North Sea Oil Rigs

By James Kim
Contributing Writer

It is no surprise that gaining independence from the United Kingdom is no easy task. The United States had ten years of anarchy before ratifying the Constitution; India suffered a violent partition that divided her into two (eventually three) separate nations; and several newly formed countries of the developing world underwent and continue to endure civil wars and unstable governments. A referendum for Scottish independence has been scheduled for a vote later this year. Even though Scotland is a well-developed region with the highest per capita income in the whole of the U.K., that fact will not give her an exception from the difficulties of self-determination if the referendum passes in September.

However, there is a commonly held view among supporters of the independence movement and the Scottish National Party that petroleum would ease the troubles in the early days of home rule. Aberdeenshire, where most of the Scottish oil industry is headquartered, serves as a major SNP voting bloc and even forms the constituency for First Minister Alex Salmond, the main proponent for independence. Scotland’s petroleum reserves are located in the North Sea, which it shares with Norway. The Norwegian success with its lucrative resource has become a rallying cry for the independence movement, as unlike their prosperous Scandinavian neighbor, the Scots have no control over the tax revenues of the North Sea petroleum industry. London instead has the final say in wealth redistribution, leaving the Scots with only a fraction of their rewards. Relationship with the Westminster Parliament is becoming more contentious due to the domination of the Conservative Party, a political group long mistrusted by the majority of Scots. The Tories’ move to privatize the British postal service and even the NHS has frightened the socialist leaning Scots, who fear that their taxes would only be used against them. Thus, the rise of the independence movement is a response to the urgency of making sure that Scottish resources stay with the Scots.

Yet, oil cannot be viewed as a panacea to Scotland’s economic woes. OPEC recently released a statement that the discovery rate of new wells in the North Sea is at its lowest in three decades, initiating fears that production may have already reached peak capacity. To make matters worse, the Westminster Parliament stated that it would veto Scotland’s retention of the pound, a significant blow to the region’s financial security since oil is traded in American dollars. Losing a currency that has more value than the American greenback will create more obstacles than solutions for an independent Scotland.

Having a natural resource that everyone needs does not necessarily make a nation independent. While it does lead to a spirit of nationalism due its huge role in the local economy, oil also carries the risk of attracting foreign powers that want to possess all of its rewards. England knows that it will lose its tax benefits if Scotland gains full control over its own resources; a potential loss of billions of pounds forces Westminster to urge both the Conservatives and Labourers to hinder the SNP’s attempts at separation. However, Scotland also realizes that remaining in the union would prove to be a zero-sum game, as the price of the union means gambling with a hostile right-wing political party that has a sour history with the Scottish people. Despite the importance of black gold, it alone cannot break the stalemate between a compromised union and an uncertain independence.

Images by Berardo62


Map of Kurdistan

By James Kim
Staff Writer

At the crossroads of ancient empires in Upper Mesopotamia lies the largest stateless ethnic group on the planet: the Kurds. They number at around 35 million, but are spread throughout Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Perhaps their location, which the Persian, Hellenic, Roman and Ottoman armies once marched across, has been one of the reasons why the inhabitants of Kurdistan have yet to establish a permanent home for themselves. And even though those empires are dead and the Kurds have lived for millennia, the men of the mountains still find themselves a people without a nation.

Nevertheless, the hope to create a Kurdish nation continues on in their society, and for good reason as well. The Kurds of Iraq have benefited greatly from the U.S. invasion a decade ago, as American soldiers deposed the regime of Saddam Hussein, a man who gave the Kurds the same treatment Hitler had for the Jews: extermination by poison gas [1]. Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region within Iraq, is currently experiencing an economic boom and has avoided the domestic chaos that occurs daily in the rest of the country. In fact, when renowned food critic Anthony Bourdain visited the area two years ago, he was astonished to find amusement parks, outdoor club activities and spacious shopping centers that go against common stereotypes of Middle Eastern instability [2]. Later in his show, Bourdain meets with a few U.S. soldiers who admit, over a generous Kurdish buffet, that not a single U.S. casualty was recorded in the Kurdish regions. The Kurds know the door to self-determination has opened for them, and that now is the time to finally create a Kurdish nation.

Across the border, the Kurds of Syria now have their turn in securing the Kurdish homeland. At the same time Bourdain visited Northern Iraq, dissenters in Syria openly rebelled against the Assad regime, plunging the nation into a brutal civil war that has claimed over a 100,000 lives. The people of Rojava, as Syrian Kurdistan calls itself locally, have avoided much of the bloodshed, as the Kurds there have united under the Democratic Union Party (PYD). This party promptly wrested control of the Kurdish region of Syria from Assad in the initial days of the war while preventing other rebel groups from coming in, as the rebels’ extreme Islamic ideology clashes with Kurdish nationalism.

A stalemate has been reached in Syria, as the loyalists and the multiple rebel factions have neither the strength nor the numbers to finish each other off. The Syrian Kurds know they cannot rely on American support that has favored their brothers and sisters in Iraq, so they have decided to take advantage of this deadlock to extort more concessions for their people. They make temporary alliances with one faction until the other grows weak enough for the Kurds to switch allegiances. This ruthless exploitation of the balance of power maintains the frontiers of Rojava and prevents the enemies of the Kurds from gaining enough momentum to interfere with its local autonomy.

However, the PYD knows that they have enemies outside of Syria’s borders. Turkey, which has carried out a decades-long campaign of repression in their Kurdish regions, has been alarmed at the sudden growth of Kurdish political power in the two neighboring nations. Fearing that a Syrian Kurdistan would set off a chain reaction or even encourage a revolution in Turkish Kurdistan, Turkey has funded the Syrian rebel groups, including al-Qaeda affiliates, in order to bolster their strength in the conflict with the PYD. The PYD also has its own internal ethnic tensions, as Iraqi Kurdistan has hesitated to send arms because their leader, Massoud Barzani, has the Periclean fear that too much Kurdish expansion would force their neighbors to form a coalition to end Kurdish Nationalism, although limited support has now started to come through. These extra factors have shown the Kurds that creating a nation will be an uphill battle for the montane people.

There has been a precedent in which a stateless group has, against all odds, established a country for themselves. Israel only became the Jewish homeland after its founders toiled and endured conflicts with local empires and innumerable hostile neighbors, while surviving a terrifying genocide. Time will tell if history will repeat itself for the better for the Kurdish people.

1. Makiya, Kanan. The Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq. University of California Press, 1998. Print.

2. “Kurdistan.” Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Travel Channel. 22 Aug. 2011. Television.

Image by Jan Sefti