The border between Başur and Rojava has been closed for almost a month now, and several people have told me it is likely that it will remain closed for possibly one and a half, two months longer. It’s painful that Kurds now keep borders closed that are not even theirs but the borders of the states that occupy Kurdistan. The situation endangers all Kurds, in a much further reaching way than you may think at first sight.
For those who don’t know why the border is closed, let me sum it up shortly. The KDP from Başur (Kurdistan in Iraq) decided to close the Fishkhabour border (called Semalka on the Rojava side) last month after skirmishes had taken place between Başuri border guards and youths from Rojava and family members of Kurds who had died as guerrilla fighters and who demanded their bodies to be handed to them. The closure is bad for the economy, for personal ties between people on both sides of the borders and for people seeking medical care in Başur.
It also affects the work of international NGOs, which were given the opportunity to leave Syria but can’t return for weeks to come. That’s bad news for people, including displaced persons in camps, needing aid and assistance, but it also plays into Turkey’s hands. There are less foreign eyes on the ground who can see and report human rights abuses in Syrian lands that are occupied by Turkey, like the bombing of civilians last night (again) in and around Kobani. Turkey gets away with its crimes even more easily than it already can.
Which again plays into the hands of other extremists, like ISIS – which is again boomeranging back to the KDP because ISIS is increasingly active in Iraq, also in the Kurdistan Region and in the disputed territories, over which the Kurdistan Region is rapidly losing influence because the Iraqi army and especially Iran-aligned groups are filling the vacuum.
But I want to zoom out further. What does it say about those who hold power in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq that they close an internal border? By internal, I mean: a border that divides Kurdistan. It’s one thing to have to live with borders that exist and you can’t just erase even if you wanted to, it’s next level to forcefully enforce those borders that divide your own nation. For me, it shows that those holding power in the Kurdistan Region have taken a next step in claiming Kurdistan, and not really recognizing other parts of Kurdistan as such anymore. The borders of Kurdistan end there where Syria begins.
You see it with the other borders too. To the north, Kurdistan ends at Turkey’s border. After all, the KDP’s rhetoric is that the PKK is to blame for Turkey’s violence in the mountains in the Kurdistan Region, and that the PKK has to “take its war back to Turkey”. Isn’t the PKK in Kurdish lands? Isn’t Turkey the invader rather than the PKK, which is at home in Kurdistan just as much as the KDP is?
The KDP wants an independent Kurdish state, and it wants it in its own fiefdom, in other words in Kurdistan in Iraq. This shortens the borders of Kurdistan as we know it. It shrinks Kurdistan. Well, not that it’s clear where the borders of Kurdistan are exactly, but Kurdistan as a whole is roughly (at least, depending on your criteria) 410,000 square kilometers big, and the Kurdistan Region (same caveat applies) only some 40,000 square kilometers. Slowly slowly normalizing that just those 40,000 square kilometers can be considered Kurdistan harms all Kurds.
It already has repercussions in everyday life. Refugees from Rojava in the Kurdistan Region are often referred to as ‘Syrians’, while they are Kurds. Displaced Kurds from Bakur (‘North’, meaning Kurdistan occupied by Turkey) are limited in their movement in Başur because of fear they are extradited to Turkey. Kurds with roots in Rojhilat (‘East’, or Kurdistan in Iran) who found refuge in Başur are murdered by the Iranian secret service, and the local Kurdish authorities don’t do much to hold the perpetrators to account or to protect Rojhilati Kurds.
And now, the KDP has closed the border and it will likely remain closed for months. But if ‘Kurdistan Region in Iraq’ becomes a synonym for ‘Kurdistan’, what will that mean for the struggle of Kurds outside that shrunken Kurdistan? Maybe not instantly, maybe not in five years or a decade, but in the longer term, and especially if any twist of fate does bring full independence to Başur, it risks erasing large swathes of land from the conversation, from what is perceived to be a land that Kurds legitimately wage a struggle for.
Open the border. Open it now, before Kurdistan shrinks beyond repair.