Ofra Bengio: Will the Kurds Get Their Way?

Ofra Bengio is senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies and professor of history at Tel Aviv University.

The turn of the 21st century marks a definite period of Kurdish awakening. This social revolution is occurring separately within each of the four communities, but also through trans-border activities that are increasingly bringing the groups’ political consciousness together. It is a revolution that is very likely to shake the geostrategic pillars of the Middle East to their foundations.

In some ways, the rising Kurdish wave resembles the somewhat more advanced Tuareg wave in North Africa and the western Sahel. The Tuareg rising has already destroyed the territorial integrity and political order of one state, Mali, and threatens others. The Kurdish rising may very well do the same.

The signs are not hard to read. Most dramatically, the traditionally marginalized Kurds of Syria have found new energy in the cauldron of the Syrian uprising and are now demanding a federal system in which they would gain significant autonomy in a post-Assad Syria. The extremely restive Kurds of Turkey are pressing for what they call democratic autonomy. The Kurds of Iran, typically unremarked upon in the media, are stirring beneath their blanket of obscurity. But most important of all these are the Kurds of Iraq. Iraq was the epicenter of the Kurds’ great leap forward in the early 1990s: the establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which is a euphemism for a de facto Kurdish state. It is to the KRG experience that Iranian, Syrian and Turkish Kurds increasingly look for lessons and guidance, and rightly so...

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