Nationalist Exclusion and Ethnic Conflict: Shadows of Modernity

By Andreas Wimmer | Go to book overview

6
From empire to ethnocracy:
Iraq since the Ottomans

Subcommandante Marcos has become a role model for many insurgent leaders around the world. His professional media management, especially, is much admired, not only by intellectuals but also by the rank and file of ethno-nationalist movements. I one day went into a coffee shop in Kreuzberg where a group of men from northern Iraq sat together. They were smoking and chatting, glancing through the misted window onto the snowy streets of Berlin and from time to time at the television news of MED-TV, a Kurdish satellite television programme produced in Belgium. When Marcos appeared on the screen, giving a speech on the crowded main square of the capital, they discussed his performance, compared it to previous announcements and ended up wondering why the Kurdish uprising led by Mazud Barzani and Jalal Talabani had not recently received a comparable coverage in international news.

And indeed, northern Iraq used to be at the centre of international media attention after the end of the second Gulf war, when the Allied forces installed a zone of protection there. The Kurdish guerrilla forces had embarked on a project of state-building amidst an atmosphere of nationalist euphoria. A Kurdish army had been formed out of the different guerrilla forces, a government set up with ministries and cabinet meetings, and customs taken at the borders; even urban professionals had started to wear the Kurdish 'national' costume. Wherever in the world there was sympathy for the suffering and plight of the Kurds, there was a welcome for the creation of an 'autonomous region' in northern Iraq as an opportunity for the Kurds to finally become masters of their own destiny. Since this euphoria was buried in the wars between Kurdish armed factions, the international media have largely lost interest in the plight of the Kurds and stopped reporting it.

The dramatic events in northern Iraq represent, for the time being, the culmination of a decade-long struggle during which Kurdish ethnicity came to play an ever more important political role. After the Iraqi state was founded, it gradually nationalised access to positions of power and

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