There are, as always, many shady and cynical things happening in international affairs. But perhaps the worst, the most offensive to anyone who has a modicum of belief in progress and democracy, is the betrayal of the Kurds. Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq have fought more valiantly than any other group on Earth against ISIS, and how is the West repaying them? How has the West, whose leaders breathlessly brand ISIS the new ‘fascists’, rewarded the Kurds for their years of tireless combat against ISIS? By giving a green light to a new war on the Kurds by Turkey, and by seeking to prevent the creation of a Kurdish homeland in Syria. The Kurds take to the frontline against the barbarians of ISIS, and the West stabs them in the back. Global politics doesn’t get much lower than this.
At the weekend, Turkey — NATO member, American ally — launched its latest assault on Kurdish forces in its own country. Its warplanes attacked Kurdish targets in the south-east of Turkey, a largely Kurdish area referred to by Kurds as Northern Kurdistan. They killed or injured more than 100 militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a radical group that has fought for years for Kurdish autonomy in south-eastern Turkey. The PKK are branded ‘terrorists’ by Turkey and most Western nations. This is the same PKK that has close links with the YPG, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units in Syria, which have been the bravest battlers against ISIS. As well as intensifying its war on its own Kurdish population, its own citizens, Turkey has increased its direct attacks on the YPG. Since July 2015, Turkey has been bombing Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq, desperate to keep their territorial ambitions in check as they make advances against ISIS. Two weeks ago, it escalated things, sending tanks and aircraft to attack YPG forces in northern Syria. It is now thought to have 50 tanks and 380 personnel in Syria, combating Kurds; combating the people who are holding back ISIS.
Not content with waging its own war on Kurds in Turkey and Syria, Turkey has sent the Free Syrian Army, the loose, ill-disciplined anti-regime outfit so flattered by the West a few years back, to stymie Kurdish advances. The largely Arab and Turkmen forces in the FSA have been sponsored by Turkey both to undermine ISIS forces in Syria that are getting too close to the Turkish border and also to ‘check the advance of US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters’. Turkey has indicated it will ‘continue to bombard the Syrian Kurds as long as it feels threatened by them’. And the Kurds of Syria aren’t only getting it in the neck from Turkey and certain Syrian rebel groups: they’re getting it from the Assad regime, too. The Kurds have had some links with Assad forces in recent years — in this war that one observer calls ‘the world’s most complicated cat’s cradle’ — but over the past fortnight Assad has turned his guns on Kurds. His airforce bombed the Kurdish-controlled city of Hasakah in the north east of Syria, directly targeting the YPG there. At least 43 people were killed, and thousands of Kurds fled. This is the first time Assad has attacked Kurds from the sky.
In essence, the Kurds are the victims of an ugly, ruthless pincer movement, facing assault from Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies on one side, the Assad regime on the another, and of course from ISIS, too, which despises the Kurds for being fairly secular, left-wing and good fighters who are rolling back the whole idea, and reality, of the Islamic State. To ISIS, Kurdish forces, which include women, Christian volunteers fighting back for having been expelled from their homes by ISIS, former Yazidi sex slaves, who now make up their own brigade in the Kurdish Peshmerga, and the ‘Black Devils’, a Tarantino-esque ISIS-killing unit described as having a ‘Spartan regimen’ and ‘the ability to induce panic in the dark hearts of their foes’, represent everything bad in the world. This is why ISIS is so ruthless with Kurds. ‘It is a special kind of hate they have for us’, as one Kurdish fighter put it.
And how have Western governents, one-time praisers of the Kurds, some of which have militarily backed the Kurds, responded to these latest developments? With great duplicity. Kurds fear they are being betrayed by their Western allies, and they’re right to fear this. After all, this would not be the first time in history that the Western world had sold out the Kurds. As one report says, Washington had a ‘muted response’ to the Assad regime’s new air assaults on Kurds in north-eastern Syrian, which will have ‘unnerved the Kurds’. Despite its backing for Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria, Washington has in recent weeks made clear where its priorities lie: with keeping Turkey sweet, not with keeping the Kurds well armed or strong or free. Last week, during a visit to Ankara, US secretary of state John Kerry said the US wants a ‘united Syria’, not an ‘independent Kurdish initiative’. As one observer says, ‘It is clear that, faced with the difficult choice of maintaining strong relations with the Turkish state and military on one hand, and backing its Syrian Kurdish allies in their bid for autonomy, the US is giving priority to the former’. That is, the US is throwing its weight behind the NATO ally engaged in barbaric attacks on the people who have done more than anyone else to demoralise ISIS.