By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
“The European Union does not support any separatist agenda for the Kurds – being it in Turkey, being it in Iraq, being it in Syria,” EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini said told reporters at the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday.
The EU opposition to the national rights of the Kurdish people stands within the context of a long tradition of Orientalism, European colonialism and the view that non-European peoples are less deserving of inalienable rights than Europeans. The EU does not see self-determination as a right, but rather tends to see statehood and rights as something that only Europeans can decide people deserve, “when they are ready”, as was the case with places such as East Timor, South Sudan or Kosovo. This stands of course in the same colonial tradition that views non-Europeans as needing to be “ready” for statehood, whereas European countries are allowed to have states and European peoples can vote in independence referendums as took place in Scotland, Catalonia, and Quebec.
What is fascinating about the unwillingness to acknowledge the right of Kurds, particularly in Iraq, to decide on self-determination, is that the same EU countries that oppose independence and rights for Kurds, are the same ones who drew the borders in the Middle East that denied them those rights in the first place. When one hears the constant refrain in the West that they oppose the “breakup of Iraq”, it is like saying “we created Iraq, so we know best.” Rarely if ever were peoples throughout the world given the right to decide what kind of state structures they would have. Basically every border in Africa was drawn by the European colonial powers. Those same powers then opposed the secession of various groups, such as the Biafran war, or Katanga. Scottish people are seen as mature enough to deserve rights, but not people in Somaliland or Puntland. Yugoslavia could break up and Kosovo was supported, but not those outside of the European context.
The decision to deny Kurds basic rights has already led to untold suffering as they suffered under the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. They were denied citizenship, subjected to poison gas attacks, thousands of villages destroyed, they were denied rights to use their language or even give their businesses Kurdish names. In Turkey they were denied even the right to be “Kurds” and called “mountain Turks.”
The EU should reverse its historic colonial mentality and its view that the state system it birthed to the world is the “correct” one.