دولة رمزية وعبودية حقيقية             Symbolic statehood, real servitude


(To be published in Arabic for Arabi21)

Turkey was rocked in recent days by two bombings claimed by radical Kurdish groups.  First, on March 13th, at around 18:35, a car laden with explosives blew up in Ankara at a busy bus interchange, killing 37 people, and injuring at least 125.  On Saturday, a suicide bomber targeted Istanbul’s main pedestrian shopping district, Istiklal Street in Taksim.  The bomber was attempting to reach a crowded area, but suspicious police gave pursuit, forcing the terrorist to detonate he explosives prematurely, though 5 civilians were killed in the blast. The area was evacuated, and remained empty over the weekend, resulting in a loss to local businesses of millions of dollars.  The blow to Turkey’s tourism industry is expected to be considerable.

But I do not want to talk about the bombings, so much as the agenda behind them. The major Kurdish separatist group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the group claiming  the Ankara attack, the Kurdistan Freedom falcons (TAK), are engaged in a struggle for an independent Kurdish state.  This is a concept that deserves some analysis; not specifically the concept of Kurdistan, but the idea of establishing an independent territory at all, in the midst of existing economically, politically and militarily powerful states.

I am reminded of Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s, or Aceh, Indonesia. For that matter, we can talk about Quebec or Scotland seeking independence from Canada and the United Kingdom respectively.

The territory sought by the Kurds is a land-locked piece of earth situated between Iran, Syria, Iraq and Turkey.  Geographically, it is already questionable whether any degree of real independence is even plausible. The economy of Syria is devastated, but Iran is about the 29th biggest economy in the world, and Iraq is 48th.  Turkey is either the 18th or 17th biggest economy (depending on whose data you follow); so any way you look at it, Kurdistan is going to be surrounded by much bigger players, players who they cannot bypass. This same dynamic applies to Chechnya, to Quebec and Scotland and Aceh. At best, they can become independent satellites of their most powerful neighbors; which is to say, not independent at all.

Yes, Kurdistan has huge oil and gas reserves, but as a tiny “independent” state it would be in no position to negotiate with the major energy companies.  Already, Exxon, Total, Chevron, and others, are operating in their territory.  These three companies alone constitute an economic power roughly equivalent to the combined power of Iran and Turkey.  If the Kurds achieve their state, it would be little more than a corporate serfdom, which they may as well name Exxonistan.

It is worth mentioning that the Kurds have enlisted the help of lobbying firm Patton Boggs to push their agenda in Washington.  Patton Boggs is renowned for lobbying on behalf of high profile clients in the oil and gas industry, most notably, you guessed it, ExxonMobile.

If you notice, corporations are busy consolidating their power, swallowing into themselves smaller companies, conglomerating, becoming larger and larger; while states are becoming smaller, divided, partitioned, and broken up.  Iraq is split, Syria is dissolved, Libya is compartmentalized, and the Kurds want to break away and make their own statelet. Each new, smaller geopolitical entity will have to sit across the table with multinational corporations that are getting bigger, richer, and more powerful every day.

In this scenario, what does independence mean? It means little more than having the right to volunteer yourself independently as a subsidiary of global corporate power. Is that really worth fighting for?