Achieving Kurdish Unification

Salih Muslim, chairperson of the PYD (Syrian PKK) which governs Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan).
Salih Muslim, chairperson of the PYD (Syrian PKK) which governs Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan).

Political parties have played and continue to play an important role in the emergence, political history and continued development of the specific type of government that is liberal democracy. In dictatorships however, a dominant ruling political party is often a very serious impediment to the introduction of liberal democracy.

Today for the first time in modern Kurdish political history are there now two self-governing Kurdish states and unfortunately they are not exactly very politically friendly towards each other despite the existence of military coordination in the war against Daesh. In fact there is significant tension and even vast hatred between supporters of the KRG state in Bashur (Southern Kurdistan within the borders of Iraq) and supporters the PKK state in Rojava (Western Kurdistan within the borders of Syria) and even so amongst the Kurdish Diaspora in Europe. The territory of the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) is in turn practically speaking controlled by two different political parties (KDP and PUK) with a very tragic history of violent conflict between themselves and so their respective party militias have not actually unified due to the continued mutual suspicions between the KDP and the PUK. The challenge is thus to provide a framework for Kurdish independence that will unify Bashur with Rojava and later also Rojhelat (Eastern Kurdistan within the borders of Iran) once there is a successful Iranian revolution that will put an end to the vastly unpopular Islamist regime there.

However, the Kurdish political parties should truly ask themselves why the outside world should trust them if they can’t even trust each other? KDP, PUK and PKK must show that they are both capable and determined to build an independent and democratically and militarily unified Kurdistan. Therefore a political unification formula is needed that will be acceptable to the KDP, to the PUK and to the PKK alike and which will also serve to eventually reduce the role of political parties generally in the politics of the emerging independent Kurdistan. All Kurdish militias without exception should become unified into non-partisan military forces of an increasingly unified self-governing Kurdistan.

KDP-controlled territory should be divided into 5 cantons, PUK-controlled territory should also be divided into 5 cantons and PKK-controlled territory should likewise also be divided into 5 cantons. In total should there be 15 cantons in the unified Bashur-Rojava. Rojhelat should similarly become divided into cantons according to predominant party sympathies there (PJAK, KDPI and Komala) and become united with the Kurdish state once Rojhelat becomes free as well.

The central government should handle hard issues such as taxation, external relations, security, defense and revenues from export of fossil fuels while the cantons would handle soft issues like education, healthcare and local issues. Each canton should have specialized parallel chambers of regional parliament with regard to healthcare, education, environment, local planning etc. Each chamber of cantonal parliament would vote on and decide on its own specialized issues. NGOs specialized in those very fields should run their own lists for the elections to the cantonal parliamentary chambers although initially those NGOs will most likely be associated with each respective regionally predominant Kurdish political party.

There should be three parallel chambers of federal parliament in Kurdistan, one chamber tasked with economic issues such as budget and taxation, a second chamber should be tasked with legislative issues and a third chamber should be tasked with security and external relations (including trade, defense and diplomacy). The economic chamber would elect the minister of finance, the legislative chamber would elect the minister of justice; and the external affairs and security chamber would elect the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of defense and the minister of internal security. A candidate for prime minister would have to be approved by all three chambers of federal parliament in order to be elected prime minister. A vote of no-confidence in one of the three chambers of federal parliament would be enough to unseat a prime minister from office. There should be no powerful executive presidential office as this has in most cases globally tragically led to return to dictatorship.

Elections to each chamber of federal parliament would be based on proportionate personal elections whereby voters throughout the country would elect the 100 candidates who receive the most votes. Each voter should have a thousand votes at her disposal for each chamber of parliament and would be able to distribute those votes to candidates as she pleases or even give all the thousand votes to just one candidate. Also, voters should be enabled to cast secondary votes which would only be activated if a selected candidate is not actually elected. The whole electoral procedure should become entirely computerized and should therefore be managed by international electoral observers from established liberal democracies worldwide with low national levels of corruption. A member of parliament would wield voting power according to the number of personally received votes, however, at most 3% of parliamentary votes in a particular federal parliamentary chamber.

Kurdish political leaders need to genuinely acknowledge that Kurdish political parties are not just in principle but also in practice subordinate to the greater Kurdish political cause of establishing an independent and liberal-democratic Kurdistan. Bakur (Northern Kurdistan within the borders of Turkey) should become free through democratic means only by means of responsible democratization & liberalization of Turkey and Bakur and the PKK has therefore very wisely adopted its democratization strategy. Just as the PKK has successfully practiced self-criticism and as a result adopted the increasingly successful democratization strategy so should the KRG as well practice self-criticism and adopt the Kurdish democratization strategy as its own.

The KDP and the PUK (each party politically dominates about one half of Iraqi Kurdistan) need to understand that continued dictatorship in Bashur is a very real obstacle to the achievement of Kurdish independence. Secular dictatorships in Muslim countries have in past decades unfortunately helped bring great popularity to the totalitarian modern political ideology of Islamism and the existing dictatorship in the KRG has only made Bashur and its people less ready for the eventual introduction of liberal democracy.

The leadership of the KRG needs to acknowledge that the people of Kurdistan are not only ready for liberal democracy but that the very establishment of liberal democracy in Kurdistan and the region is in fact a core Kurdish interest. Liberal democracies famously don’t wage war on each other and responsible democratization and liberalization of Kurdistan and the surrounding Middle East are in fact pivotal to the Kurdish cause also in the sense that this could certainly help mitigate existing hostility against the Kurdish people in surrounding countries.

The KRG also needs to consider that successful democratization and liberalization are a core American national interest also because this advances economic growth globally and brings free, stable and prosperous trading partners for the American economy. America is thus the global sponsor of liberal democracies not only because liberal democracy is good but also because this is a core American national interest economically as well as in terms of global security.

Responsibly successful introduction of liberal democracy in both Kurdistan and Turkey will serve to inspire others in the Middle East to make this path their own as well. A serious program for responsible liberalization and democratization in the KRG will thus crucially help bring American support for the noble cause of Kurdish independence. Official American support for Kurdish independence will very likely be a game changer in that the international community will increasingly come to acknowledge the moral and humanitarian necessity of Kurdish independence.

However, the KRG leadership needs to show that they are more than merely authoritarian tribal leaders with party militias. The KRG have failed to build a reasonably functioning civilian state aside from internal security and they have also failed to lead in establishing a powerful high tech military and a local weapons industry. An independent Kurdistan needs to attain the ability to defend itself and so the KRG leadership should ask itself why any independent country should sell warplanes to party militias controlled by tribal leaders?

Kurds often mistakenly claim that they “have no friends but the mountains” and this is expressive of Kurdish leaders deliberately keeping the Kurdish people in a state of ignorance about the nature of Kurdistan’s international relationships. Kurdistan has many friends in both Europe and North America and the two Kurdish autonomies would not have been established and would not have been able to survive without Kurdistan being the third party in the Israel-US-Kurdistan triangular relationship which is an important part of the special relationship between Israel and the United States of America.

Major American Jewish organizations have for decades already played an essential role in this triangular relationship in advocating in Washington for Kurdish security and Kurdish self-determination and will certainly continue to do so for as long as is needed. Two factors however do limit the practical ability of friends of the Kurds to help the Kurdish cause, one is Kurdistan’s geographic isolation which makes it quite difficult to assist Kurdistan and the other is irrational behaviors among Kurdish leaders. The relative absence of democratization and liberalization in the KRG is from the perspective of non-partisan Kurdish patriotism in fact irrational behavior on the part of the KRG leadership. However, once the KRG officially and sincerely adopts a realistic unification plan based on a democratic cantonal system for the unification of Rojava and Bashur – the KRG will find itself a serious, friendly and pragmatic political partner in the PYD (Syrian PKK) government of Rojava.

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Advancing Democracy