The diversity of the Middle East largely contributes to the Kurdish peoples’ displacement.
Melinda McClimans, assistant director of the Middle East Studies Center at The Ohio State University, spoke about that diversity during the Great Decisions Community Discussion Series Friday.
“One way to really get into the diversity of the region is to talk about linguistic groups,” McClimans said. “When we think of the Middle East, we think Islam and then we think of Arabic.”
McClimans said most people getting to know the region think the whole region is Arabic and that notion is somewhat true. Arabic is dominant, but so is the Persian language.
“A lot of the religious identities, [language identities and cultural identities] of the Middle East overlap, making it complex” McClimans said.
The Kurds, McClimans clarified, are more related to Persian culture than Arab or Turkish.
“This is widely generalizing because, even within those groups, there is a lot of diversity,” McClimans said.
McClimans said she hoped (as a regional expert and not a Kurdish expert) to get the notion across of why cultural differences are important to help understand political differences.
There is an understanding that the Kurds are not a nation because they speak so many different languages, but McClimans said the Kurds consider themselves one.
McClimans explained nation-states by comparing the structure to the United States.
“In the United States, [being part of the nation] is based on being a citizen, not on a cultural alignment like nation-states in the Middle East are.”
Because the Kurds are divided between Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and other areas, they do not make up a singular nation-state.
“They assimilated into the countries where they ended up,” McClimans said. “While they [kept] their Kurdish culture, they also speak Persian if they’re in Iran or Arabic if they’re in Iraq.”
McClimans said the Kurds have what is known as a bi-cultural identity.
In Turkey, McClimans said Kurdishness is controversial and speaking the Kurdish language is viewed as treasonous.
“It’s seen as an act of solidarity with Kurdish militants who are violent and threaten Turkish security,” McClimans explained.
The difficulty of labeling the different cultural communities around the Middle East where the Kurds live is that not all Kurds share the same values. There are many Kurdish groups with political diversities.
In Iraq, the Kurds have almost established a complete nation-state. McClimans explained how they were nearly their own nation-state, but the central government does not want that yet.
“The term ‘Iraqi-Kurdistan’ is agitating Iran and Turkey, who don’t want the Kurds in their states to seek independence and to take territory away from them,” McClimans said.
“[The] Kurds are a minority in every state they’re in,” she said, “either culturally, religiously or linguistically.”
An audience member asked to what extent do all Kurds want a unified Kurdistan and McClimans said that idea is a dream and not necessarily practical at this time.
“It was very idealistic to come up with a mandated system,” McClimans said. “It was a little naïve after World War I to make them into nation-states and [thinking] it would all be good.”
If a more universal view becomes possible, then diversity can become the norm, accepted and something people are educated to navigate through and respect, McClimans said.
McClimans concluded by saying she doubts if a nation-state will be created, but it’s difficult to predict.
Miguel Martinez Saenz, the provost and vice president of academic affairs at Otterbein University, will be the next Great Decisions speaker. His topic, “Cuba and the United States,” will be discussed Feb. 26 at noon at the William Street United Methodist Church, 28 W. William St.
Sara Hollabaugh writes for The Transcript, Ohio Wesleyan University’s student newspaper.