In preparation for his talk on Tuesday 11 November at LSE, MEC research fellows Filippo Dionigi and Zeynep Kaya met with Yaniv Voller to discuss his most recent book ‘The Kurdish Liberation Movement in Iraq: From Insurgency to Statehood’. Starting from the Kurdish liberation movement in Iraq, this book analyses the concepts of sovereignty and legitimacy in international politics.
Filippo Dionigi: In what ways does this book help understand the current Kurdish situation in Iraq? Does it provide a framework for the complex, historical question of Kurdistan Iraq?
Yaniv Voller: It clearly does. You cannot understand the current Kurdish situation and the way the Kurds relate to the current Iraqi government without understanding the roots of the Kurdish struggle for liberation and the evolution this struggle has gone through. In my opinion, what we see today is just another stage in this struggle of liberation. What I argue in the book is that the Kurdish liberation movement has transformed from focusing mainly on guerrilla operations to concentrating on less violent forms of resistance, more particularly statebuilding. To put it differently, I argue that statebuilding, which has been taking place since 1991, is just another liberation strategy. If you look at the way the Kurds have been armed, you can see that almost every step the Kurdish leaders have taken was driven by defining sovereignty, which also explains the title of the book: Emphasising on the fact that the Kurdish movement is still a liberation movement that moved from insurgency to statehood.
Zeynep Kaya: If we widen our perspective a bit, moving from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), to focus on your framework of de-facto statehood. Would that framework be applicable when trying to understand other self-determination movements, for example Palestine or South Sudan?
YV: I do not think this framework applies to the Palestinian case. The idea of a Palestinian state is already legitimate. Palestinians are not necessarily struggling to gain international legitimacy for their cause, but they have to struggle against the Israeli presence. In the case of the KRG, it’s the complete opposite situation: The KRG has managed to drive out what they identify as the ‘occupying forces’, the Iraqi army, and they have managed to build a more or less independent state, but they haven’t been able to achieve international legitimacy yet. South Sudan is a much more interesting case. When South Sudan managed to gain autonomy, it was very clear that it was on its way to statehood. I would think Western Sahar is probably the ideal analogy: It has a government which controls a certain part of the claimed territory, while the rest of the territory is still under the control of Morocco. There are many similar cases around the world as well that I use to structure my theoretical framework. Some examples include Kosovo, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Somaliland.
FD: How does the regional context affect the capacity of the KRG to progressively gain its autonomy and perhaps its independence? Since the Kurdish people are not limited to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and an independent Kurdish state there would have implications for neighbouring countries.
YV: The KRG has become a very significant regional player in the last few years, especially since 2003. From being the object of intervention, where Iraqi Kurdish provinces were constantly subjected to interventions by neighbouring states, what we see today is the growing assertiveness of the KRG and its leadership. If the KRG gains its independence, then it is bound to produce shock waves around the region. However, on the other hand, it has a potential of becoming the solution for the future: if the Kurds have a state on some territory, it might ease the pressure off others in neighbouring countries to negotiate a solution. The creation of a Kurdish state, even one not covering the entire territory of historical Kurdistan, could serve as a base for settlement. Continue reading