The ACRPS’ conference on relations between the Arab and Kurdish peoples of the Middle East continued for a second day on Sunday, 30 April, 2017. In contrast to the first day’s sessions, which focused primarily on Iraq, the first panel of the day focused on the Kurdish question within Syria. As with the first day’s proceedings, contemporary developments on the ground in Syria--and particularly in the northern provinces which make up the Jazira region--impacted the ability to understand the way in which long-term historical processes pan out.
One particular bone of contention was the extension of Syrian citizenship for the residents of the relatively recently settled (i.e., since the nineteenth century) regions of the Jazira. Following a 1958 census conducted by the government of Khaled Al Azm, the legal status of large numbers of Kurdish speakers in the north of Syria were determined for the first time. Families who had moved to Syrian territory from what became Turkey relatively recently were defined as foreigners, with their descendants to this day living a legally ambiguous existence in Syria.
The following panel, examined how regional actors impact on relations between Iraq and Syria and their Kurdish communities. A presentation by Cotyar Akrawi explored how the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council interacted with the Kurdish question in Iraq, in which they were deeply involved. Akrawi suggested that the GCC was guilty of a systemic failing to deal with the reality on the ground. Kurds being present in Iraq meant that the council would make it more difficult for the Gulf states to do business with Iraq.
Two final sessions on the second day were once again devoted to studying the situation of Iraqi Kurds. Hareth Hassan presented an analytical perspective drawing upon the principle that individuals fashion themselves according to the positions of others. Cultural groups consistently reproduce one-dimensional, existential narratives. From this perspective, the relations between the Shiites and the Kurds were based on cooperation because they were united by their Baath enemy. But the tensions between the Shiites and Kurds were latent, the most important of which was the alienation of Kurds from a state built upon the Arab national identity.
Al Kubaisi offered a robust defense of the idea of an Iraq held together by a shared Arab and Sunni Muslim heritage. As Al Kubaisi pointed out, of the eight Sunni theologians to hold the post of “Mufti of Iraq” (historically the Mufti of Baghdad) between the end of the Ottoman Empire and 2003, four were Kurds, adding that, combined, they outlasted the four Arab muftis they alternated with. Ironically, the last Kurd to be the Mufti of Iraq enjoined Iraqis to resist the occupation of their country in 2003.
Kamal Abdullah Al Jaf contributed a very relevant discussion about the role of the Peshmerga, which he believes could be a force for stability in Iraq. Today, Iraq’s natural resources were the source both of the country’s stability as well as the potential catalyst for its division into separate states. Contributing up to 95% to the Treasury in Baghdad, oil sales keep the country solvent. Oil resources in Iraq are not distributed evenly across the territory, rather they are concentrated in majority-Kurdish regions such as Kirkuk. The final session of the day, chaired by Sultan Barakat of the Doha Institute, focused on the intricate population composition in Kirkuk, the site of a potential referendum to decide its fate within the federal system of Iraq, with potential implications for its massive Arab community.
Khalil Othman, a UN political adviser, focused on the demographic makeup of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, and the way in which the city has with successive waves of Arabs and Kurds replacing each other in the area throughout the twentieth century. Othman’s presentation questions how today's demographic reality will dictate Kirkuk’s position will shape the financial solvency of the central government in Baghdad. Providing a Kurdish perspective on the situation in Iraq, Nushirwan Saeed used his presentation to propose sustainable, pluralist power-sharing for the city. Sobhi Nazem Tawfik, the final speaker on the second day of the conference, traced the history of Kirkuk to the Turcoman groups which have lived in the area "at least since the Abbasid era" and claimed that a policy of “Arabization” led to tensions between the Kurds and the Turcomen. The conference will continue at the Ritz Carlton in Doha for the third and final day.