By Özlem Albayrak, Yeni Safak
In my article titled, “Is the Middle East being Balkanized?” published last Friday, I evaluated Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani’s referendum decision and mentioned the term balkanization, saying that sectarianism did not work in the Middle East – thanks to Turkey’s move that does not tolerate sectarianism – and that it was now time for a plan based on ethnicity.
Since I wrote the article, neither did Barzani give up on his insistence to hold the referendum, nor have the greats, primarily Turkey, which warned him, changed their approach. At the current point, Syria’s state is obvious; it seems impossible for the six-year chaos to end without leading to partition or at least a federation result. As expressed by the term, “Lebanonization,” “Lebanon was deeply divided in terms of ethnicity-religion/sect, language, ideology, et cetera, and” stands there as the state “of a community that is open to intervention of great powers, whose likelihood of civil war is high.”* Iraq was already divided into three different states post-Saddam Hussein, in which both ethnic and religious disparities played a role. Now, with the independence referendum insisted on by KRG leader Barzani, it is face to face with the danger of being officially divided.
All that has been happening in the Middle East in the last 15-20 years – including the Arab Spring – did not take place with the direct intervention of Western powers, but with the loss of a ground that contributed to the formation of those powers. Instability became the fate of the Middle East, sociologies were shaped through identity conflicts, countries’ central governments were weakened to the extent that they would not be able to protect their own existence and integrity. Let alone pursuing their own countries’ interests in the international arena, these states could not even remain as they were and started to fight for their existence. The independence referendum started by Barzani is actually a result of this situation.
Those in media writing/talking along the lines of, “It is obvious that a Kurdish state will be ‘established’ in the Middle East. Let us support Barzani, with whom we have good relations, rather than a likely PKK state”; there are also those who think, “Don’t the Kurds have a right to independence as well?” These are views that appear to be right, but I personally think the matter is a little larger than independence and the Kurds.
Before getting to Kurdistan, let us first ask ourselves this, because we have examples in front of our very eyes:
Can we say that Lebanon, where currently, going from one neighborhood to another means trouble, lives in peace and comfort? How many more states can be formed in Lebanon before the tens of social groups that have mutually demonized one another make peace? Greece and Bulgaria, the largest of the Balkan states that was designed gradually until World War II, have always been protected by their big brothers and they have never been interested in getting into deep waters.
Which country that was established after the collapse of Yugoslavia – including Serbia and Croatia, which were relatively shown favoritism – has been able to show presence in the world with its tiny piece of land? I wonder if the peace-welfare-happiness trio ever showed up in Bosnia, Macedonia and Albania, where the people meet a new act of animosity under the triarchy each week, where they are insulted in the books of the schools they send their children, where they continue to live on knife’s-edge even after the war? The Yugoslavian administration was awful, but has life ever become a joy after its collapse, especially for the Muslims? No, it has not. Just like it did not happen for the other Balkan states, just like it did not happen in Lebanon or Iraq.
The common quality of all the states I mentioned above is their failure to provide social peace and economic stability in the areas of their sovereignty. Because these countries are too small to recover, to create a difference in international areas; and also, because their citizenship identity is based on a uniform, exclusionist belonging, they are formed of communities whose rate of conflict is higher. Almost all of these countries have their own state, but can a state, which does not dominate any of the fields it should, be called a “sovereign state”?
No, it cannot.
Because in these states, the definition of citizenship does not rise from a foundation based on constitutional citizenship, but through race, religion or sect – and the state is adjusted to otherize the citizen who does not possess these qualities. What happens next? Tribalism, regionalism will go out of control. It could be called, Iraqization, Lebanonization or Balkanization, but it will not change the situation. State-looking clans are in question.
Because every ethnic, sectarian, religious otherization in the Middle East will lead to separation, and social separation will lead to division. This is one of the reasons why Turkey insists on Iraq’s and Syria’s territorial integrity.
In short, the times when land used to be invaded and colonized are in the past now, but by looking at the geography taking shape before our eyes, it can easily be said that we are face-to-face with a new form of colonialism.
*The definition is quoted from Cenk Reyhan’s article titled, “Toplumsal Yapının Ulusöncesi Ölçeklere Ayrışması: Bölünmüş Toplum Tipi Örnekleri” (The Separation of Social Structure into Pre-Nation Scales: Examples of Divided Society Types).