Reset of Imperialist Borders: A Reaction Against Globalization

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People all over the world, including the Scots, Catalans, Tuaregs, Crimeans, Kurds, Pashtuns, Basques and Palestinians are fighting for the right to have their own states. They want to control their lands and destinies and reclaim their national identities. Nations are usually defined by the common grounds of culture, language, and ethnicity within certain natural boundaries such as rivers, seas and large mountains. Because certain groups of people want to expand their territories through wars and conquests, other ethnic groups have been oppressed or even exterminated.

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History is almost always written by the winners, and world maps are mostly drawn with the blood of the losers. Five hundred years ago, the conquest of the Americas by Europeans meant the start of the genocide of native tribal populations from current-day Canada all the way to Brazil. Large-scale European colonialism, and its hideous helper slavery, redrew the world map entirely on all continents. Most of the conflicts at play today have their origins decades or even centuries ago, and they can usually be traced back to the criminal follies of European colonial empires. Empires come and go, but they leave deep scars on world maps that foment conflicts for long periods.

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Many of the problems in the Middle East today, for example, originate from decisions by Great Britain and France in the aftermath of World War I, after they defeated the Ottoman empire. Instead of splitting the Kurds between Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran, a state of Kurdistan should have been created. The treaty of Sevres, signed in 1920, provided for the recognition of a Kurdish state, but the agreement was never implemented. Kurdistan still does not have recognized  boundaries on any maps (see above image, where the red, white and green flag covers Kurdistan). Another colossal geopolitical blunder with dire consequences was the 1948 rubber stamping of a Jewish state’s creation in Palestine.

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History stubbornly continues to challenge the arbitrary geography that imperialists have imposed. Unfortunately, the struggles are often violent. Despite the power and oppressive natures of Turkey and Israel, for example, neither the Kurds nor the Palestinians will ever relinquish their legitimate aspirations to have a state to call home. Besides Western instigation, the civil war unfolding in Ukraine has its roots in the ill-conceived and abrupt dismantlement of the Soviet Union in 1991. Paradoxically, the biggest challenge to globalization, which can be regarded as an extreme kind of imperialism, may take the form of a return to older cultural divides. This is happening even at the heart of former colonial powers like Spain, with the case of Catalonia, and the United Kingdom with Scotland. Soon to follow could be independence for the Basques that would involve France as well as Spain, and perhaps even a push for independence of Corsicans from France.

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For Scotland and Catalonia, self determination will probably come peacefully through an electoral process. In Ukraine, the east and the west are sliding into a civil war; in Syria, after three years of civil war turned proxy war, more than 150,000 people are dead and 8.2 million have become refugees either internally or outside of Syria; and in Iraq, a sporadic but long-term sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis is killing thousands of people every year, compliment of the 2003 US invasion. In Turkey, Syria and Iraq, the Kurds are still denied the right to call their home Kurdistan; in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, the Tuaregs remain stateless; Palestinians have been denied a proper state by Israel since 1948; in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Pashtuns of both countries are separated by an arbitrary border designed in London. Some identities will outlive any form of persecution. For example, although Kurdistan, Pashtunistan and Tuaregistan do not yet exist, these national identities do. Whether a Kurd lives in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, or Iran he will always define himself as being Kurdish. The same goes for a Tuareg in Mali, Algeria or Libya, and a Pashtun in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

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Two decades ago, the prospect of globalization seemed inevitable and positive in many respects. After all, borders between countries may be viewed as artificial separations that divide humanity and fuel conflicts. The European Union was at the forefront of this dream of open borders to heal the deep historical wounds of centuries of warfare. In the aftermath of two world wars, what could have been a better place than Europe to realize this Utopia, with former arch enemies like France and Germany co-existing harmoniously and trading with a single currency? Some imagined that nationalism and its primitive impulses would disappear. Twenty eight European nations bought into this Utopia, which quickly became a scheme to gather a global capitalist empire under the tutelage of the United States. The idealistic European Union of free circulation of people and ideas turned into an opportunity for banks and corporations to maximize profit by reducing labor costs.

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In its present state, the EU is quite dysfunctional: not an EU for the people by the people, but rather, a monstrosity where a rarefied technocratic elite rules without popular consent. For Europe to continue as a political entity, it must become democratic and inclusive. The EU and globalization in general were promoted to citizens as being vectors of progress for the many; instead they have worked wonders for very few. Therefore it should not come as a surprise that, in this new historical cycle, more and more people are challenging the world order of corporate imperialism. This reaction is so strong that some ancient national entities, heirs of previous empires, are also cracking at the seam. Imperialism has arrogantly trampled ethnic groups and tried to destroy cultural entities. The new era is one of backlash against arbitrary geopolitical divides as a push to regain democratic governance and reset boundaries on authentic ethnic, cultural or sectarian differences. A flip side of this trend is the confusion of nationalism with xenophobia, as illustrated by the rise of European far-right parties.

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Centuries ago, Scots fought and died for freedom in fierce battles against England. On September 18, 2014, they will vote on a referendum in Scotland to determine independence from the United Kingdom. A May 4, 2014 editorial in Edinburgh’s Sunday Herald called for a Yes vote in a statement that explained: “The proposition is this: we believe independence will offer Scotland an historic opportunity to choose the kind of country that might allow its people to prosper. Decisions affecting our lives will be made on our doorsteps by people who live here. By us. A vote for independence says that a small country is not helpless in a big troubling world.

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In a few years, new world maps might include Scotland, Catalonia, Basque, Kurdistan, Tuaregistan, Pashtunistan, Corsica and several others as fully independent countries. Local government of manageable size for democratic rule could be the antidote against various kinds of imperialism, including that imposed by globalists. A return to smaller government is a natural reaction against the disempowerment, loss of specificity, and vertigo caused by a global empire that thrives on consumption and greed.

Editor’s Note: Photographs two, six and seven by Emilia Tjernstrom. Photographs one and eight by Neil Winton. Photograph three by Jan Sefti and photograph four by Frank M. Rafik.

 

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6 Responses to Reset of Imperialist Borders: A Reaction Against Globalization

  1. -1 Vote -1 Vote +1Jamil
    May 6, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    A really exhaustive article that encouraged me to go back and re-read the treaty of Sevres a couple of times. One thing was striking (“The treaty of Sevres, signed in 1920, provided for the recognition of a Kurdish state, but the agreement was never implemented.”). In fact, I could not see where the mention of a “Kurdish State” occurs in the Treaty. All I found was the mention of an autonomous region within Turkey, or the Kurds of Turkey could join the other Kurds of Iraq if they opted for this in a plebiscite.

    Thanks

    Jamil

    • +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Alan Germiyan
      May 17, 2014 at 8:33 pm

      “Section III: Kurdistan” in the Treaty of Sevres:

      “Article 64. If within one year from the coming into force of the present Treaty the Kurdish peoples within the areas defined in Article 62 shall address themselves to the Council of the League of Nations in such a manner as to show that a majority of the population of these areas desires INDEPENDENCE (my emphasis) from Turkey, and if the Council then considers that these peoples are capable of such independence and recommends that it should be granted to them, Turkey hereby agrees to execute such a recommendation, and to renounce all rights and title over these areas.”

      “If and when such renunciation takes place, no objection will be raised by the Principal Allied Powers to the voluntary adhesion to such an independent Kurdish State of the Kurds inhabiting that part of Kurdistan which has hitherto been included in the Mosul vilayet.”

  2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1John Bee
    May 7, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Good article. I am glad CounterPunch picked it up. But you need to continue. The BNP and the Front National and the Dutch Freedom Party are all similar popular expressions against the tyrannny of the capitalist class. The young leftists of Europe, who are almost exclusively the spoiled children of the middle class have attacked nationalist aspirations in their own homelands, while they purport to have sympathy for the Palestinians and the Tibetans. The prblem with the young Caucasion left is that they are not genuine blue-collar non-college-educated working class. In fact these elitists despise their own countrymen who are from this class. Furthermore, these young leftists are incapable of real political organizing because of this estrangement. They consider themselves to be “leaders” of a proletariat from which they are completely estranged in culture, values, aspirations, language, and thought processes. Most of them go through their “activist years” from age 17 to 30, then they become members of the white-collar bourgeois they professed to despise. Meanwhile the globalist monster marches on impoverishing and killing millions, its oligarchs getting more and more obscenely wealthy while children die in the gutter.

  3. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1backwardsevolution
    May 8, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Excellent article, very well written. Thank you.

  4. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Brandon Letsinger
    May 9, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    Great article. Please think about including Cascadia in your list of areas wanting determination. We span international boundaries, and seek instead to break down arbitrary political lines onto areas that better represent the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada – through a common environment, culture and economy, rooted in a love of the Cascadia bioregion.

    Cheers

  5. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Alan Germiyan
    May 17, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    Insightful article. I would add the Balochies, who are a nation of 15-20 million, whose country Balochistan has been divided among and suppressed by Iran and Pakistan. I must address Jamil´s comment: He is only an illustration of the animosity of certain people (most notably Turks and Iranians) against the Kurds. They will litter platforms like Wikipedia with disinformation and lies, and attack everything that has to do with Kurds. Their attacks have intensified, especially since Kurdish advancements in Iraq and, to a degree, in Syria. Those attacks are of course in vain, as the Kurds (a nation of 40 million) possess such a deep and cultural connection with their land. Regardless, it is the truth that is everlasting, while lies come and go. Allow me, as I finish, to provide you with a detailed map of Kurdistan. Those are names that “locals” have given to the areas were they live and love. Those people and the land together make Kurdistan. http://www.institutkurde.org/images/cartes_and_maps/native_kurdish_provincial.jpg