Today the Levant is a place where not only the future of Iraq and Syria is being moulded, but that of the world as a whole. Three historically leading forces in the region, the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, are ready to decide on their political preferences. It was the opening of a representative office of Western Kurdistan in Moscow on February 10 that triggered such a motion.
Throughout the twentieth century the West has used the traditional regional ethnic and religious differences for political destabilization of the Middle East countries with a view to economic expansion. The formation of modern states of Syria, Turkey, and Iraq was a result of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the activities of the League of Nations “to achieve international peace and security.” In the summer of 1920, the League of Nations authorised the occupation of Mesopotamia by Britain; France received its mandate on Syria in 1922, after which the mandate-holders began external management of their new territories and the formation of states. Special attention was paid to the development of the economies of these countries, more precisely, the economies of the mandate-holders.
Businesses that were set up in the Middle East were under complete control of the Europeans. The presence of religious and inter-ethnic conflicts in the mandated territories allowed Britain and France for a long time to deny the new member states their independence. For instance, in 1936, France refused to ratify the treaty that foresaw independence of Syria. UK, nonetheless, granted Iraq its independence in 1932, while retaining the real power. And, if the policy of Charles de Gaulle led to the actual independence of Syria and Lebanon (the former remained a part of Syria until 1926) in 1941 and 1943 respectively, the United Kingdom in its policies began to actively use national and religious differences between the peoples in the region: Iraq oil fields belonged to the concession of a Turkish consortium Turkish petroleum; and one of the aims of the Saadabad Pact signed by Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq in 1937 was to fight against Kurdish separatists in Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Britain increased its military presence in the region following the conclusion of the Baghdad Pact in 1955.
It should be noted that the creation of an independent Kurdistan was foreseen even by the Treaty of Sevres of 1920; according to it, the United Kingdom, France and Turkey had to jointly define the boundaries of the state. However, the Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923 ignored the right of this ancient people, who lived in the oil-rich and fresh water areas, to form a state of their own. These riches were divided between Turkey and France (in the face of Syria) while the United Kingdom received a mandate over Iraq. Since then, the Kurds have been struggling for their independence.
At the beginning of the new millennium, Iraq and Syria saw a rise of the IS terrorist group on their territories that sought to create its own state in the Levant and in 2014 proclaimed itself a Sunni “Islamic caliphate”. The impetus that brought ISIS to life was the dismantling of the Iraqi state, where the parliament does not assemble; the laws are not being passed or executed. And only in the Kurdistan areas, whose autonomy was recognized by the 2005 Constitution of Iraq, the authorities still perform their functions.
In 2012, the Syrian West Kurdistan de facto became autonomous. However, Kurdistan cannot stand alone against the terrorist threat. It should not be forgotten, that the global community has hardly changed their attitude towards the Kurds since the time of the Lausanne Peace Treaty. What makes the Kurdish people so special is their unity; despite the fact that the Kurds now live in different countries, practice different religions (60% Sunni are Muslim), they are united by a common idea of statehood, which has been denied them by the West for over 100 years.
And today Kurdistan, the steadfast tin soldier of the Middle East, was finally recognized and supported by Russia. This event did not go unnoticed, not only in the West but also in the Muslim world. Kurdish forces have long been providing support to the Syrian authorities in the fight against ISIS, and on February 14 several Iraqi Shiite divisions, formerly supported by the US, joined forces with the Syrian government troops. This is not the first time that Shiites demonstrate support of Bashar al Assad: Iran firmly stands the ground with regard to supporting the legitimate regime in Syria.
Maybe we will soon hear about an idea of revival of Mesopotamia, a land of peace and tranquility for the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, who would jointly defeat the terror threat in the region.
As for Turkey, with nearly a quarter of the Kurdish population, it is high time it reconsidered its policy in relation to the war in Syria and support of ISIS, otherwise Turkish Kurdistan will decide its future independently.
Ekaterina Ryzhkova, PhD, associate professor of MGIMO, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.“