Without democracy, Kurdish state projects flounder – analysts

If the promise that a potential Kurdish-run state or autonomous region will represent a democratic model in the Middle East is not fulfilled, many of the project’s internal and external backers will quickly become tired of propping up autocrats, according to an article by International Crisis Group programme director Joost Hiltermann and former senior analyst Maria Fantappie.

“The inconvenient fact is that Kurdish leaders like to boast that they built a thriving democratic bastion in the largely autocratic Middle East – but they never actually did,” the analysts said.

“After Saddam Hussein’s fall, the two main Kurdish parties (in Iraq) – Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani’s PUK – did not pour their energies into creating functional rule-of-law institutions or diversifying the economy. Instead, they used oil money to enrich themselves, their families, and their party cadres.”

The fight against Islamic State (ISIS) was also used by Barzani as an excuse to shut down the Kurdistan Regional Government’s parliament, they said, while the Barzani family began using power and the wealth it brought them to undermine democracy further through creating extensive patronage networks.

In Syria, the majority-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are also losing sympathy among local populations, Hiltermann and Fantappie said.

“Whatever the local people think of the group’s ideology, they object to its exercise of power, which tolerates zero opposition,” they said.

“At the same time, the YPG’s PKK affiliation makes it a direct enemy of Turkey, which has tried to strangle northern Syria economically. If the Syrian Kurds are not careful, they will find themselves isolated by their neighbors; Ankara and Damascus may in the future collude to oust the YPG and restore central control, just as Ankara gave a green light to Tehran to set back Kurdish aspirations in northern Iraq.”

Even if their unfriendly neighbours leave a Kurdish state be, Kurdish leaders should be aware that their own populaces may eventually hold them to account, the analysts said.

“They may, seven years after the Arab uprisings, face a Kurdish spring of their own, driven by a youthful populace –furious, frustrated, and keen to punish them for their historic blunder, political mismanagement, and irredeemable corruption.”

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