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The Anti-Kurdish Paradigm: From Sykes-Picot to the September 2017 Referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan

On November 26, the Kurdish Policy Research Center hosted a conversation at the National Press Club with Ismail Beşikçi on the history of the Kurdish Question, from Sykes-Picot to last year’s referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. Beşikçi has been studying and writing about Kurdish politics since the 1960s. His work has been very controversial in his native Turkey, where 30 of his 36 books are currently banned and where, in the previous century, he served 17 years in prison.

Beşikçi made two central arguments: 1) the Kurdish people deserve to have a nation based on objective standards and 2) that can never happen without achieving internal unity. Beşikçi highlighted the fact that there are a number of countries, such as Qatar and Malta, that have populations of under one million. The Kurdish people, on the other hand, are over 50 million. Similarly, the geographic territories of these tiny countries are generally much smaller than that of the Kurds. Therefore, Beşikçi argued, the Kurdish people have at least as much right to govern themselves as the people of Qatar, Malta, and other nations of similar sizes. Beşikçi also emphasized the importance of the principle of self-determination as providing a legal basis for the Kurdish claim.

Though Beşikçi was critical of international organizations, he was clear that the resolution to the Kurdish question can come only from the Kurds themselves. Beşikçi explained that nothing could occur without unity and unification could not be imposed from the outside. 

At the same time, he argued passionately for the support of regional and international powers. In Beşikçi’s opinion, the world should care about the Kurdish cause because peace in the Middle East would be impossible to achieve without Kurdish buy-in. Countries like Turkey and Iran, who have not traditionally supported a Kurdish nation, did not have anything to fear, according to Beşikçi, because a unified Kurdish nation would not oppose them. 

Beşikçi’s discussion of both interior and exterior considerations demonstrates how many complex factors must align in order to make change, an important challenge to keep in mind as we think about what kind of changes we want to make in the world. What do you think? Comment below, write to us on our Facebook page, or send us an email at admin@hasna.org with your thoughts

This blog post is written by Zeena Mubarak, Fall 2018 Intern at HasNa, Inc.

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