- Modern nationalism is usually the demand of a nation or large group of people to have its own independent state or at least to have the right to exercise its own cultural, social, educational, and other characteristics. Thus, the nation becomes the supreme object of loyalty and the nation-state the ideal form of political organization. Modern nationalism is relatively new in international politics, as in the past most people owed their supreme loyalties to empires, religions, or parochial units such as cities, regions, or tribes. Although its roots reach much deeper into history, the French Revolution that began in 1789 is an important date for the beginnings of modern nationalism. From there modern nationalism first spread to the rest of Europe and then to the world.In traditional Islam, however, the ummah (community of believers) was the sole object of supreme political loyalty. Thus, modern nationalism was foreign to the world of Islam. All Muslims were supposed to be brothers and sisters, regardless of race, nation, culture, or language. Therefore, modern nationalism came late to the land of Islam where the multinational Ottoman Empire still held sway at the beginning of the 20th century.Nevertheless, nationalism began to splinter the Ottoman Empire, as first the Christian nations in southeastern Europe and then the Arabs in World War I sought their independence. Armenian nationalism also developed by the late 19th century. As a reaction, Turkish nationalism led to the creation of the modern Republic of Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. The Zionist movement led to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Largely as a reaction to Western imperialism and the creation of Israel, Arab nationalism too led to the creation of more than 20 Arab states in the 20th century and the seemingly intractable Arab-Israeli conflict.In Islam, nationalism has also become identified with the Islamic ummah. Thus there exists the seemingly paradoxical movement to unite in the name of nationalism the one Arab nation at the same time that there is also in the name of Arab nationalism a proliferation of Arab states. Thus, nationalism has also been the result of more than a century of Westernization and modernization throughout the Islamic world. Modern armies, bureaucracies, schools, printing presses, transportation (roads, rails, and airplanes), and centralized state power—all are among both the causes and the results of modern nationalism.Modern nationalism came late to the Kurds, but for them too it has played a most important role in recent times. Salah al Din (Saladin), for example, was an ethnic Kurd, but clearly his supreme loyalty was to Islam. Even today in modern Turkey, the idea of separate Islamic minorities seems difficult to accept. The seemingly obstinate refusal to admit that its citizens of Kurdish ethnic heritage constitute a minority can be understood partially in light of the old Ottoman and Islamic principle that Islam took precedence over nationality among Muslims and that only non-Muslims could hold some type of officially recognized minority status. Indeed, this very position was acknowledged by the Treaty of Lausanne (1923)—under which the West recognized the new Republic of Turkey—as only non-Muslims such as Greeks, Armenians, and Jews were granted minority status in Turkey. Years later when he became modern Turkey's first Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan argued that the solution to his country's Kurdish problem was to emphasize the unity amongIslamic brothers and sisters. Currently in Turkey, Recep Tayyip Er-dogan's ruling AK Partisi (AKP) (with its roots in Islamic politics) has experienced considerable success in appealing to ethnic Kurdish voters despite the existence of the legal Kurdish nationalist party Demokratik Toplum Partisi (DTP), which, however, was banned on 11 December 2009.The Kurds continue to suffer from a form of internal colonialism that has divided them into at least four other nations' nation-states, namely Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. This situation has inhibited the full development of Kurdish nationalism, or Kurdayeti. Unless this bondage ends, there is reason to argue that the artificial states that contain the Kurds may assimilate them, a process that has been occurring for many years. Scholars, for example, have analyzed how the artificial states created by the colonial powers in Africa in time came to help mold new senses of ethnic self-definitions. Other scholars have shown how states in effect can create, invent, or even imagine nations.In addition, Kurdish nationalism remains stunted by such primordial divisions as families, clans, tribes, language, and other types of parochial loyalties. Kurdish nationalism or Kurdayeti seems stuck in a time warp from which other nationalisms emerged more than a century ago. As a result, Kurdish leaders have had difficulties making the transition from tribal warlord to true statesman.Recently, however, with the rise of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq and gradual democratic reforms in Turkey as part of that state's European Union (EU) accession process, Kurdish nationalism has been in cautious ascendancy. Nevertheless, a pan-Kurdish state would probably emerge only if there were a major collapse of the existing state system in the Middle East. It took the seismic upheaval of World War I, for example, to shake loose a Polish state from the shackles of internal colonialism imposed by Germany (Prussia), Austria, and Russia from 1795 to 1919. And then it took the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to win real Polish independence.
Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. Michael M. Gunter.