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Thursday, 25 April 2024
Does the West have a Responsibility to Protect the Kurds?
Radwan Badini

Dr. Radwan Badini*


The question that often gets asked is whether Western powers have a moral responsibility to protect the Kurds in the Middle East from political persecution. The direct answer should certainly be a big “yes.”

From an ethical point of view, the democratic West should never permit medieval violence and persecution against defenceless people anywhere in the world. But in the Kurdish context, the West has a long history and a direct relation to what has been happening to the Kurds for almost a hundred years. And the West needs to undo it.

Lessons not learned

The Kurds were deprived of their historical heritage and their natural sovereign right to their land in the Ottoman Empire during the division of the legacy of “the sick man of Europe” when European Powers, namely Great Britain and France signed treaties with Ottoman Turkey, including the Treaty of Sèvres on August 1920.

The second time Kurds were deceive was when they paid a heavy price, facing religious extremism with the blood of thousands of their sons and daughters in Syria and Iraq to defeat the threat of the Islamic State terror group. Western countries achieved their interests and left the Kurds face their unknown destiny alone.

These are two separate cases nearly a hundred years apart, but the attitude of the West towards the Kurds has remained in the same in sense of always aligning with the enemies of the Kurds – contrary to the humanitarian and political ethics the West brags about.

Let’s look at this issue in some detail: In the first case, the Europeans botched the Kurds when they failed to implement the Treaty of Sèvres, which included achieving a Kurdish desire for autonomy or independence through a tripartite European committee. Under that treaty most of the Kurdish land was attached to Turkey after the division of the Ottoman Empire. In fact, Turkey quickly repudiated the Treaty of Sèvres in Lausanne 1923; while important parts of the Kurdish land were annexed to Iraq and Syria – two countries mandated by Britain and France.

In the second case, after the elimination of the Islamic State largely with Kurdish sacrifices, the “free world “remained silent when Iraqi Shi’ite militias in 2017 seized a large area of ​​Iraqi Kurdistan. As a result, just like the beginning of the last century, Western countries preferred achieving their interests over supporting the establishment of a Kurdish entity. They repeated their failure at the beginning of the 21st century by avoiding to support a referendum for independence in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in 2017. The alternative was simply keeping their interests with their partners in the Middle East.

Today, these facts may have been of interest to historians rather than being a journalistic material, but the harsher events that are taking place in the Kurdish region of Syria these days, require us to recall them.

New dynamics, old approach 

This time around, the United States is in charge of the situation, where it plays the role of Maestro in the East Euphrates part of Syria and takes the lead in Western initiatives pertaining Syria as a whole. But this U.S. involvement with the Kurds and its role in east of Euphrates also reminds Kurdish politicians of how the U.S. leadership abandoned the Kurds of Iraq and was partly responsible for the demise of their armed movement in the 1970s. In the Algiers Agreement of March 1975 between Iraq and Iran, the U.S. withdrew its support of the Kurdish movement and made sure that the supply of heavy weaponry to Kurdish revolutionary stopped.

For these and other reasons, the new role of America in the East Euphrates and the future of its partnership with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, there are many things that alarm the Kurds. The fear is that today's efforts will lead to the same catastrophic consequences of the Kurdish movement in Iraq in the past. Some of the scenes of the fragility of this relationship confirm the growing distrust of the future of these relations.

For example, on July 26, 2019 there was a round of discussions between Turkey and the U.S. about the establishment of a “safe zone” in northern Syria. The meeting ended without reaching a mutually satisfactory solution.

Surprisingly, though, President Trump had a conciliatory tone. “Erdogan is not to blame for his purchase of Russian S-400 missiles," he said, referring to the Turkish president’s violations of a fundamental rule of NATO's guidelines of armament.

According to statements by senior administration officials before the meeting, The U.S. made it clear that imposing economic and sanctions on Turkey was inevitable as a result of the Turkish purchase of S-400 from Russia.

Back to his threats to invade east of Euphrates, Erdogan said arrogantly: “No matter what the results of their talks with America, we are going to achieve our goal of eliminating the corridor.”

And thus rules of the game between the two sides were mixed once again, and we no longer understand who is punishing who.

Certain aspects about the east of Euphrates worry Turkey and pushes it to use all its cards to pressure America to accept the model Ankara prefers for a “safe area.” In fact, the area of ​​"East Euphrates" is indeed very safe, even safer than all others areas of Syria. And this seems what to bother Turkey for the most part. Turkey doesn’t want stability in areas under Kurdish control. And thus it wants to incite religious, sectarian and ethnic confrontations in this area. This region has been established as a practical result of liberating them from ISIS with the help of the US-led international coalition. It includes the majority of the Kurdish region of Syria.

The Kurds, with the participation of the other ethnic groups of the region, have established their own administration. This areas constitutes nearly 30% of Syria’s territory, which in itself is a source of resentment for Turkey. For Ankara, any Kurdish entity, regardless of its political orientation, is regarded as a threat to its national security. Turkey's argument is that the main political force organizing this autonomous region in northeast Syria, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), is part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) whose leader Abdullah Ocalan has been in solitary confinement in the Turkish island of Imrali for 20 years.

The Turkish propaganda claims that “Turkey is not against the Kurds” cannot bear any credibility anymore. The world saw when the Turkey ended the PYD rule in Afrin in March 2018, the Turks handed the city over to extremist Islamic groups of the Syrian opposition, which do not recognize the Kurdish presence in Afrin. And now it is negotiating a new partnership for a new invasion of the East Euphrates with the same Arab and Turkmen forces inside the Syrian opposition that are vehemently anti-Kurdish.

Of course, the clear and explicit objective is that Turkey wants to crush this Kurdish-led autonomous administration, and does not accept any attempt whatsoever, which could lead to the establishment of any form of "Kurdish political entity" on its southern border.

The U.S. now finds it difficult to protect its Kurdish partners in the war on terror, from its NATO ally Turkey. Since 2015, the two parties have been seeking a possible solution to this dilemma; they are in constant, slow and accelerating debate, and in some details threaten to end their historic partnership for over half a century in NATO. Through negotiations at the highest official level, the U.S. seeks to reassure Turkey that this problem is temporary and will end with a solution within the framework of the Syrian crisis. As such, the establishment of an area of 5 to 10 kilometres deep, managed by some European and Arab countries is a reasonable proposal that U.S. is offering.

Turkey, however, insists on the creation of a border strip extending from Jarablus to the Iraqi border at a depth of 30 km, managed by its military, which means the complete elimination of the autonomous Kurdish administration in northern Syria. Turkey also plans to return a few million Syrian refugees to hosts to this planned area, in a bid to change the demographics of the region and thus ending the “Kurdish terror enclave” and impeding any future growth for the autonomous Kurdish administration in northern Syria similar to a political status in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Currently, negotiations between the U.S., Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces are almost deadlocked. It remains to be seen whether ongoing US shuttle diplomacy can bear any fruits in the coming days.

The tense relationship between presidents Trump and Erdogan was not enough prevent Turkey from occupying the region of Afrin in March 2018, nor to limit Turkey's almost daily aerial bombardment of the mountainous regions in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Back to our main question: what is the responsibility of the West in what is happening now to the Kurds in Iraq and Syria?

We can confidently assert that the main reason for the continuation of this tragic drama of the Kurds, for a century now, is the result of the demarcation of the borders of the Middle East by a European pen and eraser in closed rooms after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. These borders divided the Kurdish people before any other. They were drawn against the will and desire of an entire people with whose distinct cultural and social norms were not taken into account.

The newly-drawn borders then only met the interests of European countries that shared the heritage of the fading Ottoman Empire. These boundaries, as we see today, did not provide protection to their inhabitants and did not have any basis for building strong new nations. The deep religious, sectarian and ethnic differences within the borders of each country have produced a "fire" under the ashes that is ready to engulf the entire region at some point.


Regrettable policy?

To sustain their ill-planned Western powers relied on certain components of societies to be in charge of the newly-established states across the Middle East. As a result, minorities in these emerging countries have become the main victims of power abuse. Some of these cases have produced leaders of necessity, who are characterized by a state of paranoia, in which these leaders, including members of ethnic and religious minorities, exaggerate their nationalistic rhetoric to soothe the sentiment of the majority. This is what some sociologists have agreed on in history as "cosmopolitism.” A clear example in this context would be Stalin, the ethnic Georgian who is known in history for his attaching himself to Russian nationalism more than ethnic Russians themselves. Stalin’s brutal dictatorship killed more than 30 thousands Russians under the banner of Russian nationalism.

The same situation applies precisely to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the ethnic Laz, who is obsessed with the Turkic Oguz nativism more than ethnic Turks themselves.

In addition, modern Turkey, the most important successor to Ottoman Empire, possesses and maintains a record of quantum contradictions, for the alienation of its national components and the intensity of religious and sectarian contradictions within it. And its social environment is so ready to embrace its leader, Megalomania, who monopolizes all powers. That his acquiescence and his alliance with the West allows him to present Turkey's "internal fire" as the necessary "melting pot" that will lead to the fusion of all "national differences" and the creation of a template for "the good citizen of the modern state" !!  Just as Stalin melted iron and fire the national differences between the peoples of the former Soviet Union during the Second World War, exile them and kill them. In Turkey today and in the same way other nationalities are prevented even from carrying their name and claim their national rights of language and culture. This leads in the long term to cancel the national identity of the various components. The Turkish constitution explicitly recognizes this: All Turkish citizens are Turks!? Now is Stalinist Erdogan not visible and known to America and its democratic and intelligence institutions? Or would they prefer to cover it up just like Stalin did with Hitler, where he was not convinced that Hitler would attack the Soviet Union and remained idle until the last moment?

That nationalism as a fight ideology, a chauvinistic nature mixed with political Islam is very much like communism or Nazism, which occupies a central part of the lives of crowds and the general public in Turkey.

No one remains convinced of the secularism of the Turkish state after the large number of conspiracies and coups planned. The first in the world with the number of political prisoners, deputies, professors and journalists; the world's first in the number of violations of human rights and detention without trial; the first in the number of unknown killers; The first in supporting the demands of their communities in Europe to build mosques! But Turkey's geopolitical card remains the most important thing for Europe to deal with. At the same time, it is the first destination for tourism and travel for the Europeans; the Western European and Eastern European elites are keen to maintain friendly relations with their leaders despite their black record in human rights. To maintain the roughness and rudeness of its treatment with non-Turkish peoples, and not to respect the standards of "Copenhagen" European in dealing with "minorities" and the environment and trade and agriculture. And immunity against any sanctions from the “European democracies” and always wins victorious in their difference with them. Is there any rationale for betting on the democratic transformation of Turkey and turning a blind eye to its crimes? Of course, the question is again directed at Europe and the West.

Reflecting on this gloomy picture of Turkey, those familiar with Turkish political history mention the number “18” as the number of armed uprisings and rebel movements of the Kurds in this country. Although today, the Kurdish movement as a whole, especially in Syria and Iraq, is known not only as the largest national liberation movement in the world that represents a people without a state, but also continues to play a leading role in the global war against Islamic violence and extremism.

Nevertheless, the West remains dead silent in the face of an all-out war by launched by Turkey against it’s the Kurds within its borders as in neighbouring countries.

In other words, given the contradictions of Western policies towards Turkey, the Kurdish issue before and now, and the Middle East as a whole, and in the Syrian East of the Euphrates today, we have the right to ask Western officials and the again: What is the responsibility of the West today in determining the fate of the Kurds In the Middle East as a whole and in East Euphrates in particular? Do you have any political, legal and moral justification for your position that always complies with the killing machine against the Kurds for more than a hundred years?

*Dr. Badini is a professor of journalism at Salahaddin University in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan