As violence and political turmoil plague parts of the Middle East, many scholars in international relations are searching for a new way to build democracy and promote peace in the area. With such a complicated political environment, though, there are endless theories as to how the United States should best move forward diplomatically. According to senior political science and history major Grayson Lewis, there is one group in the Middle East whose potential as an ally is incredibly underrated and underexplored: the Kurds.
Many people may not be familiar with the Kurds, although their position in the struggle against ISIS and their role in the US invasion of Iraq have earned them notoriety among political scholars in recent years. Kurdistan, which is not an officially recognized state and which has no autonomous government, is an area of land situated in the Middle East that comprises parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.
Through his research, Lewis advocates for Kurdish liberation, not for the sake of liberating the Kurdish people but as a diplomatic possibility for the United States to attempt to stabilize the region: “The US likes to play this game of democracy building...We want to have an ally that’s a democracy, but it’s also got to be one that’s stable, and it’s also got to be one that’s a friend of Israel, and the Kurds have all three,” said Lewis.
For Lewis, the allure of Kurdistan is that unlike many other nations in the Middle East, it has shown a commitment to democracy and even more unlikely, an enduring and stable democracy. The Kurds of Rojava in northern Syria, for example, have an autonomous democratic government. They are progressive in terms of gender equality and representational equality, among other democratic features.
Establishing allies and a favorable opinion of the United States in the Middle East has been a struggle for decades, and it only seems to become more and more pressing with each passing year. If the United States plans to have any kind of cooperative relationship with countries in that area, Lewis argues that they should seek out a democratic ally and that Kurdistan is the best possible contender.
In regards to the question of the process of Kurdish independence, Lewis says that he is more concerned with deciding whether a nation would be an asset to the free world before considering establishing it as an independent state. “Land is land, and you can’t just draw a line on a map. I specifically didn’t go into how that was going to work,” said Lewis when discussing the ramifications of establishing an independent state irrespective of existing borders. For Lewis, independence should be a question of global benefit rather than strictly a historical or cultural question.
“I don’t think wanting to be independent is the best judge of whether a group of people should be independent...A better questions is: will they be democratic?” Lewis found, surprisingly, that the body of research on Kurdish independence, and even on the strategic relationship that the US and Kurdistan could establish, was limited.
In his research, Lewis compiles information about the history of democracy for the Kurds, the vibrancy of the democracy in Rojava, and hypothesizes a United States diplomatic strategy that would take advantage of the stability of the Kurds in the Middle East.