October 24, 2015

What is political identity and how could it be expressed? - By Ahmed Saleh


This report will illustrate what is political identity and how it could be indicated, mainly in the Middle East. This report will mainly concentrate on the Kurdish national identity in the Middle East, particularly in the four following countries, such as Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. For this report question, it is significant to search a variety of scholar’s points of view. As Anthony Smith noted that national identity can be described as ‘‘a named human population sharing an historic territory, common myths and historical memories, a mass, public culture, a common economy and common legal rights and duties for all members’’ . A straightforward definition for identity could be seen as personal, social, psychological and thoroughly determined by the actor’s interaction with and relationship to others

Any discussion regarding the Middle East and its political identity whether it is regional or international, Kurdish identity must not be excluded, one key fact which many scholars have overlooked is Kurdish political identity.  Identity could be an essential part of a human being and, one could genuinely argue that identity is significant in the community, region and within the state. Moreover, it could be disputed that the Middle East Nation-state and its communities have been identified as Islam or an Arab in general, this is misleading, because there is no doubt people in the Middle East are multi-faced just like every other place in the world. The identity of Kurdish people have been oppressed and denied their identities in the long history, or since the creation of the Middle East states and they have not been able to express their qualities and political views.  Although, wherever they had attempted or endeavoured to express their identities they have been treated unfairly and face a problem with the state.

As a matter of fact, because Kurdish people’s identity have been undermined and under-represented in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran, therefore these states have been in conflict with their own minority Kurdish communities for many years. Sometimes these conflicts have challenged the internal legitimacy and the political stability of these states.  The above argument regarding the Kurdish issue in Iraq could be evident as Shibley Telhami and Michael Barnett believed that post-Gulf War of 1991, the uprising of the Kurdish national evolution brought up questions concerning Iraq’s political identity .

In addition, while Telhami and Barrnet have briefly mentioned the Kurdish peoples’ identity struggle in Turkey, but they have overlooked Kurdish identity in Syria and Iran. They both believe that while Kurdish people as a sub-national group have not managed to define their own national identity in the Middle East, but some other sub-national groups have such as ‘‘Christian/Maronite’’  state in Lebanon and the Arab/non-Arab division (North/South) in the Sudan.  The biggest weakness of the Telhami and Barnett is that they stated that some minorities such as Alawites, Christians and Druze Syrians in Iraq and Syria accepted to become Arab as opposed to keeping their own identity.  This could be argued that these groups were forced and manipulated into changing their identity. Keeping their original identity may put them in a vulnerable situation.  At this point, as a scholar they have failed to even mention the Kurdish minority group both in Iraq and Syria. Another significant point to highlight is that, Telhami and Barneet believe that while national political identity is important source for a state and empowers the credibility and its legitimacy, but most Arab state only focuses to the Arab national interest rather than territorially defined state .

Moreover, Louise Fawcett suggested that appropriateness and agreement of state and identity in Turkey is less tricky and claimed that this made Turkey’s democratization safer . It is fair to argue that, Louise’s suggestion is not appropriate regarding Turkey’s national identity as Kurdish identity is denied; therefore Turkey has faced a long-term conflict with Kurdish people for the last three decades or more .  This could be illustrated with the case of Leyla Zana along with four other Democracy Party Members of Parliament (Hatip Dicle, Selim Sadak and Orhan Dogan) in December 1994 she was arrested and jailed for fifteen years, because she was speaking Kurdish in the Turkish Parliament after taking her parliamentary oath, and her activity was treated as against the unitary of Turkey .  There is no doubt that, political identity is important for a national state, as well as sub-national, political identity could questionably empower the international relations and it is foreign policy if carried out fairly.  Regarding this, Fawcett argued that Kurds and Palestinians have made the situations in Turkey and Israel less stable. Another significant point to underscore is that, Fawcett interpreted that, after the Iraqi invasion in 2003 and some other consequences such as Palestine defeat in 1967 could be seen as a shared Arab humiliation, but Fawcett has undermined that the Kurdish sub-national and the Shia Arab were fully supporting the invasion of Iraq. It is also essential to indicate that Fawcett believed that while Iraq was born as an artificial state, and the Sunni Arab had the power to run the country,  endeavoured to engage with the Shiite Arab but made the Kurds unwelcome.

The most obstacle confronted Kurdish movement to promote their political identity in the four above countries mentioned is that, they used and supported the Kurdish when they fulfilled their state interests not the national interest, as Fawcett explained that Iran supported Kurdish movement in Iraq against the Iraqi government while Iran concluded its support for the Kurdish in return for Iraqi concessions on Shatt al – Arab waterway that they shared . However, this agreement so called, Iraq and Iran 1975 Treaty, post of this Treaty Iran ended its support for Kurdish, consequently Saddam Hussain crushed the Kurdish movements and even relocated many Kurdish people to alter the demographic characteristics of the traditionally Kurdish areas .  Nevertheless, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 has increased the Kurdish autonomies legitimacy and as a result Kurdish has established Regional Government in North Iraq. The same document also underlined that Syria supported Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) to fight Turkey, and this conflict has been lasting for decades. The PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan has been imprisoned for many years, despite the peace process between Turkey and PKK .

In conclusion

One could effortlessly see that Kurdish people have endeavoured to express their political identity in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey; so far their identities are still questionable in Iran and Turkey.  These countries have tried various mechanisms in order to undermine Kurdish political identity. It is obvious that many scholars have concentrated mainly on the Arab and Islam political identity when they are referring to the Middle East, mainly about Arabism and Islam. By considering many variety of resources and analysing academic’s point of view, one could identify that many scholars have demonstrated that, foreign policy and international relations in the Middle East largely based on Islam, Arab and Arab-Israel conflict. Maybe it is important to ask, why Kurdish people have been ignored amongst many scholars and how many more decades will it be, before human beings are required to recognise Kurdish political identity positively in the Middle East?.

  A, Smith., National Identity, (London: Penguin 1991) p. 14
  S, Telhami., M, Barnett., (ed)., Identity and Foreign Policy in the Middle East (Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 2002), p.8
  Telhami and Barnett., op cit. p.1
  Ibid, p. 14
  Ibid, p.16
  L, Fawcett., (ed) 2013, International Relations of the Middle East, (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 150
Democratic progress Institute, Turkey’s Kurdish Conflict: An Assessment of the Current Process, (London:  Democratic Progress Institute, 2013), p. 15. Available at:
  EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC), Fourth International Conference on EU Turkey and the Kurds, European Parliament, Brussels, ¾ December (2007)
  Fawcett., op. cit. p. 155
  B, A. Diba., ‘Iraq and Iran: 1975 Treaty and Talebani’, Assyrian International News Agency, 1th January 2008. Available at:
  Democratic progress Institute, op. cit. p.50


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