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Reviewed by:
  • Kurdistan Rising? Considerations for Kurds, Their Neighbors, and the Region by Michael Rubin
  • Michael Gunter (bio)
Kurdistan Rising? Considerations for Kurds, Their Neighbors, and the Region, by Michael Rubin. Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 2016. 139 pages. $9.99.

As Kurds near independence, this pithy study breaks new, important ground by identifying many significant questions that would arise after this milestone is achieved. In other words, “statehood would be not the fruition of a process but rather its beginning” (p. 121). For example, Kurds “will face disputed borders, disunity, major gaps in defense and infrastructure, and major economic challenges” (p. 123). In addition, “there are a number of issues that Kurds must decide alongside a declaration of independence” (p. 51). For example, “would Kurds demand full independence among all four Kurdish regions, or would they accept [End Page 683] sequenced independence … in Iraq and Syria first, with the Kurdish regions of Turkey and Iran following years or even decades later” (p. 51)?

Specifically, what would be a Kurdish state’s territorial limits as “no consensus exists within each country as to the extent of Kurdish territory” (p. 52). As Rubin notes, “Kurds would need to decide whether they would limit their claims to territory in which they are the majority or the plurality and whether, under certain circumstances, they would also claim territory in which they are a minority” (p. 52). Clearly, “the alternative to establishing mutually agreed borders prior to independence could be disastrous and set the stage for a war such as the one that occurred seven years after Eritrea’s cessation [sic] from Ethiopia and claimed tens of thousands of lives” (p. 53).

In addition, “would Kurdistan allow dual citizenship? Would it enjoy a ‘right to return’ — automatic citizenship for Kurds — as Israel as a Jewish state does for the Jewish diaspora” (p. 54)? What form of government would prevail following independence? As Rubin observes, “Kurdistan hosts multiple political parties, but each embraces an autocratic culture” (p. 58). “Disputes about [Kurdistan Regional Government president] Barzani’s refusal to step down at the end of his term have sparked not only constitutional crisis but also broader debate about whether Kurdistan should have a parliamentary system or a strong presidency” (p. 59). On the other hand, “[Kurdistan Workers Party leader Abdullah] Öcalan’s theoretical decentralization provides another possible framework for Kurdistan” (p. 59). “Should Kurdistan become a federation of regions, however, different legal structures and systems might complicate relations, especially if different regions adopt separate visa procedures and financial laws” (p. 61).

What type of economic system would an independent Kurdistan have? As Rubin correctly explains, “the real backbone of any state is its economy … [but] basic questions about the future of Kurdistan’s economy remain unanswered” (p. 64). Abdullah Öcalan’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) still seems a staunch advocate of socialism (Marxism), while Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) pursues a capitalist route. Would the gas-rich KRG share its oil resources with the gas-poor Kurds living in Turkey? In other words: would KRG oil be a pan-Kurdish resource or localized one? Similar problems exist among the Arab states and indeed were argued by the late Iraqi president Saddam Husayn as a justification for his moving against Kuwait in 1990. On the other hand, rentier states such as Iraqi Kurdistan provide an unstable foundation for solid economic development as witnessed by its current economic problems.

Summing up the economic future, Rubin concludes that “in the long term, Kurds will face five challenges to sustained foreign investment: their continued embrace of left-of-center, if not Marxist, economic philosophy; corruption; a lack of management experience; a lack of financial infrastructure; and a lack of procedural and substantive legal tradition” (p. 79). At the present time, real banks are nonexistent. Bank machines remain few. Iraqi Kurdistan is largely a cash economy lacking a long-term, sophisticated monetary policy, fiscal discipline, and sufficient reserves. Any attempt at creating a KRG currency would probably collapse. And in Turkey, what would be done with the pro-government village guards who still provide income for some 50,000 Kurds and their families? Although the most economically successful...


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