Political parties in southern Kurdistan: A theoretical reading

3 years agoPolicy Reports

By Sardar Aziz

This article aims to provide a theoretical reading for the political parties in southern Kurdistan. By a theoretical interpretation, this article means asking the relevant questions regarding the Kurdish political parties - issues such as What kind of political parties are those of southern Kurdistan? How do they function? How do theories regarding political parties assist in understanding these political parties? 
This article is an initial attempt for a project that requires more thorough research as the subject is mostly untouched by academia. Moreover, literature from political parties in southern Kurdistan is often biased, propaganda, promotional or historical. Theoretical approaches in the Kurdish world is generally weak, and the lack of a theoretical grounding is considered one of the weaknesses of political parties in southern Kurdistan.

Political parties in southern Kurdistan have developed over a number of distinct stages. In each state, the political parties have transformed to meet the requirements of each stage as a result of internal pressures from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and the international community. This phenomenon is multi-faceted and cannot be understood without seeing the bigger picture. 

Rahands as a method
Rahand was a group of intellectuals that rose to prominence following the 1991 uprising of southern Kurdistan. This group was special as it was the first time Kurdish intellectuals emerged in a grouping. Moreover, the group appeared to have the characteristics of an organisation. The group’s rise was such that it was able to dominate discourse in southern Kurdistan. However, following their rise, the group faced a crisis as its second stage of development was characterised by attacks on one another and internal fractures. These divisions were such that it not only effectively ended the group but also created a tug of war between the two sides to control the academic narrative in southern Kurdistan. This phenomenon of the Rahands provides a number of specific characteristics that assist in understanding political parties in southern Kurdistan. 
First, it is a non-political group that passed through the same stages, crises and tragedies as the political parties of southern Kurdistan. The stage of unity, division, civil war, and ultimately using the group to serve the interests of a select few in the group. 
Second, division and the inability to stay united is a sign of the inability to establish institutions. By observing the political parties of southern Kurdistan and Rahand, it is clear that this inability is not unique to political parties. 

Based on these, we can form the following hypothesis. In the Kurdish community, unity and the establishment of institutions is an ongoing crisis. If political parties are the most prominent example of unity, institutionalisation and emergence of force, then political parties in southern Kurdistan more than any other grouping in the region suffer from this crisis. 
To understand this hypothesis further, a number of other issues need discussion. First, what is the history behind this phenomenon? Second, if the phenomenon is cultural, then what role has the southern Kurdish way of life, its location and its geopolitics played in allowing for the emergence of this phenomenon and its continuation? And third, what are the signs of unity in the political parties in southern Kurdistan. 

Time and location: History and geography
An analysis of Jin Ajalan’s work on the Sharafnama reveals that the competition between the Ottoman and Safavid Empire was a major factor in establishing the foundations of Kurdish politics, institutions, relations and thought. (1)
Jin explains by taking a mixed reading for relations in the pre-modern and modern eras as explained by Anthony Smith in 1957 and John Armstrong in 1982 among others it is clear that there is a continuation between both eras. (2)
Furthermore, as Kurdistan existed on the frontiers, separating both empires, it became a part of the competition between the Ottomans and Safavids. Therefore, three forces came into focus, the Kurds, the Ottomans and the Safavids. The Kurds themselves existed in a number of emirates, of which the competition between them was largely orchestrated by the two empires to keep their power balanced on the frontiers. This power balancing exercise resulted in the Kurds first, achieving a degree of autonomy by the Emirs playing the empires against one another. Second, it caused the emirates to be in a constant state of competition with one another, which both empires orchestrated. Hence, the Kurdish Emirs fought against one another in proxy battles on behalf of the Empire, which provided them with support. 
This state became a custom of politics in Kurdistan, one that has the following characteristics; first, the existence of territorial frontiers in Kurdistan that divides its territory between distinct groups of the same ethnic background. Second, the emergence of a feeling of animosity between Kurds in each territory. Third, taking advantage of non-Kurdish forces in internal Kurdish rivalries. Fourth, allowing space for foreign powers to use Kurdish territory for their regional agendas. 
These characteristics appear to be against the idea of politics on a number of levels. If politics is observed as activities to serve the general public as defined in 1957 by Hana Aret, These characteristics do not play a role in serving the general public (3).
What if the general public does not play a role? First, if the public does not play a role, then so too does the private. Without a distinction between public and private, there is no freedom, rights ownership and laws. The public is the stage where the individual becomes part of a collective of individuals. Hence, one must learn the art of coexistence in the public stage, which also includes competition, compromise, unity and the creation of force, among other things. In the foundations of Kurdish society, there is no distinction between the public and private spheres, nor is there an awareness of the needs of the public. When there is not public there is no political party; however, there is a complication in Kurdish society, which is that political parties still exist in Kurdish society. Hence, the question of how do these political parties function?
This complication is such that it leads to a rise in the belief that political parties exist without the necessary foundations. This hypothesis which sees itself in a non-fitting environment is a state that requires further discussion. This state is often more visible when political parties and civilian movements emerge. If we return to the work of Hanna Arendt, the term “civil” is international and refers to anything that is managed by the people. Based on this ‘civil’ is used to describe the coming together of people and public space, to express agreement and disagreement. 
Political parties are designed to bring together people who share the same benefits, religions and ideologies. This coming together allows individuals to form groups, which in turn leads to an accumulation of power. This power is then used to compete for resources against other groups who share different belief systems or ideologies. When this phenomenon arises in an uncivilised territory, then power, in particular, hard power, becomes an option that individuals are ready to use to resolve differences with other groups. Therefore, in these situations, a civil system can only arise with the demands of those who wield hard power are met. Therefore, an open political stage cannot be discussed in this state. 
This principle leads to the conclusion that the current state in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is not a political one, but one of war. Bakhtiar Ali argues that after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the era of religious dispositifs ended and political dispositifs began.
The term “Dispositif” is not an easy one to translate into Kurdish. Initially, it was used by Michel Foucault and used widely by academics and thinkers since. Michel Foucault first uses the term publicly in 1977 at College de France, in which he used it to refer to the various institutional, physical, and administrative mechanisms and knowledge structures which enhance and maintain the exercise of power within the social body(4).
Gilles Doloz helps by making the term clearer, by explaining that for each group, once they create a dispositif, their existence differs to other groups. For example, Christian dispositif is different from the dispositif of the French Revolution, which is in turn, different from the dispositif of the October Revolution. (5) 
In short, dispositifs that state which in a particular era organises all groups within a given society and provides meaning into issues in their respective eras. For example, as Bakhtiar Ali explains in the era of religious dispositif if one discussed the buttocks of a female, most people would have taken this as a reference to the great work of the creator and not an erotic reference. There is a problem in Michel Foucault’s work in that he overweighs the importance of the creation of meanings at the expense of actions, benefits and will. 
If political dispositifs didn’t replace religious dispositifs, then what did? In the view of this paper, the Kurdish dispositif is one of war, in particular, civil war. The state will not change even after the arrival of the modern era. In the modern era and this state, Kurdish politicians and political parties are in a constant search for writers and supporters. Hence, this paper challenges Bakhtiar Ali’s statement after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the era of religious dispositifs ended and political dispositif began. Instead, it argued that religious dispositifs were replaced with war dispositifs. 
War is distinct from politics. War is that state in which the Kurdish mirs and political parties cannot co-exist; they cannot establish a public sphere; they cannot live in a pluralist state. A pluralistic state requires a transfer from Absolutism to proportionality. Following this, one does not search for absolute power over territory but see yourself as a part of the political process. Behind politics, there is the public, which is lost in the Kurdish world. In a state of Emir’s, there is no public. The public, a space for everyone and no one, is still lacking in Kurdish society. 
The prefix to pre-modernism is an extension on a number of levels to the post-modern era, which has influenced the founding principles of the current political parties. Hence, it is wrong to search for the characteristics of Kurdish political parties. It is this backdrop that has allowed the emirs to become political parties and resulted in the political parties being in a perpetual state of war. This relationship that is characterised by war between the Kurdish political parties is much more complicated the even the Kurdish media reports. When the frame is a civil war, it is pointless to discuss. This is not only true for the Kurdish world but in the entire history of humanity, as David Armitage explains. (6)
The state of war means the absence of a state of politics. In a state of war, there is no room for the creation of the public; instead, all areas remain private. They remain private to prevent them from falling into the hands of the ‘other’. In the Kurdish world, since the uprising of 1991 this state of war transfers into the economy, in a manner that sees war and the economy being the character of government in which the political parties are the principal actors. The clearest example of this is that a modern government cannot be formed; instead, multiple governments are joined together, which prevents government sovereignty from being established. It must be remembered that the principal character of sovereignty is unity. 
This article is the first step of a project to understand and theorise political parties in the Kurdistan, in particular, those of southern Kurdistan. Regardless of their presence in political, social and economic life, Kurdish political parties are talked about often but are rarely thought about — this a strange riddle. Not thinking about Kurdish political parties is one of the central problems that have prevented the emergence of Kurdish political thinkers. It can be said that there are many people that write and discuss political parties. However, these writings and discussion often fall into one of two brackets, either it is propaganda by supporters of political parties, or it is propaganda from opponents of political parties. Both these circles, not only fail to discuss issues associated with political parties, but they also further confuse the true reality of political parties. It is clear that outside propaganda, there is also a third direction which is comprised of reports and descriptive writings, which tend to describe the historical realities of political parties. 
Throughout the world, there is a snakes and ladders game in the literature on political parties. However, there is also a lack of theoretical work on political parties. For the theorisation of political parties, this creates two problems. First, the lack of theories, in general, leads to a lack of theories on political parties. Second, most of the material that does exist is not worth reading in respect to Kurdish political parties. 
 A large portion of global literature on political parties sees political parties as a unit in democracy, in that for democracy to succeed the existence of political parties is paramount. This idea, which was put forward in the 1940s by Schattschneider is not of direct use to the Kurdish world. (7)
According to Schattschneide, without political parties, democracy cannot exist. This tie does not apply to the Kurdish state. 
Kurdish political parties, as discussed above, have not come into being as a result of democracy and also have no objectives to secure democracy, especially in the short term. The literature on political parties argues the early periods of democracy are when political parties arise. It is an important moment for the direction of political parties and their levels of institutionalisation. 
In this part of this article, two subjects have been focused on, the historical roots and the and the cultural roots of political parties. Both subjects are intended to formulate a wider foundation for thinking about Kurdish political parties. If the intention is to understand political parties, then one must think more widely than just political parties.
The existence of historical and cultural factors, the founders of which prevent the continuation of meetings and demonstrations so that they can be effective, we understand that political parties are the creations of a specific period. This state is a non-civilian militarised one. If one day, Kurdish dispositif was religious, it then became a war. Today the Kurdish dispositif is in the initial faces of becoming political with the establishment of civilian political parties, civilian movements and geopolitical factors that work to restrict access to arms. In southern Kurdistan, there are two forms of political parties, political parties with access to the tools of war and civilian political parties. We must remember that southern Kurdistan does have political parties with ideologies, in particulate the Islamist parties that do not include a factor as much in the above description of political parties. 
Here we must reference many other issues which have not been awarded space in this article. For example, the dominance of the economy over politics in the Kurdish world and the emergence of political parties within specific economies. The lack of institutionalisation in Kurdish political parties. Also, the extension of a state of war into political parties and the splintering of political parties when they weaken. 

Djene Rhys Bajalan 2012 Şeref Xan’s Sharafnama:1 Kurdish Ethno-Politics in the Early Modern World, Its Meaning and Its Legacy Iranian Studies, volume 45, number 6, November
Anthony D. Smith, The Ethnic Origins of Nations (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986); John Armstrong, Nations before Nationalism (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1982)
Arendt, Hannah. 1958 The human condition,University of Chicago Press.
Dreyfus, Hubert and Rabinow, Paul (1982): Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Her- meneutics. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Deleuze, Gilles (1992): “What is a dispositif ? https://nowherelab.dreamhosters.com/what%20is%20dispositif.pdf
David Armitage 2017 Civil Wars: A History in Ideas, Yale University Press.
E. E. Schattschneider 1942 Party government. New York, Farrar & Rinehart, Inc.

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