American Ambivalence toward the Kurds

On Jan. 31, America’s chief diplomat, John Kerry, welcomed the Syrian Kurds’ “crucial” victory over the Islamic State, which has been driven out of the Syrian town of Kobani (the Kurdish name for Ayn Al-Arab). What Mr. Kerry neglected to mention was that the Syrian Kurdish militia (commonly known as the YPG), which he praised, is the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Founded in 2003, the PYD is the Syrian political branch of the Turkish PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State.

Accused of being terrorists in Turkey, the PKK is evidently seen as respectable and “politically correct” in Syria. Thus, what is forbidden on one side of the border is permitted on the other. In the habit of setting the tone and making pronouncements, the former imperial powers in general — notably France and Great Britain — and the United States in particular, are oblivious to their “mistakes” (a euphemism, to put it mildly), but on the other hand are swift to punish others and/or to flout international law without further ado.

The United States caused the rise of radical Islam and its mutation into cross-border terrorism. The invasion of Iraq by the United States is one of the reasons that the security situation in the world has deteriorated. However, this has never been the subject of an inquiry or of any convictions. And no wonder! Moreover, the arrival on the scene of the nebulous al-Qaida and the Islamic State group is an American hallmark. Who is able to hold Washington to account? Although the United States is not directly responsible for the current situation in the Kurdish areas, it uses it to its great advantage by sweet-talking the Iraqi Kurds while outlawing the Turkish Kurds, who were most active in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Is the Kurdish problem complicated? We will not insult the political leadership in the United States by not recognizing who triumphed in the story of the Middle East following World War I. When the region was carved up between the victors of the 1914-18 war, the Kurdish territory received special treatment. The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres provided for an “independent Kurdistan,” but instead the Kurdish territory was divided among four countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, which were directly or indirectly under the British and French protectorates. Like the Palestinian people, the Kurdish people were stripped of their lands and their identity. The Kurds, who are Sunni Muslims, are neither Arabs nor Turks. Therefore, they cannot be assimilated into either ethnicity. In fact, the governments of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran have done nothing in this regard. What has made the situation worse is the way that the West, which is behind all the “accident”’ of history that have led to division among the peoples of Asia, the Middle East and Africa, have used the crisis and the Kurdish question [to their benefit].

The way the Kurds have been treated — according to whether they live in countries that are allies or those considered to be enemies — says much about the Machiavellian tendencies of the most influential powers. Members of the Kurdish resistance in Turkey were therefore branded as terrorists (Turkey is an ally of the United States and a member of NATO), while the Kurdish rebels in Iraq were hailed as patriots fighting against the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. In the same way, this Manicheism is pushed to absurdity in the case of the Syrian Kurdish militia of the YPG. The latter is a subsidiary of the Turkish PKK, which is blacklisted as a terrorist organization.

Since 2005, thanks to American assistance, Iraqi Kurdistan has been a state within a state with its own president, Parliament and institutions. Nevertheless, it is merely a vassal of the United States, of which it is an armed wing in the region. It is the United States that finances, trains and arms the Peshmerga, which underpins the coalition forces. What is strange is that this American ambiguity toward the Kurdish question has never been pointed out by the media. However, during the battle for Kobani, the media did not fail to highlight the ambivalence of Turkey, which prevented Turkish Kurds and Kurdish refugees from Syria from reinforcing the ground troops.

What can we say about a United States that supports the PKK (YPG and PYD) in Syria and condemns it in Turkey? In the same manner as the Palestinian case and other conflicts [is apprehended], the Kurdish question is only complicated for those who, above all, see in it the means to bolster their strategy of world domination.

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  1. It is possible “to walk and chew gum at the same time”. The U.S. has innumerable interests across the globe in trying to promote peace and stability. This calls for nuance in foreign policy. We support the Kurdish people of Iraq because we generally support oppressed people, and the Kurds turn out to be fully deserving of that support. They are certainly nobody’s vassals. The Syrian Kurds are another matter. While we helped them liberate Kobani, we do not support them or the PKK politically except that we wish them to come to peaceful terms with their neighbors.

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