Loqman Radpey

A Statehood-Centric Approach to Conflicts in the Middle East

Kurdistani people demonstrate in Berlin for Western Kurdistan (aka Rojava) - Photo by Thorsten Strasas (Flikr)

Nations and peoples (in its legal sense) have a fundamental right to self-determination. This principle, however, often encounters a complex web of politics that can overshadow the legal justifications, leaving unresolved cases around the world. Two notable examples of this struggle are Kurdistan and Palestine.

Palestine is often perceived as falling into a unique category of self-determination. Regardless of the terminology employed, a separate classification consistently emerges for Palestine. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that this categorization is not exclusive to Palestine; rather, it is a reflection of both being Middle East cases, with Kurdistan being another example in the region that contributes to the perception of these issues.

For decades, the two-state solution has been the proposed remedy for the Israel-Palestine conflict. The United States, the United Kingdom, the European Council, Russia, Japan, and China have recently endorsed and reignited discussions on this solution. The rationale behind this approach is to invest more deeply in “regional stability” and “lasting and sustainable peace”, however, a pressing question arises: If regional stability and conflict resolution are the goals, why limit the application of the statehood solution to Israel-Palestine conflict alone? The Middle East is home to several significant conflicts, so why not extend support for self-determination to other cases, such as the long-standing aspiration for an independent Kurdistan? Recognizing the right to self-determination for the Kurds could have a positive ripple effect on peace and security throughout the region, just as it is envisioned for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

From any perspective of political theory and legal right of self-determination, it is evident that the Kurds are entitled to and deserve a sovereign state of their own. Since the partition of Kurdistan in the 1920s, Kurds have long been denied the meaningful exercise of self-determination within the states of Iran, Turkey and Syria and Iraq prior to 2003, with these host states exerting control over security, governance, and resources. This has sparked resistance and led to a situation reminiscent of colonial rule, where the international community often treats the issue as an internal matter for the states in question. However, the question arises: Can the status quo, which threatens international peace and security, be tolerated any longer?

Human rights violations against Kurds living in Kurdistani territories have escalated into large-scale atrocities and humanitarian catastrophes on several occasions, with the ever-present possibility of recurrence. The costs of maintaining this status quo are immense for the Kurdish people, even if their plight is not always prominently featured in global media. The question is, should the international community consider the Kurdish situation a pressing matter that requires its attention and intervention?

A full-fledged sovereign Greater Kurdistan, encompassing all four Kurdish segments, faces practical obstacles at this time. The East and North of Kurdistan, within Iran and Turkey, have yet to obtain a form of control, rendering them effectively non-self-governing. However, the prospects for the Southern and Western segments of Kurdistan, respectively situated in Iraq and Syria, have set the stage for achieving an independent sovereign state of Kurdistan. These autonomous regions — known as the Kurdistan Regional Government and Rojava — have established conditions conducive to the Kurdish nation’s effective self-determination, as either of these political entities has the potential to attain statehood, with the prospect of later establishing a union. In the aspect of governance, the Kurdistani segments are demonstrating superior functionality compared to their neighbors. This accomplishment has come at a significant cost, reflecting the substantial sacrifices made by the Kurds in securing their rightful entitlements. After achieving autonomy for the Kurds, the Kurdistan Regional Government of Southern Kurdistan held an independence referendum on 25 September 2017 within its governed region. The results showed an overwhelming 92.73% support, representing 72.2% of the electorate, in favor of independence, ultimately led to jointly imposed punitive economic and military measures, along with embargoes by Iran, Turkey, and Iraq.

The denial of the Kurdish people’s right to self-determination has not only been a grave injustice but has also had a profound impact on international peace and security in the Middle East marred by strife. The partitioning of Kurdistan and the resulting century of human rights violations are interconnected issues that need to be addressed for the sake of peace and stability in the region. The time is long overdue for the international community to acknowledge the plight of the Kurds and consider statehood solution as a viable path toward a just and lasting resolution. The statehood approach advocated by the international community for the post-Hamas-Israel conflict period should also be reinforced and endorsed in support of the enduring Kurdish aspiration for self-determination. Implementing a statehood solution for Kurdistan necessitates diplomatic efforts and collaboration from influential global powers, along with the active involvement of international organizations like the United Nations and the European Union. Middle Eastern countries, especially those with a vested interest in regional stability, should also play a pivotal role in this process. Considering a phased approach through a concrete roadmap, allowing for the gradual implementation of the statehood solution, is crucial for addressing concerns and building trust among all stakeholders.

A statehood solution for Kurdistan would not only address the historical injustices faced by the Kurds from their host states but also contribute to regional stability and security. It is essential to recognize that the Kurdistan issue is not merely an internal matter for the states involved; it is a matter of international concern. The international community, guided by the principles of self-determination and human rights, should play a more active role in facilitating an equitable resolution for the Kurds, ultimately paving the way for a genuine peace. The pursuit of statehood aligns with the potential scenario of a US withdrawal.

In addition, stability and security are intertwined throughout the Middle East. If the two-state solution is deemed a viable approach for resolving protracted conflicts and fostering regional stability, as is currently under consideration for the Israel-Palestine conflict, it should similarly be examined as a prospective resolution for the Kurdish nation. The Kurds have endured a century-long struggle for self-determination, warranting careful consideration of such a diplomatic framework. Recognizing the Kurdish right to self-determination and actively supporting their path to statehood is not only a matter of justice but also a vital step toward a more stable and secure Middle East.

About the Author
Dr Loqman Radpey is an independent researcher based in Scotland. Over the past decade, he has conducted research and written extensively on the legal status of the Kurdistan question and the application of international law to the Kurdish nation’s right to self-determination. Routledge has published his monograph, titled ‘Towards an Independent Kurdistan: Self-Determination in International Law’. He has also made contributions to various press outlets, including ABC News, The National, MedyaNews, and Die Zeit. Recently, he has been focusing on Eastern Kurdistan, the war in Ukraine, Scotland’s independence, and the Israel-Palestine conflict.
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