Competing Kurdistans: Nation-building versus society-building in contemporary Kurdish politics

Authors: Nicola Degli Esposti*, London School of Economics
Topics: Middle East
Keywords: nationalism, kurdistan,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Balcony N, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The war on ISIL, fought on two distinct ‘Kurdish fronts’ in Syria and Iraq, has significantly empowered the dominant local actors. Two models of political organisation for the future of Kurdistan have emerged and their competition intersects with a problematic relationship between Kurdish nationalism and anti-sectarianism. The tension between these two aspects stems from the different ideological trajectories adopted by the two dominant Kurdish political organisations. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Iraq has promoted a nation-building project based on the ‘Western model’ of representative democracy and market economy. Conversely, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) in Turkey and Syria has advanced the idea of ‘Democratic Confederalism’ for a post-national Middle East that would eliminate the root causes of ethnic and sectarian conflict inscribed in the oppressive nature of the nation-state. The paper argues that these two ways to Kurdish liberation originated in the different social groups that have promoted them. In Iraq, the KDP’s original ‘feudal nationalism’ has evolved parallel to the transformation of the traditional tribal and religious elite into a modern capitalist class through a ‘passive revolution’. Conversely, the critique of the nation-state elaborated by the KCK originated in the Marxist and anticolonial tradition that links national liberation to social revolution. The comparison will shed light upon the social tension that is traversing Kurdish society across national boundaries and offer a different way to look at contemporary Kurdish politics beyond the dominant approach of IR scholars that explains intra-Kurdish rivalry as a mere reflection of geopolitical competition.

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