The current crises in Washington is the decision by the president to pull US forces out of Syria and thereby ending the protection we have afforded to our Kurdish allies. In the middle of the arguments the president daughter in law, Lara Trump, made a statement in support of the president that said the average American had to Google the Kurds to find out who they were. This set off a firestorm of criticism justified or not. The main problem with the statement for many is that it is basically true. Even those who know the Kurds do not fully understand who or what they are. In order to educate we think it time to produce a Kurdish primer, or at least one about the current Kurds.
To begin the Kurds are an ethnic group not a race and have occupied the area commonly referred to as Kurdistan for over a millennium. They share no common history or culture with those surrounding them other than through interactions with their neighbors. As the region was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, they became subjects of the Caliph but, like most throughout the empire, maintained their identity. Like many groups there were fissures and differences which can be seen today most glaringly in the different dialects of spoken Kurdish, some argue different languages. Throughout this time Kurdish culture remained intact. Following the end of the First World War the Kurds were divided up amongst three separate countries, Turkey, Iraq and Syria, while a portion remained in Persia or todays Iran. The Kurds have fought for a separate country ever since. As the Kurds became more independent, they began to develop separate political philosophies and parties.
To put into context the Kurds are not a monolithic group but like all other people in the world hold different political views and opinions. They have shown however they are different then their neighbors by allowing for different philosophies and different ethnicities to coexist in the Kurdish region.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is the oldest of the modern Kurdish political movements. Founded in 1946 as a Pan-Kurdish party in Iran it was instrumental in the creation of an independent but short-lived Kurdistan known as the Mahabad Republic. When the Soviet Union removed its backing the tow leaders Qazi Muhammad and Mustafa Barzani had a final falling out and Barzani established the Iraqi brand of the KDP.
The KDP was mostly operated as a tribal entity and existed by the strong will and stronger hand of Barzani. The back and forth relationship between the KDP and the various governments in Baghdad led to a revolt in 1974 in which the Kurds did not fare well. Results of the revolt on the Kurds led to the establishment of a second party in 1975, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Despite personal difference between Barzani and the leader of the PUK, Jalal Talabani, another difference was philosophical. The KDP was more tribal and center right while the PUK held a more socialist left drift. This split was so severe that it led to a brief but violent civil war between the two parties with the KDP looking to Baghdad for help and the PUK turning to Iran.
While the KDP and PUK never fully reconciled the actions of Saddam Hussain in his attacks of the Kurds killing hundreds of thousands did push the two sides together in the face of a common enemy. The Persian Gulf war allowed for a greater sense of autonomy until once again Saddam launched attacks on the Kurds as well as Sunni Arabs. After the US led invasion in which the Kurds play an important role an autonomous Kurdish region was set up and then enshrined into the Iraqi constitution.
The newly established Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) now sits in its capitol Erbil and is the acknowledge government for the Kurdish Region of Iraq. There are a dozen different political parties represented in the Kurdish parliament for the KDP and PUK to Gorran (Change), New Generation, as well as the Communist party and the Kurdistan Islamic Group as well as others.
We have spent some time on the Iraqi Kurds since they are the best known to the American audience. We now turn to the Turkish Kurds who as a population represent the largest group of Kurds in the Region.
While Iraq treated its Kurdish population as second class citizens the Turks refused to even admit that the Kurds were a separate ethnic group. Denying the use of the Kurdish language or celebration of Kurdish culture the Turk went so far as to rename them Mountain Turks. While the Iraqi Kurds evolved the Turkish Kurds responded to their oppression by the formation of the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK. The PKK grow from the revolutionary youth movement begun in the 1960 and was organized in 1974 as a Marxist-Leninist student movement. Moving through clashes with both police and right-wing organization it became a full-blown armed insurrection based on Kurdish nationalism and desiring a Pan-Kurdish nation. The PKK has gone through some evolutionary changes but remains basically an armed revolutionary group based in the Qandil Mountains of Iraq moving between attacking Turkish outpost and working for a peace agreement. This has been on going for 30 years. On the political side there have been a number of parties that have been associated with the PKK. The current party is the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP). HDP has had success in elections even winning a large number of seats in the Parliament in the 2015 general election. The ruling party under the current President Erdogan canceled the results and held new elections which reduced the win. Following which leaders of HDP in parliament were striped of their seats and some imprisoned under the claim of being or supporting terrorist. Most recently several mayors of towns in the Kurdish region were removed and replaced with Turks.
The PKK was chased around the region and at one time were in Syria until Turkey forced the Syrian government to get them to leave. Before leaving they establish a Syrian branch of the PKK which became the Democratic Union Party or PYD. This has allowed Turkey to claim the PYD as a terrorist organization and part of the PKK. While calling for autonomy of the Kurdish regions in Syria the PYD has learned the Lesions of the PKK and have mostly cooperated with the Syrian government until the time of the Syrian civil war. The PYD used the disarray in Syria to establish an autonomous government but did not engage in the war against the Assad regime itself. It has rejected Kurdish nationalism and maintains a Kurdish-Syrian identity. Like many parties in the region it maintains an armed force called the Peoples Protection Unit of YPG and an affiliated Women’s Protection Unit or YPJ. Today the Turkish government is unable to separate the PYD from the PKK in its operations which has led to the current violence. It is difficult also for some in the west to make the distinction because of a similar socialist ideology.
Another which Turkey claim’s is affiliated with PKK, is the Iranian Kurdish group the Kurdistan Free Life Party or PJAK. PJAK started out as a civil rights movement in the Kurdish region of Iran and moved to a violence when attacked by Iranian forces. Pushed out of Iran they set up in the Qandil mountains in Iraq and came under the influence there of the PKK. While adopting socialist ideology it is not known has much the PKK can influence PJAK away from its desire to maintain Persian roots.
Most Kurdish parties in Iran are outright communist or very left. Also, most are breakaways form other parties with the oldest being the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran.
Not all parties are mentioned is this article and much of the history has been severely modified, but as Lara Trump said it can be Googled. This brought us to a conclusion that the average is not up to date on geography, or the Middle East. We can point out so many television shows interviews where the average American on the street when asked about the past and present US presidents are clueless so we are not shocked about Lara’s statement as so many Kurds are. Education plays a big part in this case. The only thing that unites most Kurds is a call for a homeland. We are speaking of upwards of 40 million people without a nation. To dismiss any attempt to achieve autonomy is to ignore history. Regardless of what happens the Kurds, will continue to fight for independence within their respective regions. While it is unlikely that a united Kurdistan can be achieved it is possible to create separate Kurdish states that can work in confederation with each other. Giving in to Turkey will not stop the desire of the Kurds to be free. It is time that the United State, Unite Kingdom and other countries stand up for Kurds, those who claimed Kurds are their allies, those who used Kurds to push the Islamic State (ISIS) out of Iraq, and defeated them in Syria. Kurds shed blood for the world, it is time for everyone to step in and support the establishment of an Independent Kurdistan. President Trump made many harsh statements in the past a few days about the Kurds, first he mentioned that they are no angels, and then he said they got paid a lot of money. This angered Kurds tremendously. As president Masud Barzani replied to his statment, “Kurdish Blood is more valuable than money and weapons.
Chiman Zebari is a Kurdish American author, and human rights activist. She was an analyst for the US Intelligence Community. She has also worked for the US government in other capacities and was a broadcaster for Voice of America.
Paul Davis is a retired Military-Political analyst for the US Army as well as a civilian analyst in the US Intelligence Community with a concentration on the middle east with an emphasis on the Kurds. He is currently an Adjunct Professor at the Institute of World Politics in Washington DC.
The hypocrisy of the west knows no bounds. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a prime example. There is no doubt that the government of Saudi Arabia murdered Khashoggi at their embassy in Turkey, we all accept that as fact. That the world should be outraged is not in question, but that Turkey led the original call for justice is the height of hypocrisy. An opinion piece in Newsweek in September called Erdogan’s Turkey the worlds biggest prison for journalist. While true numbers are hard to come by the estimate is that between one-third and one-half of all journalist imprisoned in the world are sitting in Turkish jail cells.
The murder of Khashoggi was a despicable act, of that there is no question, the reaction however could be said to be excessive when put in the light of other events around the region. The moral outrage from the press and the call for the United States to punish Saudi Arabia is valid, but it has dominated the headlines and has been politicized. The facts are that Khashoggi was a Saudi citizen who engaged in actions that opposed the Saudi government and especially the Royal family, which is a crime in Saudi Arabia. He was technically executed on Saudi territory, inside the embassy, under orders from someone in the Saudi government. While this violates international norms and laws it does not violate Saudi custom of an absolute monarchy. Let’s look at the region.
Staying with Saudi Arabia, criminals can be executed by beheading for crimes that range from murder to adultery and vary from blasphemy to homosexuality. There were 146 executions in Saudi Arabia in 2017 and according to human rights organizations the number rose by over 70% in the first quarter of 2018. The kingdom also imposes other punishments such as stoning and lashes for crimes, all of which violate international norms. The world knows of these barbaric practices and yet continues to ignore them, likely for the sake of oil.
Turkey, once a shining light of democracy in the region, has devolved into a dictatorship where the rule of law is up to the capriciousness of politicians and judges. Based on political beliefs or ethnicity, Turks as well as foreigners are tried and sentenced to long prison terms with no transparency or right to defense. This system has been used to silence and imprison not only journalist but political opponents as well as shut down opposition news papers and news outlets. Foreigners traveling to or transiting through Turkey are subjected to searches of there computers and other electronic devices for anything that may be anti-Turkish and subject to arrest and prosecution if materials are found. While widely publicized in the United States the arrest and detention of US Pastor Andrew Brunson on trumped up charges are just an indicator of how Turkey subverts its laws. Less well know is the case of German journalist Mesale Tolu who was held in detention for months on terrorism charges but was allowed to leave the country in order to leverage the German government. There has been no call from the world or US politicians to punish Turkey.
Iran is without a doubt the worst abuser of human rights in the region if not the world. There is no covering up the crimes, in fact they seem proud of how they treat their citizens. Their interpretation of Islam and sharia law allows them to do so under the guise of religion. There is no free press or even freedom of expression. Recently a young woman in protest stood up and took off her head covering, she has been sentenced to 19 years in jail. Not long ago a 16-year-old was stoned to death for crimes against chastity because she was raped. The war against the Kurds is ongoing, declared terrorist or apostate Kurds are hung every day in Iran, woman are stoned to death and the jails are filled to over capacity by Iranians and foreigners. The jails are filled through the use of closed courts and unknown charges, while the world objects to these actions they are more then willing to allow them to continue in order to do business. There is no outcry for protection of the innocent. While the Trump administration has withdrawn from the Iran deal and reinstated sanctions the rest of the world objects to these actions and continues to deal with Iran.
Iraq has abandoned all pretense of a true legal system and has subverted or ignored its constitution. The highest court in Iraq was to be appointed by the government with apportioned seats so that all of Iraq was included. This has never been done and the court that rules is left over from the Saddam regime. Recent activities have included the illegal attack on Kirkuk and other disputed territories following a legal referendum in the Kurdish region that the central government disapproved. This was preceded by more then a decade of ignoring article 140 of the constitution calling for resolution of the problem. Illegal use of private militias such as the PMF and the suppression of individuals and groups is the norm, and yet the world ignores this in hopes that Iraq can be held together and some how become a functioning democracy.
There are many countries that violate human rights or operate outside of international norms and are ignored by the world, but this must be addressed. The world is getting smaller and cultures are clashing harder. This is not to say there should be a culture war, but moral outrage cannot be a light that is turned on and off for the convenience of governments. Saudi Arabia should be held accountable for the extrajudicial execution of Jamal Khashoggi, it should also be held to account for its barbaric justice system. Turkey and the others as well should be made to address their systems. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be a key not just a document. It was once said that human history would be much less bloody if we were as upset over the death of millions as we can become over the death of one individual.
The recent actions of Turkish forces and their allies have shown their racist intent by treating the people of Afrin as barbarians of old treated those they conquered. Looting, murder and rape are the order of the day. The west has seen a fair share of this type of barbarity. The Spanish conquistadors, Manifest Destiny and the destruction of indigenous people as the US pushed west, any war in Europe, and the rape of Nanking. History has not been kind to the perpetrators of these acts, and they will judge the Turks more harshly, in modern times this should not have been allowed but given the history of the region it should have been expected and stopped. The Turkish Government must be held fully accountable for this tragedy and brought to justice. As a member of NATO Turkey must be held to a higher standard.
The Turks have claimed the purpose of their attack on Afrin is part of the war on terrorism since the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military the YPG controlled Afrin. It is Turkey’s claim that the PYD is wholly part of the Turkish Kurdish group known as the PKK, which has been fighting Turkey for almost 40 years. While the two groups can be considered affiliated politically they are not one monolithic Kurdish movement as the Turks would believe. The PYD and the PKK may believe in the same basic concepts, but they have shown they will apply them differently. The PKK has been in direct conflict with the Turkish military inside of Turkey while the PYD/YPG has never attacked Turkey or its military. Non-the-less Turkey holds to the fantasy that they are one in the same and hopes if they say it often enough the world will believe. The west does not believe and have armed trained and fought with the Syrian Kurds against ISIS since the beginning.
In a widely distributed photo a of statue seen being torn down and defaced, is a statue of Kawa. Kawa has been identified as a Kurdish hero. Kawa is a mythological figure in Kurdish culture. A blacksmith who helped the people of an ancient Mesopotamian kingdom overthrow a cruel king and restore peace and prosperity. This was the beginning of a new day for the Kurds, Newroz in Kurdish, and Newroz is the Kurdish celebration of the new year on March 21th. Kawa is held up as a symbol to the Kurds that fighting for your rights you can overcome adversity.
The attack on Kawa’s statue not only indicates the level of destruction the Turks put Kurds through, but the level of hatred. This is an attack on the Kurdish culture which fits into Turkish history. Following the end of the Ottoman empire and during the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic, Kurdish identity came under attack. For most of the 20th century the Kurdish language was outlawed in Turkey, no books, newspapers, music or celebrations of Kurdish holidays were allowed. Recently these Turkish Jim Crow laws were removed, and Kurdish culture allowed to come into the light. This was a short-lived movement and once again all things Kurd are falling under Turkish censorship. In a country that claims to be democratic one in every three Kurdish politicians are in jail. This includes members of Parliament who have their immunity voted away and charged with supporting terrorism.
The Kurds have proven themselves to be a strong ally of the US and have shed blood for us. They have established the closest thing to a democratic government we have seen in the region. Turkey, once a democratic ally and strongly secular is sliding into a one-man dictatorship basing itself on a desire to reestablish the Ottoman empire, or at least restore lost territory.
Turkey must be brought back to its democratic roots or censured by the west and removed from NATO. Turkey has relied too much and for too long on the blind belief that they must be held in NATO at any cost. The reality is in the new paradigm of the Middle East the Kurds must be protected and allowed to continue their march toward democracy. The world must once again believe that the US will protect its friends. For some parts of Kurdish culture, the road forward is longer then for others, if however, we do not help we will only have one more enemy in the region rather then a strong friend and ally.
“APPEASEMNET” Giving into someone in order to avoid potential conflict”
As my readers know I like to connect current events with their historical forbearers. It has always amazed me how many people can recite George Santayana warning that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and how few live its caution. Today in Kurdistan we are witnessing a repeat of history which bought the world to a great war and in the end introduced us to the atomic age.
Following the devastation of World War I most of the world was exhausted and did everything to never have a major war again. The war to end all war was not, and the mechanisms set up to prevent the next war failed. They failed because the participants refused to accept the fact that there are times when force must be used to stop a greater violence.
The League of Nations and its member states set up high ideals and moved forward with great expectations, but when faced with actual crisis that revolved around its main charter it proved incompetent. The attempts at resolving the problems through diplomacy or attempts to bring the parties to the table were an absolute failure. The inability to resolve the Japanize invasion of Manchuria, or the Italian assault on Abyssinia (today Ethiopia) as well as both the league and the great powers to respond to German rearmament, and the reoccupation of the Rhineland and Europe conceding the Sudetenland, all in the hopes of evading war. One action of the league that may have been considered a success was the resolution of the Mosul question, rejecting Turkey’s claim to the province of Mosul as historic Turkish territory and awarding Mosul to Iraq under a British mandate for 25 years to ensure the autonomous rights of the Kurds. The intent however did end as failure.
The result of all this was that the aggressor nations of Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union saw the weakness of the world and exploited it. The League of Nations was toothless without the British or French military and the leaders of those nations were still so traumatized by the last war that a military option to any problem was just not considered.
Today we see much the same happening in the Middle East. Aggressor nations have been testing the west and finding it war weary, attempting to extract itself from current confrontations while avoiding new ones. While viable diplomatic solutions are advanced, with no threat of war they are simple rejected. When they are successful, such as a ceasefire in Syria, it is temporary and used to rest and rearm the combatants.
Iran is currently the most dangerous aggressor by far. Its direct use of its military through the IRGC and indirect use by proxies including Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, Hezbollah and Hamas. These forces have given Iran control of Iraq and Lebanon as well as much of Syria. This control gives Iran a land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean. It has effective control of Iraq and Lebanon and Syria.
How could this happen? Let us continue the lessons from history. Consider the disputed territories in Iraq as the Rhineland/Sudetenland of the 1930’s. Germany marched into the Rhineland to diplomatic outrage but no action and then used diplomacy to take the Sudetenland without Czechoslovakia’s input or presence. These last are examples of the west failing to stop aggression in the hopes of stopping aggression. When Iraq, under the direction of Iran, violently seized Kirkuk and the other disputed territories from the KRG without warning, the west allowed it in the hope of ending aggression.
Following failed diplomacy and a worthless embargo of Japan the Japanized attacked Pearl Harbor with the intent of reducing the US military and removing its power from the Pacific. Japan had shown itself to be ruthless in its military conquests prior to Dec 7th ,1941 and continued it brutality up until the end of the war. The Iraqi PMF has shown itself to be brutal with the mass slaughter of Sunni civilians following its occupation of cities such as Fallujah. This has continued even into the disputed territories. The US can stop this by extending military protection. Recently however the PMF have declared the US military as the new targets and the leader of Sadr’s militia, Abdullatif al-Amidi, has called on the Iraqi parliament to force the removal of all US forces from Iraq.
In the end this will result in an eventual all out war in the Middle East. This war will not be confined to the current areas. As we have seen, Saudi Arabi has been pulled into the battle in Yemen and is under attack by forces trained and supplied by Iran. The leadership of Iran has also said that the next war will result in the destruction of Israel. Russia has already staked out its claim in Syria and Turkey is drifting rapidly into dictatorship set on recovering at least part of the Ottoman Empire (Mussolini was intent on reestablishing the Roman Empire.)
It is always hoped that war can be avoided but history has shown us that diplomacy works best when both side understand that there is a military option available and that the other side is willing to use it.
In northern Iraq there is an area known as the Kurdistan Region, a self-governing area comprised officially of three governorates, Dohuk, Erbil and Soleimani, four unofficially with the addition of Kirkuk. The Kurdish people are a separate population with their own language, customs and culture. As was most of the Middle East they were part of the Ottoman Empire for 600 years, until the end of the First World War. Following Turkey’s defeat, the allies, France and England, divided the Middle East into separate countries. The division was not intended to right any past wrongs or concerned with cultural or linguistic differences, but to serve as new colonies for Europe, with interest in oil production. The Kurdish people saw this as an opportunity to become a free and independent country and such was promised by the Treaty of Sèvres that ended the war with Turkey and was designed to break up the Ottoman empire. For reasons best left to your own research a second treaty, the Treaty of Lausanne was written, and the hope of independence was removed. The Kurds have been fighting for the right to their own country ever since.
On September 25th, a referendum will be held in the Kurdish region to determine the desire of the Kurdish people to seek full independence from Iraq. This referendum is expected to pass by greater than 95%. Then what?
Most western nations, including the United States, have opposed Kurdish independence for many reasons. Some of the reasons are political such as Turkey will be opposed, others are emotional such as the entire Middle East will fall apart if we allow for a separate Kurdistan. This last assumes a stable region, which it is not. These arguments have been made and discussed and dissected for many years and I will not go into the reasons why Kurdish independence should be opposed or argue the points others have put forward in opposition. I intend to simply argue why there should be a free and independent Kurdistan.
What makes a country/nation is a combination of a common language, common culture and shared values, or simply stated a uniqueness that sets them apart from others. Without this uniqueness, there is always problems. Forcing different people to adopt other cultures or languages has proven to be disastrous. For many years the Kurdish language was not allowed in the Kurdish regions of Iraq. Kurdish culture was suppressed and the Kurds themselves were removed from their homes and replaced by Arabs from the south. Surrounded by Arab states, Turkey and Iran, Young Kurds do not speak Arabic, Turkish or Persian. While most Kurds are Muslim there is a thriving Christian community of Kurds as well as Yezidi (a culture all its own). There is also a diversity of political thought, not always as readily accepted, but accepted. Nowhere else in the region will you find such a wide-ranging acceptance of diversity.
After centuries, we see the desire for independence in the Scots and prior to this the Irish, today we also see the continuing independence movement by the Basque . Currently we have seen a resurrection of older nations in eastern Europe such as Serbia, Bosnia, etc. The common thread has been language and culture. Iraq is not a natural country, it was made-up by foreign powers. The Kurds have nothing in common with their Arab neighbors, not language or culture or history. To allow the regional population to redraw the boundaries is not earth shattering but natural. Is Kurdistan perfect, no. Will there be problems, yes. But at the end of the day it’s the right thing to do. As a nation born of revolution and a desire to be free we have an obligation to help this new nation in every way possible. At the end of the First World War President Wilson made it clear in his 14 points that “XII. The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development…” Kurdish children are more familiar with Wilson’s 14 points than most American adults.
It is time to fulfill the American promise to the Kurds.
The recent advances made by North Korean nuclear capabilities force the thought that they may have had advanced help. The one nation they have been dealing with is Iran. It is known that Iranian ballistic missiles have shown a close similarity to North Korea’s. What is the relationship then between the two countries nuclear development. Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran Deal, Iran was to end its research and development of nuclear weapons for 15 years. There is by treaty and understanding to be any outside research, but have the Iranian found a way around this.
North Korea has been cut off from the rest of the world for many years, regardless of economic support from China and Russia. The speed at which it has advanced from a small nuclear detonation to position of a probable thermos-nuclear device is astounding. If in fact they have also managed to miniaturize it to be a warhead on an ICBM is of even greater concern. Based on the speed of advancement it is not unlikely that they had outside help.
While several countries could advise North Korea, such as China, Russia, India, or even Pakistan, these countries have no reason to do so. In fact, the opposite is true and none would be safe with a nuclear North Korea. Iran on the other hand has every reason to covertly aid the North Korean regime. It would have all the research it needs whenever it wishes to end the Iran deal and move toward development and deployment of a weapon. The current belief is that it would take Iran over a year to reach a breakout point but this assumes that they would start from the point they had been at the signing of the accord.
This is a major problem that must be confronted. While all attention is directed at North Korea, which it should be, Iran is setting the stage to become a nuclear threat in the Middle East. German Chancellor Merkel has said that the JCPOA could act as a guide to denuclearizing Korea the opposite is true. Iran has taken every opportunity to evade the spirit of the Iran deal and it should only be followed as a cautionary tale.
As we move forward attempting to handle a crisis with diplomacy we are edging the world closer to nuclear war. Repeatedly in history mankind has refused to see danger and ignored the signs that a major problem was on the horizon, until it is too late, and millions die. Decisive action can stop North Korea and Iran and must be taken for the sake of peace.