Monday, August 11, 2014

Window on Eurasia: South Caucasus Countries Calculating Impact of an Independent Kurdistan

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 11 – Kurdistan’s drive toward international recognition as an independent state is already having an impact on all three countries in the south Caucasus, not only because such a state would affect transit and balance of power in the broader region but also because of their own Kurdish communities.


            In a commentary on today, Mikhail Agadzhanyan says that each of the three governments is already beginning to calculate the costs and benefits to itself of an independent Kurdistan (


            Georgia, the Armenian analyst suggests, will be the least affected both because of its greater distance from such a new state and because of its lack of a significant Kurdish minority of its own. As a result, he says, Georgia will follow the West in supporting it, possibly entering into a new “triangle” of Ankara, Erbirl and Tbilisi.


            According to Agadzhanyan, the appearance of Kurdistan as an independent state will work to Armenia’s advantage both by re-affirming the principle of the right of nations to self-determination and by providing new opportunities for Armenia and its firms to reach the outside world.


            The Armenian analyst dismisses the concerns of some other Yerevan analysts that Turkey will be able as it was in the 1920s to play the Kurds in such a way that Kurdistan will become a problem for Armenia.  The situation now, Agadzhanyan insists, is entirely different, and Turkey will not be able to do so.


            To be sure, he says, “an independent Kurdistan will not be in the first ranks of states calling on Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide.” Its need for good relations with Turkey will prevent that. But over the longer term, Turkey’s own neo-Ottoman and Islamic trends will lead to conditions that will promote “the rapprochement of Armenians and Kurds.”


            Moreover, he insists, if Kurdistan and Armenia become neighbors, that will give Yerevan “qualitatively new prospects for defending its interests in the region.”  The border between the two will not be closed, and the fact that the Kurds have included Armenians in their parliament already will work to Yerevan’s advantage as well because a Kurdish state will do everything it can to show itself as a defender of Christian groups in order to gain Western support.


             For Azerbaijan, the appearance of an independent Kurdistan will have mixed consequences, Agadzhanyan says.  On the one hand, there are many Kurds in the business and political elite of Baku and the family of the current president is thought by many to have significant Kurdish roots.


            But on the other hand, Azerbaijan will likely follow Turkey, its strategic partner, and therefore will be more cautious about open expressions of sympathy to the Kurds and to an independent Kurdistan, especially because of the existence of a large although largely uncounted Kurdish minority within its own borders.


            According to Armenian sources (which Azerbaijani sources dispute), “no fewer than 300,000 Kurds, the overwhelming majority of which were from Turkey,” have resettled in Azerbaijan. Many of them are in the Armenian-occupied territories, and at various points, Armenian writers have even suggested that Kurdish districts which existed in the 1920s and 1930s might be restored as part of a resolution of the Karabakh dispute.


            Some Kurds in Azerbaijan, especially those who came after 1991, may if Kurdistan becomes independent seek to move there, Agadzhanyan says.  Many of them would go through Iran, and in that way, “the Kurdish theme for Azerbaijan has not only a Turkish dimension” but an Iranian one as well.


             Tehran has been anything but enthusiastic about an independent Kurdistan, typically viewing it as a Western or even Israel project directed against itself given that the Iranian government has been fighting against a Kurdish separatist movement on its own territory. Some Kurds in Iran have even called for the formation of a new Kurdish province in northwestern Iran.


            Such a province would include and thus affect many ethnic Azerbaijanis who also live in that region, a demographic reality that will affect the approaches of both Tehran and Baku to an independent Kurdistan.


            According to Agadzhanyan, there is yet another way in which an independent Kurdistan would have an impact on the region.  Kurdish leaders have “ambitious plans” to increase the production and export of oil to 500,000 barrels a day by the end of this year and to two million barrels a day by 2018.


            If they achieve those goals, an independent Kurdistan would become an important player in the oil game, the Armenian analyst says, not only affecting the calculations of all neighboring countries but also increasing the likelihood that the West would push forward with its South Stream project.

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