Tag Archives: YPG

Who are the Kurds Without Googling? By Chiman Zebari and Paul Davis

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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.

Syrian Kurds, Turks and Kawa the Blacksmith

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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.

Turkey, PKK and the Kurds

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Why the Kurds Must Move Forward United and Why Turkey is Resisting the Future

By Paul Davis

As many of you know, and for those who don’t I will tell you, I am a long time supporter of Kurdish unity and Kurdish independence. As you can see by my photo and name I am not Kurdish. I am an American, originally from New Jersey, now living in Virginia. My opinions are shaped from a lifetime of studying history and politics and a career in intelligence.. I give this introduction so my readers will understand my positions.

Turkey is a country that has faced great change in the last century from the base of a once great empire through defeat and breakup and resurrection. Kemal Mustafa Ataturk saved Turkey from falling into the trap many of the new nations did after the first world war. Turkey carved out a new and forward moving country whose people enjoyed political and economic freedom and growth. There were of course problems, there always are, but for the better part of the 20th century  the country moved forward. Recently however Turkey is backsliding both politically and socially. This is a period of change that can be documented in almost any society. This is not a good or bad period, just one that happens because societal changes sometimes happen faster than societies can accept. During this time societies look backward toward a time of a better life and greatness. In fact these times were never better and the perceived greatness was never all that great, at least not for the average person.

The Kurdish people have a different perspective on the world, one that produced a history and a society different than that of  conquerors that ruled the Kurds. What they have is a culture shaped by the different societies under which they have lived but a society that has evolved into  its own uniqueness. The Kurdish people are not however immune to the traps of history and are themselves now caught in that period of change. Like Turkey they can move forward or try to move back, the latter never a successful option. What they and the Turks cannot do is remain where they are.

Much of recent Kurdish history is covered in blood and social and political alienation. As stated above Turkey moved forward in the 20th century, but left behind its Kurdish minority. In point of fact, Turkey refused to admit it had a Kurdish minority and moved to forcibly assimilate them into the new Turkey, again history should have told them this is never a good idea. A number of Kurdish political movements grow up, and most died, in this transitory period. The Kurds fought the Turks, the British, the Iranians and the Syrians. These fights resulted in the current group of political parties that for the most part have their own military. These include the KDP. PUK Gorran, PJAK, PYD, the HDP, and to the point of this paper the PKK.

While all  parties evolved from a common base of Kurdish nationalism they have traveled different roads to arrive at where they are today. In Iraq the KDP is the oldest of the major movements and as such tends to be more conservative, based on tribal and familial rule . The PUK which broke from the KDP derives its base philosophy from the political left and is considered a center-left party. Gorran which broke from the PUK is what in today’s world would be considered progressive. While philosophically different they have one thing in common, they are responsible for running a government, providing basic services and protection. They interact with the central government as well as play on an international political stage.

Those Kurdish parties outside of Iraq, with the current exception of HDP, do none of the above.  For the most part these other organizations are ideologically driven insurgencies with  militias. Both the PKK and the YPG (militia of the PYD) have recently fought valiantly against ISIS. But is fighting enough to claim leadership. have any of these parties provided food, clothing, housing or jobs to a general population that they govern.  I have just read some of the most recent writings coming from the PKK and they brought me back to my college days in the 1970’s with the discussions of total freedom and release from servitude. The socialist and anti-capitalist, non-statist world to come. The only thing missing were unicorns and rainbows. These are easy statements for an organization to make that has no actual duties or requirements to the average citizen. The PKK took to the mountains to plan their utopia and there they stay, except to come out and kill.

Turkey on the other hand does have these duties to its citizens, and in the case of its ethnic Kurdish population abandoned them. The continual repression of the Kurds and the suppression of Kurdish ethnic identity caused the existence of the PKK. For the last three decades Turkey and the PKK fought a running battle. Changes on both sides continued. For Turkey the transition was from a militarized democracy to an elected democracy to, for the last decade, a one party rule that mimics democracy. The PKK for its part started out as radicalized Marxists, through a form of pragmatic socialism to what they are today, a bureaucratic insurgency claiming socialist values . The bottom line however is that neither side has much to show for its efforts against the other.

Now to the KRG. The Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil Iraq is the only internationally recognized body that has any legitimate authority relative to Kurdish interest. They have been legally entitled by the constitution of Iraq. They have been accepted by the international community as the Kurdish entity that speaks for the Kurds. With this power comes responsibility and restrictions. While many will argue that the KRG is not a democracy but an oligarchy it is the closest thing the Kurds in Iraq have to self rule. Is it democratic – a little, is it corrupt – very likely, is it legitimate – yes.

Putting all of this together;

Turkey is a legitimate government, regardless of how far it has traveled toward dictatorship. Dictatorial regimes are legal entities until they piss off the wrong group. This generally takes a long time. We can look to Iran and North Korea as examples of dictatorships that violate international law and continue to function.

The PKK has no international legitimacy, regardless of how much it feels it does through its Ideology and international mindset, it is not a nation and when it commits acts of violence it does so outside of law and international standards. It is not a state and only a state, according to Weber has “ a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force. ”

The KRG is a legitimate regional government with international standing, regardless of how some citizens feel disenfranchised by the ruling elite. On the domestic and international stage they have the authority to act as any government entity and as a semi-autonomous region they have their own military, the Peshmerga.

Turkey is a legitimate government that currently has lost the moral high ground. The recent attack on Kurdish positions in Iraq and Syria have been conducted under the cover of fighting terrorism. Until very recently the Turkish government would not get involved in the fight against ISIL. In fact they stood by while ISIL attacked its neighbor Iraq and made gains in Syria into territory claimed by the Kurds. Two important things have happened to change Turkish minds. The first is that the Kurds fought back and not only recaptured lost territory but expanded into territory they did not control before. In conjunction they also did what they have not done before, effectively cooperated. The second, and more important thing to happen was the ruling party lost the majority in the  last election and is in jeopardy of  losing control of the government.

The first item, Kurdish victory and cooperation are terrifying to the Turks who have always feared their indigenous Kurdish population’s desire for freedom or, at the least, autonomy. The second is even more frightening to the ruling party elite who are losing control over a citizenry looking for economic growth and political freedom. The ruling party, the AKP, has ruled over what has become a safe and stable country for the last 12 years. With rising expectations and no existential threat the people looked to change.

The two winning parties need to build a coalition in order to form a new government. While neither one likes the other they both have no love of the AKP. The two avenues to follow would be for the two parties to swallow their pride and form a government or if too much time passes for the President to call for new elections. With no change a new election could be more devastating for the AKP and give enough seats for one of the other parties to form a government. What is needed is a crisis to turn the tide.

For the Turkish government the Kurds have always been the go to crisis and this time is no different. Of course this time, as in the past, the PKK gave them an excuse by attacking and killing 2 Turkish police officers then taking credit. Sending jets to attack PKK positions in Iraq, over and over, is not a justifiable or proportionate response. It is however not an unexpected response given the current state of affairs with-in Turkish politics. Recent polls show AKP growing in popularity since the violence started.

The PKK for its part has continued to foment its version of revolution against the Turkish government. Make no mistake the PKK is well armed and funded, but is impotent relative to its founding purpose. I would equate the current state of the PKK with that of the Colombian guerrilla movement The FARC. The PKK has past its zenith and to use an economic term is past the point of  diminishing returns. The best way the Kurds in Turkey are going to achieve their aims today is politically. The recent strong showing of the HPD in the last Turkish election should be an indicator of what can be done.

Both the AKP and the PKK are opposed to an open democratic resolution to the problems faced by Turkey and the Kurds in the region. To be honest the PKK cannot defeat the Turkish military, and it should be obvious, by now, will not wear down Turkish resolve. Equally obvious is the fact that Turkish military action will not defeat the PKK, in fact it makes it stronger.

The Kurdish future, today, lies in the ballot box. The true aims of Kurdish unity and independence can not be won through force of arms. Acknowledging that a lot of what the Kurds have in Northern Iraq was won in battle, it was not just the Kurds in the fight but the world. At the end of the day it was through politics and diplomacy that the KRG rose to the level of legitimacy. The west is not sending troops to fight the Kurds but diplomats to negotiate treaties.

I have not forgotten ISIS or the other factors that have the region in turmoil. As I said in the beginning I am a student of history and will say that ISIS and the rest of those who are walking backwards will eventually disappear into the dustbin of time.  It is important to continue to move forward to separate yourself from the rest. A warning however is that ISIS will not go quickly or quietly and the world needs to unite to defeat this evil.

The US still has no strategy in its fight against ISIS

With the administration pressed on all sides because of its lack of an effective foreign policy, a group that had been building up in Syria struck with speed and violence that caused a major breakdown in the regional status quo. Military planning requires time and information to produce a strategy that will result in a desired end state. The current US operation against the Islamic terror group ISIS (ISIL, IS, Da’esh) has shown none of the earmarks of a strategy.

What is strategy; it is the ways and means to an end. The end state given is the total destruction of ISIS. So what then are the ways and means, the strategy to accomplish this? The United States announced it would begin forming a coalition that would engage ISIS from the Air and then from the ground. The ground portion would consist of regional forces with the US leading with Air strikes supported by regional and international air forces. The problem is this is not a strategy; it is at best the start of a plan.

The immediate military requirement was to stop the forward momentum in Iraq. This should have been easy. We had air power in the region and we had regional ground forces engaged with the enemy, The Kurdish regional guard, the Peshmerga. The Peshmerga had eyes on the enemy and had up to date intelligence on ISIS locations and movements. What they did not have was sufficient firepower to engage effectively. Therefore, the answer is simply, coordinate targets with the Peshmerga and at the same time resupply them with needed weapons.

With everything so clear and easy why are thousands of Kurds, Yazidi, Arabs and Christians still dying at the hands of ISIS.

The United States and its allies are so tied up in the theoretical world of politics that dogma has replaced critical thinking and while waiting for an epiphany thousands more will die. The US wants to run all weapons through Baghdad, which has refused to support the Peshmerga or share in oil revenues as required by their own constitution. It is not as if the option is the Iraqi army, they are worthless. While being the recipients of US weapons and training they ran at the first sign of a fight and left the weapons and weapon systems behind. So then, give the weapons to the Kurds directly. Baghdad says no and our NATO ally Turkey is against arming Kurds at any time for any reason. Turkey has a legitimate concern since one of the Non-Iraqi Kurdish groups, the PKK, has been at war with Turkey for decades. Turkey has a less then legitimate excuse; they have been supporting ISIS in an attempt to overthrow the Assad regime.

Inside of Syria, we have disparate groups that are fighting not only ISIS, but also the Assad government and each other. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the group that receives all the press, is an amalgam of rebel groups that began the attempted overthrow of Assad in 2011, during the Arab Spring. The FSA is undisciplined, self-serving and untrained. This may have been different had the west responded to request for assistance from the beginning but it did not and the FSA is so broken and dysfunctional and infiltrated by ISIS and Assad and a number of others that it is not the boots on the ground the US needs. Therefore, whom do we turn to inside of Syria?

Stop me if you have heard this one, the Kurds. The Kurdish militia in Syria known as the YPG has been successfully fighting ISIS for two years. A highly disciplined and committed force they defended Kurds, Arabs and Christians from Assad and ISIL. They sent fighters to Iraq and helped rescue the Yazidi from Mt Sinjar while the west was considering action. The YPG while being Kurdish has also raised units of Arabs, Christians and Yazidi. So what is wrong with the YPG? They have been tied to the PKK.

Now back to the lack of strategy part. As said, a strategy is the ways and means to an end. If the desired end is the destruction of ISIS then there must be boots on the ground. If they are not to be US boots then they will need to be someone’s. The Iraqi army is out they are broken. The FSA is out they are incapable, Regional armies would be good but Turkey Jordan, UAE etc. will not likely commit to invade a neighbor regardless of the security situation. The Kurds are engaged. The strategy then would be to arm and support the Kurds, cooperate and coordinate air attacks. Train them to go beyond guerrilla tactics and stand and protect themselves while destroying the bad guys.

The current action of the US and allied air forces have been to seek out and destroy convoys and attack stationary targets identified as command centers. This is good, this helps. This is not a strategy to achieve the end result of the destruction of ISIS. These are actions that individually cause temporary harm, it is not a strategy designed to achieve the ultimate declared end.

I call on the US and the individual countries involved to engage with the Kurds to fight a common evil. We may not agree with their politics but they are not now, have never been nor will they ever be a threat to the west. In fact, if treated fairly we may find a good true and loyal friend in a region that is not likely to give the west many opportunities at friendship.