Only interests: The betrayal of the Kurdish people is an old U.S. tradition

The situation of the Middle East took another dramatic turn this week with the U.S. partial withdrawal from northeastern Syria, abandoning the Kurdish militia who fought the Islamic extremists

Only interests: The betrayal of the Kurdish people is an old U.S. tradition
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey during the U.N. General Assembly in New York, U.S. - Photo: Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS
English 11/10/2019 17:27 Gabriel Moyssen Mexico City Actualizada 17:27
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The situation of the Middle East took another dramatic turn this week with the United States partial withdrawal from northeastern Syria, abandoning the Kurdish militia who fought the Islamic extremists and its long dream of independence.

Leaving aside the impeachment of President Donald Trump, which has deeply divided the U.S. political spectrum, both Republicans and Democrats condemned the action; only hours after Trump and his Turkish colleague Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed on the withdrawal terms, the first bombs dropped by Turkish planes began to fall on Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) supply routes in the Semelka Border Crossing between Syria and Iraq.

On Wednesday, Erdogan announced the start of the "Operation Spring Peace," a ground invasion of Syria—similar to previous attacks launched in the region in 2016 and 2018, also approved by Washington—to eradicate the YPG and establish a corridor between 30-40 km wide along the Turkish border, populated by some 850,000 Arabs, Kurds, and other groups.

This buffer zone, although officially designed to allow 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey to return to their country, would serve for the ethnic cleansing of Kurds and their replacement with Turkmens and foreign jihadists from other Middle East countries, the Caucasus and even China, according to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), political wing of the YPG.

The Kurdish-led local administration issued a “general mobilization” call along the border, while the Commander-in-Chief of the SDF, Mazlum Abdi, declared that they are “considering a partnership with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with the aim of fighting Turkish forces”.

This is not the first time that the White House betrays Kurdish aspirations in the last century; in order to understand the reasons, it is necessary to go back and take a look back at history.

The Kurds are an Iranian ethnic group of about 45 million people distributed in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

The three former countries were part of the Ottoman Empire; after its collapse in 1918 following World War I, the Treaty of Sevres stipulated the partition of Anatolia (modern Turkey) for the creation of an independent Kurdistan; in response, Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha (later known as Kemal Ataturk) seized control of Anatolia and the Treaty of Sevres was never implemented.

In 1923, the U.S. backed-Treaty of Lausanne set the current boundaries of the Republic of Turkey, except for the disputed areas of Mosul (today’s Iraq) and Hatay (Turkey), despite Kurdistan was an acknowledged region of the Ottoman Empire; Kurdish independentists view both treaties as the symbol of national tragedy in a similar fashion to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which eventually led to the establishment of Israel on Palestinian territory.

Inner divisions

In addition, it is considered that the internal divisions plaguing the Kurdish people have been a major obstacle to achieving its goals.

For instance, during the 70s Iran and Israel, who were allies with a mutual interest in undermining Soviet-influenced Iraq, provided aid to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan headed by Jalal Talabani, opposed to Mustafa Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and father of former president of Iraq’s Kurdistan region Massoud Barzani.

Decided to crush Kurdish peshmerga guerrillas in the Iraq-Iran War, the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein launched between 1986 and 1989 the Anfal campaign, killing more than 50,000 Kurds.

Donald Rumsfeld, U.S.’s special envoy to the Middle East, did little to stop Baghdad using mustard and nerve gas, due to its importance as a bulwark against Shiite militancy fueled by Tehran. Years later, as Defense secretary, Rumsfeld was a key player in Iraq's invasion, “denouncing” its arsenal of forbidden “mass destruction weapons.”

After Hussein’s troops were defeated in Kuwait in 1991, U.S. President George H.W. Bush proclaimed a “new world order” and called on “the Iraqi military and Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands, to force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.”

However, the Kurd uprising in northern Iraq resulted again destroyed, since Washington and its allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia were more interested in preserving the territorial integrity of the country and prevent the spread of separatism.

As a measure of permanent pressure, the U.S. and the United Kingdom imposed a no-fly zone over Iraqi Kurdish areas; in contrast, both countries ignored the repression of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, which included the razing of thousands of villages.

In 1979, PKK’s leader Abdullah Ocalan moved to Syria, which would become his base for the next ten years. The late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, father of Bashar al-Assad, regarded the PKK as a useful tool against rival Turkey. Not willing to risk a conflict with Ankara, however, he expelled Ocalan in 1998; Ocalan was captured in Kenya and has remained in prison in Turkey ever since.

Special mention should also be made of the U.S. simultaneous betrayal of the southern Iraq Shiites in this context. Discriminated by Sunnis, they also rebelled following Bush’s call, yet as many as 100,000 died when the allies allowed Hussein to send Republican Guard tanks into Basra and other cities and fly helicopter gunships despite the ban on flights articulated by General Norman Schwarzkopf with the phrase “you fly, you die”.

Hussein’s units bombarded Shiite shrines and executed thousands on the spot. Only a few years before, draining the region’s marshes displaced 400,000 Marsh Arabs, devastating a culture that is one of the world’s oldest, as well as causing serious ecological damage.

In the framework of the Syrian War, since 2015 Washington had supported the YPG confronting the Islamic State (IS), Al Nusra Front, Al Qaeda, and other extremist groups.

Kurdish militia even managed to capture the IS caliphate capitalRaqqa, yet then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden warned the YPG against expanding west of the Euphrates river if they wanted to keep Washington’s assistance, effectively preventing the creation of a contiguous entity called “Rojava” linking the Kurdish cantons” in the northeast and the northwest of Syria.

Former U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis argued that strategic Atlantic Alliance member Turkey had “legitimate security concerns” regarding its operations against the YPG, which Erdogan considers part of the “terroristPKK and this policy has been maintained by the White House.

While the U.S. is not abandoning its bases in the oil and gas-rich north of Syria, for practical purposes is betraying the Kurds again in spite of Trump’s ridiculous declarations over his “great and unmatched wisdom” and the alleged limits imposed on the Turkish offensive.

A popular saying goes that Kurds have no friends but the mountains”; unfortunately for their cause, they forget that—as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger underscored—“the U.S. has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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