Kurdish nationalist movements.

It is unlikely that Yezidis are originally Zoroastrians. The Zoroastrian religion is a dualist religion (with good and evil constantly fighting each other), while the Yezidi faith revolves more around a single deity as the Satan.

Therefore it is possible that the Zoroastrians would regard the Yezidis as devil-worshippers, just as some Muslims do.

There are still many Kurds (especially in Europe) who think Kurds are originally Zoroastrians and wear Zoroastrian symbols, even though they are non-religious and do not have much knowledge about Zoroastrianism and its rituals.

The PKK was particularly influenced by the ideas of early Kurdish nationalists. Its media promoted the idea that Kurds are originally Zoroastrians. Other Kurdish political groups also came under the same influence.

But in 1991 the PKK took a positive approach about Islam and thus managed to win some sympathy. Some say the PKK tried to merge Kurdish nationalism and Islam for its own cause.

In recent years the PKK has also used Imams, Friday prayers and Islamic language as a means to compete with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). In return, the Turkish government is said to have plans to recruit 1000 Kurdish Imams in its battle to win the hearts and minds of the Kurdish people.

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That (Iraqi) Kurdistan National Flag at the top of this post has a golden sun with 21 rays as it’s central feature — but it’s from Iraq. The PKK has used a variety of flags, some of them reflecting the group’s Marxist origins, but one in particular appears to borrow from the Iraqi flag:

As noted on this Flags of the World page:

This seems to be a variant of the original PKK flag, since it has the star and the red background of the PKK original flag but also the sun disc of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq.

That, in brief, is why the symbolism of the Iraqi Kurdish flag may be significant in understanding symbolism associated with the PKK.

The Kurdistanica page on the Iraqi Kurdish flag is a little coy on the topic of the sun, noting:

The primary Kurdish characteristic of the flag is the golden sun emblem at the center. The sun emblem has a religious and cultural history among the Kurds, stretching into antiquity. The sun disk of the emblem has 21 rays, equal in size and shape. The number 21 holds a primary importance in the native Yazdani religious tradition of the Kurds.

The sun might also be associated with Zoroastrianism, and the number 21 with the 21 nasks of the original Zoroastrian scriptures — but the issue of Kurdish religious nationalism is another area I’m unfamiliar with…

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The nice thing about knowing that one doesn’t know is that it makes leaping to conclusions so much more difficult.

Honor killings

Monday, March 7th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted from ChicagoBoyz ]

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I had occasion today to give myself a quick refresher course on honor killings, one form of which is already present in the Torah as of Leviticus 21.9:

And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.

and found myself once again noting that there is a substantial swathe of regions of the world where honor killings are found, and that where it is found (including in immigrant communities from those parts of the world) the practice is not confined to any one religious group.

Hence this DoubleQuote:

I think it is appropriate to consider honor killing a form of religious violence when the claim is made by those who do the killing that they are acting in the name of their religion — but that it is also important to distinguish such acts committed in a cultural context in which they are practiced across religions from acts that are the exclusive province of one religious tradition.

There are examples of honor killings which are performed in the name of Islam, and/or advocated by Islamic scholars — and the same could no doubt be said of other religious traditions — but honor killing as a genre is fundamentally more cultural than religious.

Sources: Brandeis studyBBCSydney Morning Herald

The analytic point:

From my point of view as an analyst, it is important to note and compare both religious and cultural drivers — neither avoiding mention of the one out of “correctness” — nor overlooking the other for lack of comparative data.

Friday, August 10th, 2007

ENTERRANS AMONG THE KURDS

Steve DeAngelis of ERMB has journeyed to the autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq a second time on Enterra business. He’s had several posts reflecting on his experiences working in ” the other Iraq” or about the Mideast in general.

Probing the Edges of Globalization

Lessons from the Edge of Globalization: Part 2, Day 1

Labor Reform in the Middle East ( Dubai focus)

Islamic Finance

Kurdistan’s clan-based rulers and Peshmerga leaders have been exceptionally deft players in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, managing to have excellent relations with the United States, Iran and ( allegedly on the quiet) Israel. Quite a neat trifecta. Only Turkey remains a serious problem, deeply fearful of Kurdish revanchism, PKK terrorism and having assumed the role of protector of the Turcoman minority in Iraq ( ironically, reprising the posture that imperial Russia once assumed toward Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire that the Sublime Porte found so offensive).

To be a state or not to be a state, a choice the Kurds must make. One of the few things most countries can agree on is that international borders are no longer up for grabs via the use of force – Europe’s peace was built on the permanence of German borders and the Europeans are not going to reopen that topic, even in principle. The road to sovereignty, independence and NATO membership for Kurdistan runs only through Ankara but it requires strategic choices not seen in Mesopotamia since 1919.

Monday, May 21st, 2007

THE VIRTUAL STATE OF KURDISTAN

Steve DeAngelis of ERMB has been posting from (and about) Kurdistan in Iraq the past week while on a visit for Enterra Solutions. Collectively, Steve’s posts provide in- depth, on-site, analysis of Kurdistan’s present and future prospects with an emphasis on regional and global economic integration, security and systemic resilience; here they are in chronological order:

1. An Overview of Kurdistan

2. Resilience in Kurdistan

3. 3 days in Iraq from the Syrian/Turkish border to the Iranian border

4. Lessons from the Edge of Globalization: 3 days in Iraq from the Syrian/Turkish Border to the Iranian Border

5. Security in Kurdistan

(There were also several other Iraq-related posts “Interagency Feuding Over Iraq Reconstruction” and ” Coffee for the Troops“)

It would be difficult for me to briefly summarize in a mere paragraph what DeAngelis has impressively written about Kurdistan being on the ” Edge of Globalization” in roughly 6000 words. Therefore, I’m going to pick out a number of select excerpts that give the feel of the sum of Steve’s observations, followed by my commentary:

“We then headed further west to the border crossing checkpoint with Turkey. We entered a small U.S. military post on the border and saw how this border is managed. Completely full trucks, stretching for miles into Turkey loaded with any product you can imagine are seeking to deliver their products to buyers in Iraq. However, on the opposite side of the border another story unfolds. There is a two week wait (yes, I said two weeks!) for trucks coming from Iraq to cross into Turkey. Along the road are makeshift housing facilities equipped with satellite dishes that drivers can use during their two-week wait along a dusty and dirty road that moves trucks from one holding pen to another as they creep up to the border inspection stations in Iraq and then to their equivalent inspection stations in Turkey….

I’d be curious to know how much of this Turkish inefficiency is explicable due to legitimate security issues with the PKK, how much is due to local corruption, understaffing and incompetence and how much is calculated policy on the part of Ankara to choke Kurdish economic growth.

….Virtually all of the trucks crossing back into Turkey from Iraq are completely empty. If there were robust manufacturing and other commercial business operations in Iraq, these trucks would be full of products to be sold in Turkey and to the rest of the world as they transit through Turkey’s ports. The only kind of trucks that do cross fully loaded are 3,000 gallon tankers filled with Iraqi oil destined for a Turkish power generation facility just over the border. The electricity produced by the plant is sold back to the Iraqi’s at western market rates. What this obviously says is that Iraq has the raw materials but does not possess the production capability to turn oil into electricity and as such pays a tremendous financial and strategic price for this lack of capacity. The net result of this border crossing reality is a Current Account trade imbalance of almost 100% between Turkey and Iraq”

Steve is correct that this ad hoc mercantilist trade scenario is problematic for Kurdistan. Historically, nations that are raw commodity exporters, regardless whether it was cotton, rubber, oil, strategic minerals or foodstuffs end up in a unfavorable position vis-a-vis value-added production trading partners or merchant capital states. This applies whether we are discussing Ptolemaic Egypt and ancient Rome or the Gulf states today and the Core.

One caveat on the negative trade balance issue for Kurdistan would be the financial flows of Black Globalization. Lacking orderly markets and effective governance, ordinary Iraqis rely upon the black market for access to desired luxuries as well as necessities such as medicines or spare parts for machinery. Controlling a long border with Turkey, Iran ans Syria gives Kurdish actors the ability to become middlemen in the flow of goods and money which does not show up on the legal balance sheet. Ultimately, Barzani and Talabani’s regional Kurdish government must bring this trade above ground and normalize the economic relationships ( include taxes and customs duties).

“The Peshmerga welcomed U.S. forces and fought side-by-side with them in the effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein. It is estimated that there are between 80,000 and 100,000 active Peshmerga in Kurdistan. As the attached picture of a Peshmerga soldier taken near Dohuk shows (click to enlarge), the Peshmerga are a modern and well-equipped fighting force. The Peshmerga also allow women to serve. This tradition began when the Peshmerga were a guerilla force fighting to make the Kurdish area of Iraq a safe haven. Women also fought alongside coalition forces at the beginning of the current conflict. The attached picture shows female Peshmerga celebrating the fall of Kirkuk. “

The Peshmerga have been a coherent military force(s) far longer than I have been alive. Or Steve Deangelis for that matter. Or probably any of my readers. (The ferocious and mercurial Mustafa Barzani, sire of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish president and KPD chieftain, was once the darling of American conservatives who hated Henry Kissinger. And long before that, tribal lord Barzani was the protege of… Joseph Stalin ! History has made the Kurds the ultimate realists). Former CIA field operative in Kurdistan Robert Baer put the Peshmerga fighting credibly toe to toe with Saddam Hussein’s best Republican Guard divisions during the 1990’s. That ain’t hay folks. Even in the 1990’s decline the Republican Guard was heavily armed and well-trained, despite being hamstrung by Saddam’s increasing paranoia.

The Peshmerga are perfectly suited for 4GW warfare as they combine tight military discipline, clan networks and strong primary loyalties with concurrent conventional and guerilla warfare skills. They also benefit from American patronage and a leadership that has proven unusually adept at presenting an image and engaging in politics in the international arena.

“Another new friend, Subbas Sircar, who is the regional vice president of AIG for the Middle east, Mediterranean and South Asia, had an interesting morning meeting with local bankers. They are seeking to expand and strengthen local banks as I discussed earlier. This group craved exposure to current international banking best practices, core banking information technology and know-how that would allow them to connect to the global banking industry as well as the training and education that would allow staff members to raise themselves up to a minimal level of maturity so they can foster commerce in their region. This experience with bankers in Sulaimaniyah and in Erbil, along with the telecommunications companies seeking the same capability in their industry, are proof positive of the need for Development-in-a-Box™.”

I think Steve is identifying a critical tipping point for Kurdistan. Leapfrogging the bazaari mentality to create a financial structure that inspires enough confidence to attract and sustain legitimate foreign investment and diversify Kurdish reliance on Turkish capital and American aid would be a milestone. This probably would not mean ” best practices” in the sense of Chase Manhattan so much as ” best enough practices” relative to the region. ” Good enough” is what gets a healthy level of local economic growth going. ” Best” can wait for the day the Republic of Kurdistan applies for admission to the WTO and the EU.

Today, Kurdistan is a nation with a virtual state shepherding its interests. More than Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, the regional government in Kurdistan is less than Taiwan. But like Taipei, the Barzani-Talabani regional government seeks to negotiate or leverage de jure status and the full sovereignty of statehood over the virulent objections of a powerful neighbor and a nervous American patron. Economic development and integration with other global power centers ( EU, China, India, Japan, Russia) will be the key for the Kurds to create a scenario where Ankara can swallow – however bitterly, even with with ironclad security guarantees – Kurdish independence, because it will be in Turkey’s economic best interests to do so.

LINKS:

Kurdistan Rebalancing the Middle-East” and “Iraq Travel Guide” by Chirol

The Kurdistan Problem: Part I “, “The Kurdistan Problem: Part II“, “The Kurdistan Problem: Part III by midtowing at ProgressiveHistorians

Response to Virtual Nations Will Shape World Order or Disorder by Adrienne Redd

The Rise of the Virtual StateWealth and Power in the Coming Century” by Richard Rosecrance

Market-state vs. Virtual State” by John Robb


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