18 March 2016
By Giran Ozcan
The Kurds have a well-known saying: “no friends but the mountains”. For generations this phrase has been used to describe the fact that the Kurdish people have always had to rely on their own abilities and the unforgiving geography of Kurdistan to maintain their very existence. Recent developments would show that this phrase, that which reflects the age-old situation of the Kurdish people, still aptly describes the realities of today.
Since the Lausanne Agreement, in which the Kurds definitively found out that there were other surrounding nations that were more strategic to international forces meddling in their region than them, the Kurds have never been approached in a strategic manner by any state on the face of the Earth. In the British-French remodeling of the Middle East during the first quarter of the 20th century, the Kurds were deemed unqualified to constitute a nation-state. Instead, they had to settle for constituting minority components of nation-states that did get the green light by the ruler-holding, pencil-pushing imperialist British and French bureaucrats.
But it wasn’t just at the beginning of the century where the Kurds were seen as an insignificant people straddling the borders of what is now Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. The hegemonic states of the past century chose to stand by and watch as Sheikh Sayit and friends were hanged for leading a Kurdish uprising against the then adolescent Turkish Republic in 1925. Even the massacring of tens of thousands of Kurds in Dersim throughout 1937-8 was possibly brushed off by the ‘international community’ as the labour pains of the Turkish nation building process. The deafening silence of the West (as it was being called by now) when Saddam Hussein and his genocidal Anfal Campaign killed hundreds of thousands of Kurds between 1986 and 1989 only showed that befriending the mountains could only go so far.
And today, the Turkish armed forces (among the countless atrocities reported in the past six months) are continuing to relentlessly bomb Kurdish towns and cities. The silence of Europe — the same Europe that had been significantly critical of Turkish President Erdogan’s increasingly dictatorial tactics to consolidate his grasp on power — couldn’t possibly have been extorted out of them by the Turkish government’s threat of allowing the 2.5 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey to cross into Europe, could it? While we’re on it, what did happen to the sudden influx of refugees into Europe towards the back end of 2015?
The aim of this article is not to outline a historical context for what is all-too-often described as the fate of the Kurds. Rather, despite all the media hype, despite all of the “supportive” statements by heads of states regarding “the heroic Kurds in their fight against terrorism”, and despite the sudden discovery that Kurdish women are at the forefront of the struggle against patriarchy, the struggling Kurdish people are still today kept at an arms length by the powers seeking to once again re-shape the region.
For the US-led international coalition against ISIS, the Kurds are “the most effective fighting force against ISIS”; For Russia, the last ‘on-field’ player in the Syrian conflict, the Kurds are “Syrian citizens defending Syria against terrorists”; And for huge portions of the international media, the Kurds are, in the most generalised sense, represented as heroic fighters upholding ‘Western’ values in an otherwise unenlightened part of the world. So, for everyone holding a stake in the outcome of the current conflict spanning several countries in the Middle East, the Kurds are a tactical (short-term) blessing, but increasingly evidently, a strategic (long-term) no-go!
Is this not the message being sent to the world as the Kurds are consistently left out of the Geneva meetings (organised by the UN to find a solution to the five-year long conflict in Syria)? Those that were deemed suitable to merit an invitation to debate a peaceful solution to the conflict in Syria ranged from global stakeholders in the conflict, to the host nation of the conflict; and from ‘legitimate’ fighting forces on the ground, to organisations deemed ‘terrorist’ by the other invitees. All the while, everyone’s favourite tactical ally, the Kurds, were deemed just that: tactical!
The question of “why” this is the case boils down to one simple fact: The Kurds, like never before, are subjects of their own destiny. This simple fact makes it impossible for all the stakeholders in the conflict to envisage and implement their own ambitions and aspirations for the region without having to pacify the subjectivity of the Kurds first.
The Kurds have not only been ‘fighting terrorists’, but have been constructing their own internally proposed social and political system; that which they call democratic confederalism. This is true for both the Kurds in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) and the Kurds of Bakurê (meaning northern) Kurdistan (Turkish Kurdistan). Whereas in Syria the Kurds are unable to rid themselves of their tactical status due to the overriding strategic priorities of the significant stakeholders in question; in Turkey, the Kurds are sacrificed for a NATO ally that just so happens to act as a buffer between Europe and the mess of the Middle East.
To finish off, no body should come away with the idea that the Kurds long to be deemed strategic partners by the very powers that have descended the region — referred to as the “cradle of civilisation” by several scholars — into utter chaos. Just like many resisting peoples around the world, the Kurdish people know why they are readily neglected by the representatives of this global system. They just want the progressive peoples of the world to know too.
- Giran Ozcan