Center for Strategic Assessment and forecasts

Autonomous non-profit organization

Home / Defence and security / / Articles
"The Kurdish factor" and its role in shaping the geopolitical situation in the middle East
Material posted: Publication date: 27-05-2018
The article is devoted to the struggle for Kurdish independence in the region of their compact residence on the territory of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. Analyses the policy of the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia in the Kurdish area. It is shown that the Kurdish factor in the policy of the great powers in the middle East were used without taking into account fundamental national interests of the Kurdish people and does not solve the problem of creating an independent Kurdistan. The unresolved status of this problem has a destabilizing impact on the regional geopolitical situation due to the presence of a single anti-Kurdish front four above mentioned States, refusing a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem. Given the objective difficulties standing in the way of establishing an independent Kurdish state, and the forecast about the impossibility of solving this problem in the long term.

The middle East in the twentieth century is a constant source of conflict and political instability, the cause of which was the creation of new States through decolonization and the formation of new international boundaries without taking into account the historical and ethno-confessional factors. This has led to the emergence of numerous difficult to resolve contradictions, both domestic and regional levels.

In the first place mention should be made of the fate of the Kurdish people, the main region of residence which is located in four middle Eastern countries: Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran, which, adhering to the principle of territorial integrity, carry out repressive anti-Kurdish policy, seeking to nip in the Bud any attempts of the Kurdish people to establish their own independent state.

The division of mass resettlement of Kurds in 1916 when the territorial division of the Middle East between the above States was not only outrageous historical injustice, but also a source of regional conflict. This created conditions for the emergence among the Kurds of separatist sentiment and anti-forced assimilation of the Kurds. For example, in Turkey since the days of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to all the minorities instilled the ideology of the unity of the Turkish nation and the Kurds were told that they are just mountain Turks, the will of historical destiny obliged to accept the Turkish mentality, culture and language. Thus, the Turkish government deliberately pursued a policy of forced assimilation of the Kurds.

In Iran, the oppression of the Kurds began during the Shah's regime. The Kurdish population of Iran has always had attitude of a discriminatory nature associated with employment, the right to education in their native language, for admission to higher educational institutions and manifestations of cultural life. [1]

Overall, however, the Kurdish population of Iran is not very active in countering such phenomena, and the question of national self-determination of Iranian Kurds is not currently relevant.

In Iraq by contrast, the movement of the Kurds found a powerful and pervasive. The reason for this was the anti-Kurdish policy carried out in the second half of the XX century the head of state Saddam Hussein, is set to increase in Northern parts of the country inhabited by Kurds, the proportion of the Arab population, and the violent suppression of armed groups of separatists.

Despite this, the struggle of the Iraqi Kurds succeeded, and on March 11, 1974 in Iraq, a law was passed on the proclamation of the Kurdish Autonomous region (KAR) in the provinces of Erbil (Arbil became the capital of the KAR), Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah. In 2005, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP) Massoud Barzani became the first President of CT. [2]

As for Syria, the leadership of this country, like other countries in the region, negatively related to manifestations of Kurdish separatism in order to maintain the territorial integrity of the state.

A rough estimate, the total number of Kurds in the middle East region is from 27 to 40 million people. Of these, about 55% live in Turkey, 20% live in Iran and Iraq and just over 5% in Syria (Fig.1). Kurds make up about 20% of Turkey's population, 17% of Iraq's population, 7% of Iran's population and about 9% of Syria's population. It should be noted an important feature of the Kurdish people – is the lack of religious fanaticism, that to the East is unusual. The Kurds always stressed that Islam is more a culture than a religion. [3]

However, the use of the Kurdish factor allows external actors to influence international policy in the desired direction on the policies of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, or by assisting the Kurdish movement towards independence, or playing the "Kurdish card" to their advantage when building policy in relations with these States.

Notable historical example was the policy pursued by the US and the USSR against the Kurds. Both powers have always had a strong geopolitical interest in the region. It was expressed that the Soviet Union sought to weaken Turkey and the protection of their southern borders. And the Kurdish question played here not last role. Therefore, the support of the Kurds in their struggle for self-determination was aimed at the weakening of the Turkish Republic as a NATO member. The same policy was carried out against Iran, which

Fig. 1. The territory of mass resettlement of the Kurds.


after the Second world war shifted to the United States.

In the late 1940s Moscow began to build relations with the leaders of the Kurdish national movement. In practical terms, this was manifested in the formation of the Kurdish armed groups on the territory of the USSR, their training and weapons for use in appropriate military / political circumstances in the future.

In 1952, with Soviet assistance, was established the Kurdish democratic party, the ideological basis of which was the Marxism-Leninism, and the task is coordination of activities of the Kurdish rebel forces in the Middle East region and their subsequent Union. The result of the Kurdish democratic party became the leading political organization in Iraq, which led in the 1960s, the insurgency of the Kurds in the region.

In 1974, the Soviet leadership contributed to the creation of another structure – the Kurdistan workers ' party, currently operating in Turkey, and which was placed by the Turkish authorities to the list of terrorist organizations.

After the end of the cold war approach of leading international actors towards the solution of the "Kurdish question" has undergone significant changes. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the establishment of a unipolar geopolitical system support and coordination of the Kurdish resistance has become the prerogative of Washington, whose goal was the elimination of Saddam Hussein in the guilt of which was set an extremely aggressive measures against the Kurds, followed by the deportation of the Kurdish population from their places of historic settlement and use against Kurdish civilians with chemical weapons.

Using favorable environment during the military operations of the Western coalition against Iraq, which was eliminated Saddam Hussein's regime, Kurdish leaders announced a broad autonomy, which was to lead to independence in accordance with the new Constitution of Iraq, 2005

Support the Kurds of Iraq allowed the Americans to gain an ally in the region in the face of de facto independent and relatively stable Kurdistan, which greatly strengthened the U.S. position in the middle East. [4] Playing the "Kurdish card" by the United States showed the possibility of its use as a geopolitical tool in conducting middle East policy of Washington against countries that have problems with Kurdish separatism.

As for Syrian Kurds, they also laid claim to broad autonomy in the areas of their compact residence in the Northern region of the country. This idea, put forward by the Democratic Union party following the example of Iraqi Kurdistan, which had legitimized the rights of national minorities in the Constitution of Iraq to manage the controlled territories with the prospect of independence. During the civil war in Syria, the Kurds, supported by the United States, played an important role in the operations of the Western coalition against ISIS that allowed the Americans to carry out some operations with the support of the Kurds.

In General, it should be noted that Washington is playing the card of Kurdish separatism, has created a reliable base for its policies in the region. In 1998, the Washington agreement was the end of the struggle between the Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani in Iraqi Kurdistan. At the same time Washington acted as a mediator in solving the Kurdish problem, dividing spheres of influence of the Kurdish political forces and finding compromises when dealing with controversial issues. It is obvious that by providing long-term stability in Iraq, the question of Iraqi Kurdistan's independence is only a matter of time.

The Russian Federation has also taken steps to establish a constructive relationship with the Syrian Kurds during the Syrian crisis settlement. So the Ministry of foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation in the negotiations in Astana on 23 January 2017 the participants mezhsiriyskih. negotiations were handed over the draft Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic [5] However, this document was meant only cultural autonomy of the Kurds, and there was direct reference to the federalization of the country. However, the draft Constitution proposed a decentralized form of government in Syria. In the Russian draft also contained a number of concessions to the political elites of the Syrian Kurds within the framework of preserving the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic and preserve the leading positions of Damascus in the person of the President of the SAR in a decentralized model of government in the country.

The proposal of the Russian Federation to resolve the current crisis in Syria in this part to consider the interests of not only Damascus, but also Turkey and Iran, are feeling the threat of Kurdish separatism, assess the growing risks in the event of the proclamation of independence of Iraqi Kurdistan and its official recognition.

As for the current geopolitical situation in the middle East, first and foremost, it should be noted that Iraqi Kurdistan with its capital in Erbil, in fact, segregated even from the fall of Saddam Hussein. And after his overthrow, the Kurds, led by the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic party, Massoud Barzani, were the most organized force in the chaos of the middle East political processes. Evidence of this is that they were able to create effective state structures, including democratic electoral system, local self-government and army – the Peshmerga.

Iraqi Kurds repelled the attacks of ISIS and took control of the oil region of Kirkuk, putting it base of their economy. And most importantly – in of Iraq's new Constitution, which proclaimed the Federal structure of the country, Kurdistan granted wide autonomy with the right to secede from the Federation and even spelled out the mechanism of this process.

In Syria, the creation of a Kurdish autonomy began much later, and no constitutional mechanisms for the movements of independence is not provided, as Assad insists on maintaining the pre-war unitary, state structure. In addition, three Kurdish Canton in Syria is geographically divided into the North, there is a corridor which is controlled by the armed forces of Turkey.

But in General here repeated the same as it was in Iraq, having beaten off the first attacks of the government troops, and then ISIS, the Syrian Kurds have formed local governments, created a system of social support of the population and began to receive revenues from oil transit. In March 2016, three Kurdish cantons joined to form a Federation under the name of "Rozhava" (Fig.2). This word means "the West" – in this case, the West only Kurdistan, if you count the Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian Kurdistan, something common [6]. In Rojava are not only Kurds. There is a national and religious minorities, particularly the Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, Turkomans and Yazidis, who are ethnically close to the Kurds, but profess a particular religion. Such varied composition of the population allowed the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds to make a strong political move, declaring its nascent state is not purely national, and multi-ethnic. This allowed the Kurds to demonstrate in front of the external

Fig. 2. The territory of Western Kurdistan in Syria (Rozhava).


world their tolerance. [7]

Participating countries of the Western coalition, and Russia, many times resorted to the help of Kurds during military operations in Iraq and Syria. Often it sounded encouraging statements about the rights of Kurds to independence. To support the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan has spoken officials in Saudi Arabia, what was perceived in Baghdad as support for the independence of Kurdistan hostile to the territorial integrity of Iraq. However, it appears that it was only a diplomatic gesture.

Equally controversial are the steps did the US and Russia. On the one hand, and those others supply arms to the Kurds in Syria and Iraq. The Americans provide them with financial assistance. However, when Turkey opposed the invitation of the Kurds at the Geneva talks on Syria, the requirement of Ankara was made.

When Turkey started the operation "Shield of the Euphrates", directed against both ISIS and Rozhava, Washington not only replied, but he demanded the Kurds to retreat to the other side of the Euphrates. Russia also did not quarrel with Erdogan on this occasion, despite claims by Assad that the Turks are violating the sovereignty of Syria.

Objectively assessing the situation, it should be noted that Russia has little leverage on the solution of the Kurdish problem. The West, on the contrary, those levers are. On the sidelines of the Western experts and diplomats say about the following. They don't want to take the initiative on the issue of Kurdistan's independence, not to create a dangerous precedent of redistribution of boundaries. But if the Kurds will find a way to put the United States and Europe with a fait accompli, the West won't mind.

About the "fait accompli" expressed two points of view. First: Iraqi Kurdistan needs to go all the constitutional path of separation from Baghdad. That is to hold their own referendum on independence, then a referendum on the ownership of disputed territories around Kirkuk, and then to seek to Baghdad acknowledged the results of the vote and has adopted relevant legislation. But it is difficult to imagine that the Iraqi government will agree to this.

The second point of view is to allow Iraqi Kurds to hold at least a referendum, and see what happens. But here is the problem: the opposition against the Kurdish Barzani clan and their parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the "Gorran", putting off a referendum. They threaten to withdraw from the part of Kurdistan under their control a province of Sulaymaniyah if Barzani will hold a referendum without their consent. Radical supporters of independence argue that such "sabotage" paid for by Iran. But, most likely, the reason for this is to fight for territory and resources.

As for Syrian Kurds by the West, does not offer them even the way of the referendum, as Turkey will block any such attempts. And, if need be, use force. Therefore, given the existing political realities, their demands Syrian Kurds will limit the number of common, modest, statements that are not aimed at creating an independent state, and are reduced to only the following:

  • constitutional recognition of the Kurdish people as the second largest in Syria, a national minority with equal civil rights;
  • the cessation of discrimination against the Kurds on ethnic grounds and forced arabization;
  • recognition of national and cultural autonomy of the Syrian Kurds; the introduction of education and media in Kurdish language; – socio-economic development of Kurdish areas.

At the same time, four States, on whose territory is located the Kurdish enclaves (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey), despite the contradictions, is surprisingly easy to find common language when it comes to the refusal of the Kurds to independence. Even the Syrian opposition turned out to be in solidarity with Bashar al-Assad. They all find an explanation for its position that an independent Kurdistan is an American project to create in the region of the source of conflict, or, in other words, the territory from which the Americans will carry out its policy, guided by the Roman principle of "divide and conquer". [8]

Opposing the Iraqi Kurds in their desire for independence, Baghdad is struggling with them the economic methods. With this purpose was drawn up a "black list" of companies cooperating with Kurdistan. Barzani had to compensate this by providing investors bonded to Kurdistan conditions: the right to full repatriation of profits, exemption from taxes and customs duties. This allows the autonomy to make ends meet, but leads to underinvestment in social programs.

The consequence would be the threat of economic collapse in the fall of oil prices and the danger of social explosion.

One thing is clear: the loyalty of the coalition partners for the United States is more important than the solution of the Kurdish problem. This is due to the need to consolidate all forces against Iranian expansion, as it is the linchpin of American policy in the region. The situation may change only in two cases: if Donald trump will change the priorities of the United States or if the Kurds will declare the desire to become a key partner in America's anti-Iranian direction.

As for Russia, it was by the fall of 2017 in a unique position. Successful diplomacy and effective action by the Russian HQs in Syria, Moscow has strengthened ties with four major centers of power in the middle East that are vying for regional leadership. The problem, however, is that Ankara, Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran, to put it mildly, strongly dislike each other. Decades, they are fighting among themselves for regional leadership. And this struggle with the destruction of the Iraqi state and the beginning of the civil war in Syria has become even fiercer. In the words of the American Agency Bloomberg, Russia took advantage of this fact by filling the power vacuum in the middle East. [9] And it happened thanks to the successful military operation in Syria, which changed the balance of power on the regional arena in favor of Moscow. In the West, Putin is now called "master of the Middle East". This is evidenced by the fact that in Moscow region reached the visitors. Ankara, tel Aviv and Tehran expect to curry favor with Moscow. Not necessarily only money. In the Arsenal of these capitals and foreign policy is "barter". In particular, at the expense of a compromise solution to the "Kurdish question".

Meanwhile, creating under the auspices of the "Free Kurdistan", the Americans solve several problems at once: create a climate of "controlled instability" with the necessity of placing its troops in the region, control areas of extraction of hydrocarbons and their transportation routes to the Mediterranean coast, which will greatly reduce the role of Turkey as an energy hub in the way of energy from the Middle East to Europe. [10]

From the above we can make the assumption that in the medium and even long-term, the prospects for the establishment of an independent Kurdish state will only remain an unfinished project. And Iraqi Kurdistan in the case of acquisition of de facto independence will take its place among the self-proclaimed States, unrecognized by the international community, but which are the source of conflict in the Middle East region and a pawn in the hands of world powers vying for spheres of influence, sources of raw materials and staging areas the projection of military force. Justification this is a number of reasons for the establishment of an independent Kurdish state:

  • first, it is unlikely the West will allow the precedent of a state in the middle East, based on the ideology that is a logical result of the evolution of Marxist-Leninist doctrine contained in the writings of Ocalan [11];
  • secondly, Kurdish national movement is divided into several paramilitary parties having serious disagreements;
  • thirdly, the Kurds throughout their history have never had their own state and they need to build almost from scratch. The solution to this problem is possible only with the involvement of an external sponsor, which will have serious military, political and economic interest;
  • fourthly, the Kurds have no consolidating the core center can become a recognized center of gravity of an ethnic group with a recognized national Shrine, which for example is Karbala to Iraqi Shiites and the godfather for the Iranians;
  • fifth, and most important, the location of the future Kurdish state, does not imply access to the sea. As a result, it will be in a hostile environment of States that have lost their territory. If a future Kurdish state will not be touched at least with Armenia, bordering the Iranian border and further to the seas, it will turn into a full transport blockade. [12]

Analyzing the statements of the representatives of different Kurdish groups and the scientific community on the Kurdish issue in Syria, it can be concluded that at this stage the main thing for Syrian Kurds is equal with the Arabs of rights and freedoms in the Syrian state while preserving their national identity (language, culture, customs, habits). The question of the establishment of Syrian Kurdistan as an independent state or of the Federation in the future of Syria is not worth it. Moreover, given the dispersion of the Kurdish enclaves in large parts of the country and the presence of the Arab part of the population between them, it would be very difficult even the creation of a Kurdish Autonomous region in today's Syria.

The situation of Syrian Kurds is significantly different from the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the Kurds live quite compactly on the territory of the three Northern provinces of Iraq, and make up half the population in some surrounding areas (province of Taamim with the capital city of Kirkuk and other territories). The future of the Syrian Kurds will depend largely on postwar Syria and attitude of Damascus to the solution of the Kurdish problem.

In conclusion, it should be noted that the solution of the Kurdish problem at this stage is possible only through the creation of Turkish, Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish territories broad national-cultural autonomies with the local authorities and possibly the national parliaments. In the future, on the basis of these Autonomous entities, without affecting the sovereignty of the respective States, it is possible to create a supranational obscurely cultural and economic structure by analogy with the current European Union. However, for the realization of this project will take more than a decade, and such a scenario is likely to be implemented soon.



[1] Tarabi Bazan. The secret war of Iran against the Kurds// al-Arab. 16.04.2017.

[2] Veselov A. Kurdish independence: broken dreams. 26.10.2017. URL: (accessed 27.10.2017).

[3] the Kurds and the Kurdish question. URL: (accessed 06.09.2017).

[4] M. Mustafaev M. "Kurdish card in the geopolitics of world powers in the middle East". URL: (accessed 06.09.2017).

[5] Published the Russia-proposed draft of the Constitution of Syria// MIA "Russia today". – 2017. – 1 Feb. – The official website. URL: (accessed 01.02.2017).

[6] Mukhin V. Independent Kurdistan will provoke a new military conflict. 27.09.2017. URL: (accessed 28.09.2017).

[7] Vertyaev K. V., Ivanov S. M., the Kurdish nationalism: history and modernity. – M.: LINED, 2015. – 352 p.

[8] M. A. Kolerov, "Without the Soviet Union: "Near abroad" of the new Russia and the "backyard" of the United States". URL: (accessed 06.09.2017).

[9] Bloomberg: the middle East saw Putin as the new "owner". URL: (date accessed: 12.02.2018).

[10] Melamed G. Power amidst the chaos: what prevents the Kurds gain independence? 14.11.2016.

URL: (accessed 28.07.2017).

[11] Ocalan A. Capitalism is a system based on the denial of love. URL: (accessed 25.08.2017).

[12] D. Petrosyan, Yerevan is preparing for a possible proclamation of an independent Kurdish state in the// Scientific Society of Caucasian studies. URL: (accessed 15.08.2017).



  1. Vertyaev K. V., Ivanov S. M. , the Kurdish nationalism: history and modernity. – M.: LINED, 2015. – 352 p.
  2. Veselov A. Kurdish independence: broken dreams. 26.10.2017. URL: (accessed 27.10.2017).
  3. Veselov A. the Kurds of Iraq voted for independence. What's next? 27.09.2017. URL: (accessed 28.09.2017).
  4. Kolerov M. A. "Without the Soviet Union: "Near abroad" of the new Russia and the "backyard" of the United States". URL: (accessed 06.09.2017).
  5. Melamed G. Power amidst the chaos: what prevents the Kurds gain independence? 14.11.2016. URL: (accessed 28.07.2017).
  6. Mustafaev M. M. "the Kurdish card in the geopolitics of world powers in the middle East"

URL: (accessed 06.09.2017).

  1. Mukhin V. Independent Kurdistan will provoke a new military conflict.

27.09.2017. URL: (accessed


  1. Ocalan, A. Capitalism is a system based on the denial of love. URL: (accessed 25.08.2017).
  2. D. Petrosyan, Yerevan is preparing for a possible proclamation of an independent Kurdish state in the// Scientific Society of Caucasian studies. URL: (accessed 15.08.2017).

  1. Tarabi Bazan. The secret war of Iran against the Kurds// al-Arab. 16.04.2017.
  2. The Kurds and the Kurdish question. URL: (accessed 06.09.2017).
  3. Published by the Russia-proposed draft of the Constitution of Syria// MIA "Russia today". – 2017. – 1 Feb. – The official website. URL: (accessed 01.02.2017).
  4. Bloomberg: the middle East saw Putin as the new "owner". URL: (date accessed: 12.02.2018).

Ganiev T. A., Karyakin V. V.


RELATED MATERIALS: Defence and security