The Kurdish Project had the opportunity to interview Kurdish scholar David Phillips, author of The Kurdish Spring: A New Map of the Middle East, a book about the rapidly changing landscape of Kurdistan, and the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran.
We spoke about his book, as well as some of the top issues currently facing the various regions of Kurdistan. Below is a summary of the interview.
5 Questions for David Phillips
The Kurdish Project: What were the research methods for your book, The Kurdish Spring?
David Phillips: I held interviews with key stakeholders and Kurds directly on the ground in Kurdistan. My interviews included Kurds from Rojava, Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey and Iran — referred to as West Kurdistan, South Kurdistan, North Kurdistan and East Kurdistan, respectively. Much research draws on my own work over more than 25 years.
TKP: Can you tell us about the time you’ve spent in Kurdistan, and the Kurdish people that you’ve met?
DP: My first trip to Kurdistan was in 1992, after the Gulf War. Since then, I’ve made about 10 trips back and forth. The people in Iraqi Kurdistan value their relationships with the United States. They are thankful for the United States’ role during the Gulf War, particularly during Operation Provide Comfort, when the US and UK protected the Kurds from Saddam Hussein’s reprisals.
The United States has betrayed the Kurds by mediating the 1975 Algiers Accord and encouraging the Kurdish Uprising in 1992, and then abandoning the Kurds. Nonetheless, US-Kurdish feelings of friendship run deep. The Kurds say that they have “no friends but the mountains.” Today, the United States has no better friends in the Middle East than the Kurds.
TKP: Can you talk a bit about the divisions between the Peshmerga factions and how that’s seen in the international community?
DP: In order for Iraqi Kurdistan to become fully independent, the Iraqi Kurds need to start acting more like a state, rather than a tribe or a militia. Historically, the divisions between Peshmerga factions have been exploited by Kurdistan’s neighbors.
To ensure that this doesn’t happen again, the Peshmerga needs to be professionalized. When there is unity between Peshmerga factions and clear command and control, the international community be willing to provide increased military support and capabilities to defeat the so-called Islamic State.
TKP: What are your thoughts about Rojava and the future of a Syrian Kurdistan?
DP: Rojava is a reality. It isn’t going away. The YPG forces showed great heroism in defense of Kobani. During the battle for Kobani, ISIS succeeded in uniting the military wings of the PYD (Syrian Kurds), PKK (Turkish Kurds), PJAK (Iranian Kurds) and Peshmerga (Iraqi Kurds).
For Rojava to succeed, they will need the support of Iraqi Kurdistan. In turn, the Kurdistan Regional Government needs a corridor to the external world. If the cantons in Rojava are unified and Syrian Kurds build good relations with their Arab brothers, there’s some chance that a corridor through Syrian Kurdistan can be opened. Iraqi Kurds and Syrian Kurds should set aside their differences for the national Kurdish cause.
TKP: How important for the Kurds are the June elections in Turkey?
DP: The June 7th elections in Turkey are critical. First, for Turkey itself. If the HDP (Kurdish-led political party) passes a vote threshold of 10%, they will be seated in Parliament. This will galvanize the PKK-Ankara peace process.
The HDP will also help the democratization process in Turkey. Without this process, the KRG may not be able to build on its strategic partnership with Ankara.
I think that the HDP will pass the 10% barrier, although I would not be surprised if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan steals votes from the HDP to prevent the party from crossing the threshold.