Monday, January 25, 2010

35 Million Kurds Still Without A State.

Stateless nationalism and international politics

"The Kurds have long challenged the status quo of national frontiers in this volatile region, and Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria have a common interest in suppressing Kurdish national movements".

Salah BayaziddiThe Kurdish Globe
23 January 2010

Today, throughout the world, the spread of nationalism appears to be the major source of manifest and direct violence in a so-called post-Cold War period. There is also cause for concern if, as has been calculated, most countries in the world are multi-ethnic societies.

Given the persisting economic crisis and uneven economic development and acute difficulties faced by many Third World countries, a further intensification of ethnic conflicts seems likely in the future. It is also important to suggest that the effects of nationalism are highly varied and should make distinctions among different types of ethnic nationalism. Specifically, the most important part of the work of academic researchers who study the rise of nationalism and its importance to global conflicts can be found in identifying varieties of nationalism that are most likely to cause the greater risk of conflict and instability in the world. It seems that the most possible scenario for ethnic conflict lies in dissatisfaction of stateless nations from the present international order. Indeed, factors that govern the size of the dangers posed by the ethnic revival indicate that nationalist movements without states raise greater risks of war because their accommodation requires greater and more disruptive change.

While the international system tolerates change poorly, stateless nations can produce war of succession, which in turn can widen to international war. Nevertheless, it is crucial to provide a better understanding of national struggle and also the importance of a just cause, which pushes those nations that are under occupation to fight for their dreams of freedom and self-determination.

As a first part of this argument, it is important to understand that national liberation movements are not the activities of small groups of isolated individuals, though state authorities opposed to them frequently describe them as such for propaganda purposes. They are the struggle of rebellious nations against foreign invaders. To defend their nations from being annihilated, many peoples have taken up arms and engaged in wars of national liberation. To understand armed national liberation movements, it is necessary to strip away the camouflage terms and explanations that states use to hide their true nature.

Today, most books about global conflicts and the media in general use the terms state, nation, and nation-state interchangeably, and this has confused the issue greatly. Nations are geographically bounded territories of a common people. A nation is a self-defined group that sees itself as "one people" on the basis of common ancestry, history, society, institutions, ideology, language, territory, and (often) religion.

The existence of nations is ancient; that is, there have always been "nations" for as long as there have been human beings. And today there are somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 nations or distinct peoples or cultures in the world (Nietschmann 1987:1). As opposed to nations, states are relatively known in human history. They are centralized political systems recognized by other states-they use a civilian and military bureaucracy to enforce one set of institutions, laws, and sometimes culture (e.g., language and religion) within their claimed boundaries.

The thousands of nation peoples of the world are organized into the fewer than 180 states or countries represented in the United Nations. More than 95% of these states are multinational; that is, composed of many nations or distinct peoples, many of who do not consent to being absorbed and governed by an imposed central government in the hands of a different people. That this is so--and how it came about historically--goes a long way in explaining the phenomenon of national liberation movements.

No nation people has ever voluntarily given up their national identity and national territory, and both the states we know today and those that preceded them are and were all created by war and conquest in the history of empires. One of the most important geopolitical facts of our times is that many hundreds of distinct peoples or nations in the world today live in states they do not consent to be a part of because they are oppressed, exploited, and treated unjustly in these states. Nonetheless, governments invariably assert that their state is made up of one common people. This is frequently a political myth. As Benedict Anderson (1991) has shown, multi-national states are in fact "imagined communities." The true "nation-state"--that is, a state that represents one single nation or people--is, in fact, a distinct rarity.

No directory, atlas, or encyclopedia lists or describes all or even most of the peoples of the world, and almost no state refers to them as nations; they prefer to call them "ethnic groups," "minorities," or "tribes." These terms substitute state-related, non-people identification for the actual names that nation peoples call themselves and their territories (Nietschmann 1987). This is because nations are "candidates for statehood"--that is, each of them could--theoretically and by right--seek independence and become their own independent state.

"A people" has internationally recognized rights to self-determination and self-defense against invasion and external aggression; "ethnic groups" and "minorities" do not. For example, the UN Charter (1945) states that "All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development." (Cited in Nietschmann 1987:6)

Finally, it is important to mention that while at the beginning of this article we talked about international politics and its complexity, especially since the end of the Cold War, the international community should come to its senses and resolve once and for all the issue of stateless nationalism and of all those people who believe they are a distinct people and therefore need to have their own homelands. Therefore, if the people belonging to a community understand and believe it to be a nation, and act within it as a fitting social and cultural structure for their lives, then these individuals obviously deem that sufficient homogeneity and shared identity exists, in whatever form or proportion, to satisfy their consciousness of unity and kinship. Such an idea of community assuredly qualifies as a nation. And if that nation is not constitutionally autonomous, but is situated within the territory and/or autonomy of an existing State, then undoubtedly it continues to qualify as a nation without a State.

As a final thought, I believe that one of the most unique case studies of the non-state nations is the Kurdish question in the Middle East.

The Kurds are one of the largest nations in the contemporary world still denied an independence state. Numbering over 35 million, they form the fourth-largest people in the Middle East, after the Arabs,Persians, and Turks. The Kurds have long challenged the status quo of national frontiers in this volatile region, and Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria have a common interest in suppressing Kurdish national movements, whether they are demanding full independence or a more limited autonomy. Although today the Kurdish question has moved to the center of the stage in a troubled area of global significance, the great powers see Kurdish nationalism as another destabilizing feature of the most strategic and oil-rich region of the world.