The Persistent Boundaries of Kurdish Nationalism

The Persistent Boundaries of Kurdish Nationalism

The opposition and reform movements that have swept through the Middle East over the past year have further propelled Kurdish nationalism across the region’s borders. Kurdish groups in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran have taken advantage of regime change, or calls for change, by linking their claims to democracy and minority-rights movements. Many look to Iraqi Kurdistan as their model, seeking some form of autonomy in a decentralized state inclusive of Kurdish rights. Yet, despite these shared goals, Kurdish nationalism remains bounded by the states in which different Kurdish communities live. It also coexists with other regional trends -- including sectarianism, border instability and economic development -- necessitating politically expedient alliances that undermine a unified nationalist movement. This increasingly salient and complex Kurdish problem will continue to challenge governance within states, while serving as a wild card in shifting regional politics.

State-Building Political Spaces

Kurdish nationalism is a function of modern Middle Eastern state-building projects, and not the product of an inherent hatred of or difference with Arabs, Turks and Persians. Although Kurdish communities have a shared sense of culture and identity, they have manifested their claims in different ways based on the political spaces -- that is, states -- in which they have lived. Shaped by different state policies and citizenship regimes, these political spaces have created distinct and changing notions of inclusion and exclusion for Kurds as an ethnic group, but also as a tribal, religious and local community. Variations in political spaces have resulted in different manifestations of Kurdish nationalism, defined by the nature of Kurdish political elites, nationalist organizations, claims and relationships with central governments.

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