Over the past year, the victories of the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) during the siege of Kobane have established the Kurdish militias as the only forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria capable to fend off the radical Islamist insurgency of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS).
Ever since then some Western scholars have cautioned against the NATO alliance arming the peshmerga and YPG out of fear that it would set them on a path toward separatism and, in Iraq, the unilateral declaration of an independent Kurdish state. At the same time, though, other scholars have argued for more than a decade that Iraqi Kurdish independence would only be a matter of time and made a strong case for secession from Baghdad – a position taken up by influential decision makers in Washington and echoed in the so called “Biden Plan for Iraq”.
In this talk Hannes Černy argues that in their representation Western IR scholars display an alarming tendency to becoming co-protagonists in the ethno-nationalist conflicts they set out to describe. As Iraqi Kurdistan illustrates, their essentialist normativism is carried to such extremes that they not only adopt what Gayatri Spivak has called ethno-nationalist elites’ strategic essentialisms without questioning, but may even write statehood into existence before the ethno-nationalist elites are actively pursuing it on the ground. Instead, this talk offers a critical overview on the overlapping and often contradictory discourses on national self-determination in Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan and how they have been transformed by the ISIS War. In view of the occasion the talk also addresses the results of the Turkish elections of 1 November and how they may affect Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan.