Center for Strategic Assessment and forecasts

Autonomous non-profit organization

Home / Defence and security / / Articles
The Kurdish factor in the geopolitical struggle in the middle East
Material posted: Publication date: 16-11-2017
The Kurds are Iranian-speaking people, represented by a set of diverse tribal groups living on the territory of South-Eastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, Northern Iraq and Northern Syria.

Their number today exceeds 40 million[1] people, making them the largest national "minority" of Western Asia and the most numerous people in the world deprived of a sovereign state.

Kurdistan, being strategically important Middle East region, since the beginning of the XVI century has turned into the indigenous scene of geopolitical confrontation. Ethnic identity of the Kurds, in view of the geographical position, had a negative impact on the pace of social development, is diverse. This is seen as the language consisting of many dialects are diametrically opposed, and the religious affiliation of the Kurds, represented by a diversity of religious dogma from ancient Iranian Zoroastrianism to Sunni Islam.

Today the Kurdish problem out of the shadows of other regional conflicts and becomes a key in the formation of a geopolitical agenda in the middle East. Policy implementation levers of forced assimilation, criminalization attempts of political representation in Central and local authorities in the Kurdish populated States, along with the suppression of the project of establishing a sovereign state, has exacerbated the Kurdish crisis and has created a geopolitical vacuum in the middle East. Further support for a forceful and punitive methods of resolving the question of titular Nations and ignoring the interests of the Kurdish national minority is threatened by the intensification of the national liberation movement of the Kurdish ethnic group, the destruction of the territorial integrity of several States and transcription of the contours of regional security in the middle East. That is why the Kurdish factor and its current revitalization is one of the priorities in the strategy formation of the geopolitical struggle in the middle East.

The importance of the Kurdish factor in regional powers. The Triangle Turkey-Iraq-Iran

The dominant strategic imperative of Turkey against the Kurdish factor in the balance of power in the middle East is a deliberate policy of destroying the unity of the Kurds and to prevent violation of territorial integrity of both Turkey itself, and other regional States. In recent time, in connection with the intensification of separatist sentiment in Iraqi Kurdistan (the Kurdish quasi-state structure in the North of Iraq), Ankara shifted from the solution of the Kurdish question in the country in favor of its suppression on the fronts of political fields of Iraq, because among all the middle Eastern countries, the most powerful position of the Kurds there. Despite a number of contradictions with Iraq, Ankara and Baghdad are United in their position on the Kurdish crisis. If Iraqi Kurdistan will sooner or later secede from Iraq, for Turkey this would mean how the intensified struggle of the Turkish Kurds for independence within the country and the creation of a powerful and sovereign in the rear for their main political offices of the PKK, established in 1978. In the case of escalation of the conflict along the lines of Iraqi Kurdistan, Ankara will not attract the military capacity to resolve the crisis and will focus on long-term measures in force: from the closure of the border with the Kurdish autonomy in Northern Iraq prior to the termination of oil transit.

Iraq, speaking for the preservation of the territorial unity of the state, does not have the necessary range of levers deterrence, forcing Baghdad to build a line of cooperation with other regional powers, particularly Turkey and Iran. Iraq, unlike Turkey, will not be able to use Islam as a factor of consolidation and incorporation of the Kurds into a single country, in view of the religious diversity, since the Muslims here are as followers of Shiism and Sunnism. 25 September 2017 in Iraqi Kurdistan held a referendum on independence. According to his data, about 93%[2] voted for an independent state. However, the Federal court of Iraq even before the referendum admitted his illegal, citing the Constitution and began the military suppression of any attempts at further implementation of the project of independence. This forced the government of Iraqi Kurdistan to freeze the movement towards the implementation of the referendum results in life. Currently, the conflict in this area is in limbo, outside the framework of effective regulation.

Iran has significant political weight in the Iraqi Kurdistan, as dictated by the immediate presence in the Kurdish areas of Iraq, an Iranian armed forces and a certain contingent of the IRGC (Islamic revolutionary guard Corps) and a core region with a land border. However, inside Iran the position of the Kurds weak, because of their political fragmentation and the lack of a consolidating factor. The locomotive of the political representation of Kurds in the country is the Democratic party of Iranian Kurdistan, the relative success of which is dictated by the reorientation of the axis methods of political struggle: armed conflict and calls for the provision of broad autonomy, that can attract to their side many other representatives of national minorities. On the background of the last referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan, Tehran has embarked on jointly with Turkey a long-term solution to the crisis in the region, as a violation of Iraq's territorial integrity is threatened, if not asymmetric consequences, but a clear violation of the safety circuits in the region and political instability. Coordination of joint actions of Iran and Turkey will be conducted through the channels of military cooperation and joint pressure on the Iraqi government over crisis with the involvement of a package of economic sanctions. For Iran, this issue is a strategic priority because of the resurgent Kurdish issue can be a lever to legitimize the US military presence in the region, de facto, meaning the establishment of a base to attempt the overthrow of the regime.

The "Golden mean" of the Russian position on the crisis

For Russia the region of the Kurds is a strategic point of contact. First, it provides an outlet to the Mediterranean sea, secondly, to the oil fields of Northern Iraq. This year “Rosneft” and the Iraqi Regional government of Kurdistan has started implementing a bilateral project on the operation of the pipeline on the territory of the Kurdish Autonomous region[3]. Cheap Kurdish oil will allow to expand Russian network of international oil supplies, with the consequent increase of its efficiency. In addition, there are a number of investment projects, implementation of which Russia has already invested a lot of money. That is why the Russian side was not so categorical in their rhetoric on the issue of the legitimacy and legality of the Kurdish referendum. For a long time the Kremlin, wanting to maintain parity in its relations between Turkey and Iran, did not include the Kurdish question in the agenda on the Middle East. Now, however, with strengthening positions in the region following a successful military operation in Syria, Moscow has increasingly resorted to the use. Using the fact that the regional triangle Turkey-Iraq-Iran does not have a clearly formulated position on the crisis, Russia, the main asset of which was the preservation of relative neutrality and partnership with each of the parties, can become the decisive political force in filling the middle East vacuum. Turkey, being interested in the further functioning of the mechanism of delivery of oil from Iraqi Kurdistan with the assistance of Russia and Iran, are increasingly drawing the eyes of the Kremlin as a strategic partner in the struggle against us influence in the region, will largely focus on Moscow's position.

The project is the weakening of the "axis of evil" in the Middle East and the role of the Kurdish factor in shaping U.S. strategy

Despite the long and widespread support for the Kurds, the United States opposed the holding of the September referendum on independence. The Kurdish crisis is the trump card in the hands of the United States in the geopolitical struggle with Russia and Iran, as well as an effective tool of deterrence NATO ally, Turkey. As for energy projects, the competition with Russia here, rather, was replaced by “peaceful coexistence”, can not be said about the geopolitical rhetoric of the American establishment. With the strengthening of the position of the Kremlin in the middle East, the United States is gradually moving away from project support to the Syrian opposition, as the basic political unit regime change Bashar al-Assad in the country, in favor of the other levers of realization of geopolitical ambitions and destabilize the political situation in the middle East. Together with the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, Washington will try by all means to weaken the position of the so-called "axis of evil", especially one of the regional leaders of Iran. And the Kurdish factor here will play a key role, gradually coming to the forefront of the middle Eastern theatre of the geopolitical arena.

Thus, the economic attractiveness of the region, unwillingness of the parties to give the distribution of zones of influence and geo-strategic position of the territories inhabited by Kurds, in the long run make Kurdish one of the dominant factor in shaping the strategy of the geopolitical struggle in the middle East as the global and regional powers. The parties to the conflict cannot find a solution to the crisis in the short term, since there is a wide range of issues requiring mutual solutions: from a clash of interests of international actors to domestic political differences on this issue in the countries-participants of the conflict.


  1. Glazov , V. A. the Kurdish factor in Turkey's policy // Analytical reviews of RISS. 2015, p. 2
  2. Gasratyan, M. A. the Kurdish problem in Turkey M., 2001
  3. Dugin A. G. Russian project for Kurdistan: what can be the alternative to the instrumentalization of the Kurds Atlanticists // Geopolitics.of the Russian Federation. 2017
  4. Knyazev S. Kurdish bomb // Century.RF 2017
  5. The Russian website of the Iraqi Kurdistan //


[1] Kurdistan //Курдистан (13.05.2011)

[2] the referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan 2017 //Референдум_о_независимости_Иракского_Курдистана_2017

[3] Article on the website of RBC // (18.10.2017)


Hojatol Ramiz

RELATED MATERIALS: Defence and security
Возрастное ограничение