“Betrayal of the Kurds” again

The recent agreement to override the Turkish veto over the entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO caused great concern to the Kurdish communities residing in the two Nordic countries: to lift the veto, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked the two countries to withdraw the protection granted to them. Kurdish dissidents, and they are embarking on extradition procedures for dozens of people whom Turkey considers to be affiliated with terrorist organizations.

Although it is not yet clear how the governments of Finland and Sweden will act in the coming months, there is a risk that the two countries, which have so far welcomed and protected many Kurdish dissidents, will stop doing so in order to join NATO. For this reason, we come back to talk about “another betrayal of the Kurds” by the West: this expression means a series of events that, in the last century, fueled the West’s hopes for freedom and autonomy for the Kurds. The population, and then often betrays them with dire consequences.

the Kurds
The Kurds have a population of about 40 million people who live in a wide area at the intersection of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Despite being one of the largest ethnic groups in the entire Middle East, it does not have a state of its own, and among these four countries are divided into communities with varying degrees of autonomy (particularly with regard to Iraqi Kurdistan) which participate to varying degrees in the political life of the country the host. As it is understood, the Kurds would like to build their own state, but for more than a century, the four countries in which the lands in which they live are located have prevented them from doing so.

The West has often benefited from these dynamics, endorsing and supporting Kurdish nationalism to achieve its foreign policy goals, and then abandoning the Kurds when those goals were achieved, or when it was inappropriate to maintain support for their cause. These concessions, which were numerous, constitute the bulk of the “betrayal” committed by the West against the Kurds.

Warning: It is a discourse that clearly contains significant elements of simplification, starting with the fact that understanding the Kurds as one entity and Kurdish nationalism as one movement is a major generalization. However, it may be useful to understand the historical context broadly.

A Kurdish girl from Kirkuk, Iraq waving the American flag during the 2003 US invasion (Patrick Barth/Getty Images)

Kissinger, Bush and others
The first betrayal took place after the First World War, which led to the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire in various countries of the Middle East. At first, the creation of Kurdistan for the Kurdish people was also stipulated in the peace agreements, but in the end the victorious Western powers, France, the United Kingdom and the United States, agreed to abolish its existence at the request of Turkey. Meanwhile, the Kurds tried to create a small Kurdish state, and then a Kurdish kingdom in the early 1920s, but it was quickly destroyed by the British army.

After World War II, the Kurds were used several times by the United States in the context of the Cold War, due to the special condition of the Kurdish people, who are in four large Middle Eastern countries and are ready to accept the help and arms of anyone. Making it available, it is an ideal tool for the various destabilization operations carried out during the Cold War in the region. The consequences of failure or abandonment of these operations, however, the Kurds suffered exclusively.

In the early 1970s, the US administration of Richard Nixon, together with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, supported the plan of Iran, which was an ally at the time, to arm the Iraqi Kurds against Saddam Hussein’s regime. The goal was to arm the Kurds enough to weaken the Iraqi army, but not enough to defeat it, so that the Iranian Kurds would not risk rebellion either. For three years, the United States and Iran supported the Kurdish uprising in Iraq, with thousands of Kurdish casualties, but in 1975 Iran and Iraq reached an agreement. American and Iranian support for the Kurds suddenly ceased, and the Kurds found themselves alone in the face of Saddam Hussein’s oppression: thousands of people were killed.

When there was talk in the United States about the country’s betrayal of the Kurds, and images of civilian massacres began to spread, the media attributed this phrase to Kissinger: “You must not confuse covert operations with the work of missionaries.”

In the 80s, the situation was reversed: a theocratic dictatorship seized power in Iran. In the eyes of the United States, Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial and secular regime in Iraq seemed the lesser of two evils, and they supported him when he declared war on Iran. During the war, Saddam carried out a genocide against the Kurdish population, who began to rebel. In the second half of the 1980s, Iraqi forces killed between 50,000 and 180,000 Kurds, often with appalling methods such as the extensive use of chemical weapons. Ronald Reagan’s administration learned that Saddam was using nerve gas against Kurdish civilians, but continued to support him and send him military aid against Iran.

Victims of the Iraqi chemical attack on the city of Halabja in 1988: about 5,000 people were killed, most of them civilians (AP)

The most famous betrayal occurred in the 1990s, when the situation was reversed again: the United States entered the war against Iraq, in the first Gulf War, to defend Kuwait conquered by Saddam. The American forces quickly pushed the Iraqi army out of Kuwait, and then George Bush Sr. said a sentence that will remain historic: “The Iraqi army and the Iraqi people [devono] They took matters into their own hands and forced Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to withdraw.”

The Iraqi Kurds (as well as various Shiite groups suppressed by the regime) believed that the declaration was a guarantee that the United States would help anyone who rebelled against the dictator, and began a major armed revolt in the hope of American intervention. But help did not come: once again, thousands of Kurds were killed by brutal Iraqi oppression, with no one coming to their aid.

Trump and Syria
The latest betrayal dates back less than a decade: In 2014, the terrorist Islamic State (ISIS) invaded most of Syria and Iraq, and there was no one in the region who could fight it on the ground, or for lack of it. out of political will (as in the case of the United States or Turkey) or out of a lack of strength (as in the case of the very weak Iraqi government). Barack Obama’s administration once again took advantage of the Kurds who became, especially in Syria, the “shoes on the ground” of the West, i.e. the “shoes on the ground”, and the soldiers in the field: for years the Kurds were the main force that fought ISIS and eventually defeated ISIS in the field, and its arms The United States and supported by the bombing of the US Air Force.

The Syrian Kurds proved very skilled in battle and after reclaiming large areas of northern Syria – part of their historical lands – from ISIS, they began to rule them into a large autonomy. They hoped that having the support of a powerful country like the United States would help them in their cause to create a Kurdish state, or at least a region in Syria that would be largely autonomous from the central government. After the defeat of ISIS, the United States kept a battalion of about 1,000 soldiers in the area to guard the area but also indirectly to protect the Kurds.

However, the de facto alliance between the Kurds and the United States was a problem for Turkish President Erdogan, who feared that the establishment of a strong Kurdish political entity in northeastern Syria, just on the border with Turkey, would cause unrest between the countries. The Turkish Kurds, with whom Erdogan has been at war for years.

Donald Trump’s election victory was the opportunity Erdogan had been waiting for. In 2019, he proposed to Trump the creation of a “safe zone”, a kind of buffer zone, in northern Syria, the security of which would be guaranteed by the Turkish military: it was a large part of the territory of the Syrian Kurds. Trump accepted, happy to throw heavy military commitments at others in Syria, and Turkey invaded the country’s northeast, where Kurdish forces are present.

– Read also: Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds explained

The withdrawal of American forces was particularly despicable because, among other things, it persuaded Kurdish soldiers to dismantle their defensive positions in the north, which might hinder a Turkish invasion, and promised in return to protect them. But Trump abandoned these promises and left the Kurds to Erdogan. The arrival of Turkish forces in northern Syria caused tens of thousands of people to flee, and led to widespread violence against the Kurds.

Trump’s decision was exceptionally criticized, even by his allies, as well as by the American forces that had fought alongside the Kurds in previous years: “The Kurds are the most motivated and capable force I have ever fought with, they have fought to the death. And now they are still facing the worst.” rolling rock An American veteran of the fight against ISIS.

Turkish army attack on the Syrian Kurdish city of Ras al-Ain in 2019 (Burak Kara/Getty Images)

last betrayal
Compared to these tragic events, the recent betrayal of the Kurds is relatively benign, as it may include a few dozen opponents whom Turkey requested extradition to Finland and Sweden, because they are accused of being terrorists or supporters of terrorism. It is not yet certain that the deliveries will take place, and under what conditions: the governments of Finland and Sweden have pledged to help Turkey in the “war on terror”, but have not pledged to extradite specific individuals.

However, there is a possibility that the two countries will cease to be a safe place for political refugees from Turkey: especially in Sweden, the Kurdish community is so large and prosperous that some Kurds have even become members of the Swedish parliament. This community now feels more at risk.

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