Opposition to recognize Kurd and Catalonian referendums highlights the nation state system’s failure
The nation state system is facing several challenges. In the Iberian Peninsula, Catalonians wants secession from Spain. In Middle East, Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted in favor of independence from Iraq in a historic referendum. In Cameroon, protests have erupted against the French speaking majority. The German speaking minority claim that their rights have been seriously violated by the French speaking majority. The roots of these current problems lie in the political division of states by colonial powers, primarily Britain and France. Kurdish people that live in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria are striving for greater regional autonomy and in some areas they are fighting for independence.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s held a referendum on 25th September, which irked Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Ankara and Tehran are home to millions of Kurds and it is believed that the referendum was a national security threat. Baghdad has also opposed the move and claims that it will destabilize the region. Western governments, primarily the United States and Great Britain, have condemned the Kurdish move saying that any move which will exacerbate the already fragile regional situation will not be supported. Turkish president Erdogan has warned the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan and said that the Kurds will die from hunger.
Kurdish people are one of the largest ethnicities in the world. In Turkey, Kurds are engaged in brutal insurgency against the government. Ankara fears that the referendum in Iraq will further bolster the insurgency of Kurds in South Eastern Turkey. Kurdish insurgency in Turkey was initiated by Ocalan, who was later apprehended from Africa as a result of a combined intelligence operation launched by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Turkish intelligence.
Syrian democratic forces, which largely comprise of Syrian Kurds, have gained the attention of the Western powers for their successful military operation against Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). Most notable was the victory of Kobane which inflicted heavy loss to ISIL in Northern Syria and resulted in their defeat in Kurdish regions of Syria. The group has direct support of the United States. Again, Kurdish Syria lies in the South of Turkey and the growing power of Syrian Kurds will create problems for Ankara which is home to a large Kurdish minority. In retaliation, Turkey has deployed its military along its borders with Syria and Iraq. But many analysts believe that the union of Iraqi Kurds with Syrian Kurds is still difficult due to internal rivalries among the leadership of both sides. Like Iraqi Kurds, Syrian Kurds are struggling for an independent country.
Erdogan’s visit to Iran is part of the changing regional scenario. Both Tehran and Ankara have a common interest – to halt any move that will result in the formation of a strong and independent Kurdish nation in the region. Besides this, Iraqi Kurds have a longstanding and historic relationship with Israel – the archrival of Iran. Relations between Iran and Turkey have improved considerably following Tehran’s support of Erdogan during the failed attempted coup. Turkey has blocked the border with Iraq Kurdistan, hence halting all oil exports which happen to be the major source of Kurdish income.
The government of Catalan wants to secede from Spain. On the other hand, Spain’s central government has launched a crackdown to halt any move contributing to Catalan’s independence. The Spanish Supreme Court has also rejected the Catalonian referendum. Years back, Kosovo gained independence from Serbia after severe ethnic violence. In addition to that, the Crimean referendum resulted in the secession of Crimea from Ukraine. But one factor is common in both the Kosovo and Crimean case and that is the support of a major power. Kosovo was supported by the United States and Crimea was annexed by Russia as the referendum was conducted in the presence of the Russian military. However, Iraqi Kurdistan and Catalonia lack the support of major powers. The Iraqi referendum was categorically rejected by regional powers like Iran and Turkey, and international powers like the United States and United Kingdom.
Furthermore, Indian Occupied Kashmir needs international attention as well. Unfortunately, international players, predominantly the United States, see the issue in the light of realpolitik. The romance between the United States and India to contain China has left the Kashmiris at the mercy of Indian forces. In addition to that, United Nations is not powerful enough to enforce its recommendations onto India. Besides Kashmir, the people of Rohingya also need urgent international attention. United Nations has itself declared Myanmar’s army practices as a text book example of ethnic cleansing.
World events are evidence to the fragile nature of the nation state system. In the presence of a weak United Nations body, states that are more powerful will survive and impose their decisions on others, while weaker states will vanish. On the other hand, potential states that have the support of major powers will become nation states, while those which have no power will remain under suppression.