Once again, the Kurds have been betrayed

President Trump is abandoning the very people who helped to defeat ISIS.

Tim Black

Tim Black

Topics Politics USA World

A Sunday phone chat with Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. That was all it took for US president Donald Trump to decide to do what Western powers have done at key points over the past century: betray the Kurds.

They did it in the 1920s when Britain and France allowed Kemal Ataturk’s Turkish forces to roll tanks through the Treaty of Sèvres and its promise of a Kurdish state. They did it in the 1980s, when the US repaid Saddam Hussein for Iraq’s war with Iran by looking the other way while his forces massacred Iraq’s Kurds. And now they’re doing it again, with Trump’s decision to move US forces out of Kurdish-dominated north-eastern Syria, so as not to come into conflict with NATO ally Turkey when it sends its own forces in. Or as the White House put it on Sunday evening: ‘Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into northern Syria. The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial “Caliphate”, will no longer be in the immediate area.’

Make no mistake. Trump’s decision, which reportedly goes against the advice of the Pentagon and the State Department, imperils the very people who did so much to defeat ‘the ISIS territorial “Caliphate”’. It is a decision as morally indefensible as it is politically craven. If it wasn’t for the Syrian Kurds’ People’s Protection Units (YPG), which later took the lead role in the Syrian Democratic Forces, ISIS would still hold large parts of northern Syria. Yes, the blunt military assistance Russia leant Syria’s embattled president, Bashar al-Assad, certainly contributed to ISIS’s defeat. But it was the courage and determination of the Kurds, their willingness to put their lives on the line, that was decisive.

And yet having encouraged and emboldened Syria’s Kurds to fight and roll back ISIS – and, in doing so, expand their own area of de facto political and military authority – the US has now simply abandoned them. No, betrayed them. Erdogan knows what Trump’s decision means. It is a green light to move Turkish military forces east, over the Euphrates, into Kurdish-held territory with no fear of coming into contact with even a handful of US troops. No contact, no awkward confrontation between NATO allies.

The Syrian Kurds also know what Trump’s decision means. Erdogan’s stated plan to resettle over one million of the 3.5million Syrian refugees, currently being held in Turkey in EU-paid-for detention camps, in a 19-mile deep, 300-mile long zone along the Syria-Turkish border, is more than that. It is an opportunity for Erdogan to push back a perceived threat to the Turkish state; namely, the Syrian Kurds, who Turkey deem to be politically allied with the outlawed political representatives of its own 14million-stong Kurdish population. That’s why Turkey has been amassing troops on the border for the best part of a year. That’s why Turkey has consistently issued threats to the US that it will act unilaterally, and invade Syria, regardless of a US troop presence.

Trump, as is his wont, has tweeted something cartoonish. ‘As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).’ It is a pledge that might be taken more seriously if Trump hadn’t already bowed to Turkish pressure to withdraw actual troops.

Besides, the US and its Western allies did very little when Turkey began what was to become a seven-month-long military assault on the YPG in 2016. Just as it did very little when Turkey launched another brutal military assault on the long-standing Syrian-Kurdish district of Afrin in northern Syria in 2018, killing, torturing and raping its Kurdish inhabitants, and driving an estimated 100,000 civilians out of the district entirely. Trump and other Western states did little then, and they’ll do little now. Trump is full of tweets, and Erdogan knows it.

And so Syria’s Kurds have been left in a wretched position, dependent for their survival, as they too often are, on the interests and calculations of others, be it the willingness of Assad to strike an alliance with them or the strategic concerns of Moscow and Tehran. This fatal dependence on others, especially a treacherous West, has blighted the Kurds for too long. Now more than ever they need some form of independence. Ideally full statehood, but at least regional autonomy. Right now, as Turkey menaces and the US retreats, that seems as far away as it ever has been.

Tim Black is a spiked columnist.

Picture by: Getty Images.

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Dan Under

11th October 2019 at 11:50 pm

A simplistic, predictable anti-POTUS DJT polemic.
POTUS DJT stood on taming the neo-Con / globalist war machine and the US democratic process expressed its preferred choice in policy. There seems little reason for the US to continue to thanklessly be a global policeman, when the globalist seek to destroy the US, its nationhood, identity and borders. The real war is being waged at home. Let the sponging dictatorial eco-Marxist EU send its own newly forming army.

Joe Ker

11th October 2019 at 11:23 pm

Spiked clearly has an agenda here…


Joe Ker

11th October 2019 at 11:05 pm


The Kurds helped destroy ISIS, true. It’s also true that the Kurds would have fought ISIS anyway, since the psycho caliphate was right next door. The Syrian Kurds allied with the US in their homeland because they shared a common interest in wiping out the head-lopping freak show that was ISIS. Moreover, all Kurds are not equal. The PKK – the Kurdistan Workers’ Party – are communist terrorists who have been fighting the Turks for a long time. Those reds are no friends and it’s their antics that seem to be inspiring the Turkish campaign.

Stop with the clichés about “betrayals” and “abandoning allies” and tell me – exactly – what you would seek to achieve. And then tell me – exactly – how many dead Americans you would sacrifice to achieve it.

How many dead Americans is it worth to stop the Turks and Kurds from brawling? The President says, “Exactly none.” Those who disagree owe a number of their own.

nick hunt

9th October 2019 at 10:37 am

‘A phonecall was all it took’ for Trump to abandon the Kurds! What a ridiculously superficial judgement. Trump has spent years bemoaning needless US involvement and counter-productive wars of intervention, as have his voters, the middle American patriots who built the nation and who have sacrificed so much to defend a country run by neo-cons and the military-industrial complex. With his America First platform, Trump promised to end the sacrifice of America’s best in endless, pointless wars. He is keeping his word, as he has done on so much. Does Tim Black really think he should betray his promises and his own people?

Jim Lawrie

8th October 2019 at 3:29 pm

The fractious Kurd knew the risks. One grouping hoped to gain hegemony over other factions but didn’t. History shows they will always lose. Unless they unite and look to themselves, or give up on a homeland. Saladdin chose the latter.

Cedar Grove

11th October 2019 at 9:37 pm

The Rojava Kurds had allowed Arabs & Turkmen to seek refuge in their area, & once they’d fought Da’esh into retreat from Kobane, they created a relatively peaceful place in the midst of a civil war. The gender-equal, inclusive, secular regional councils were innovative and well-intentioned. They even re-named their area, to make it not exclusively kurdish. That was an extraordinary phenomenon in the context of the Middle East.

Unlike the Turks, they were faithful allies, doing everything that was asked of them & losing 11,000 young men & women in the process. And they don’t want a separate state – the Syrians would like more autonomy, in the style of the Swiss cantons, but federation, or separation, is their aim.

cliff resnick

8th October 2019 at 3:23 pm

Where are the left, have you ever seen a “Free Kurdistan” placard? No me neither, yet these are a people imprinted onto the region from time immemorial they predate the Sykes–Picot Agreement by millennia. There’s no justice for the Kurds.

Michael Lynch

8th October 2019 at 11:54 am

Why isn’t Europe taking responsibility for the Kurds? Where are our troops en mass, ready to defend the Kurds? Where were we when ISIS was beheading everyone in sight and enslaving Kurdish women? Seems that we are all very good at criticizing whilst doing absolutely nothing ourselves. This is yet another Trump bash without substance and it’s getting more than boring now.

Jan de Wit

11th October 2019 at 10:37 pm

Right, my thoughts completely.

Willie Penwright

8th October 2019 at 9:52 am

Rapproachment with the government in Damascus, which would come with Syrian and Russian support, is the only course for the Kurds. The alternative is Turkish occupation and colonisation by the defeated jihadists, also called refugees, who Turkey wants to export.

Winston Stanley

8th October 2019 at 10:20 am

Yes, if the Turkish state seeks self-maintenance then it would do well to settle the many millions of Sunni refugees from Western-backed wars into the Kurdish regions of Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Like the British did with their ppl in NI (and America, Australia, NZ etc.) That makes territorial claims easier and independence harder. Witness NI. My guess is that, contrary to obscure claims to the contrary, the Turkish state is not clued up and geared up about the efficacy of demographic warfare in the way that some of their more radical Western critics have long been. We will just have to wait and see what happens. They now have their perfect opportunity to do just that but I doubt that they actually think that sort of way.

Willie Penwright

9th October 2019 at 12:05 am

Reuters is today reporting on the Turkish settlement plan. It seems to be further advanced than I imagined.

Winston Stanley

9th October 2019 at 4:04 am

Yep, a figure of three million is being touted. The Kurds were just a handy militia, trained and armed by USA, like many other militias in Iraq and Syria, including Islamists. Their use was tactical rather than strategic – unlike NATO and Turkey, everyone knew that. Thus the Kurds are in no position to push for their own objectives, even they must have known that.

Ironic, the Kurds touted their triumphant virtue to the world even as they dug themselves into a hole. They destroyed Sunni cities like Mosul and Raqqa with USA air support, so that USA did not have to put boots on the ground, which suits USA voters better. And now the millions of Sunnis displaced are going to end up in northern Syria. The Kurds shot themselves in the foot big time – in outcome their military interventions were aimed against their own wished-for region.

It is perfectly reasonable for Turkey to promote and to facilitate the return of 3.6 million Syrian refugees to their own country and to set up a safe zone in which to do that. It also suits Turkey and the long-term stability of the Turkish state. That stability also suits USA and NATO. That was always going to be the overarching strategic outcome. In a way it also suits Europe insofar as it stems the anarchic influx of refugees into Europe.

That outcome suits everyone apart from the nationalist Kurds. Some commentators let their perhaps anti-Muslim imagination run away with itself, in terms of what was going to happen, even among some “sensible” establishment types, but this outcome was always inevitable. There was never going to be an independent Kurdish homeland, b/c it would be in the strategic interests of no one with any real power – and that is what determines outcomes in the real world.

Stephen J

8th October 2019 at 8:01 am

I understood that the Kurdish diaspora was due not so much to their spreading out, but rather to the fact that the British and French at the time of the break up of the Turkish empire was that the Kurds were a troublesome lot, and they should be deliberately kept stateless. The 1923 Sykes-Picot treaty. This is the way that it is now.

I suspect that the PKK are only communists, because they don’t have their own state. In this, although much further down the line than us Brits, it is where we are heading too.

The idea is, “divide and rule”, and it stinks. There is nothing finer than an independent nation state, regardless of its internal politics. Having said that, socialists have a habit of hollowing out any form of unity… It is what they do!

Ven Oods

8th October 2019 at 12:09 pm

My understanding chimes with yours. An inter-war Brit/French stitch-up.

A Game

8th October 2019 at 7:56 am

Poor Kurds. Fought and fought and fought, tried to “earn” a homeland… and yes, being sold down the river. Russia needs to get rid of Assad. There must be some other dictator in town who has a grain of morality?
I wonder if Israel might have a pocket for them to set up shop? Not exactly land rich, but they need allies in their parts. They are both loathed by everyone else in the region…

A Game

8th October 2019 at 8:31 am

Actually, something in that. Palestinians are asked, would you like to live in Syria? Let’s assume they say yes. Breaks the deadlock being pinned into hell by all sides. (Egypt and Jordan have locked the gate on them, too…) Get a chance to live again as citizens, build a real society.
Kurds are asked, would you like to live in Gaza, which would become a part of the Israeli state. Lets’ assume they say yes. Simples.
I wonder what the impediments to this would be…

Ven Oods

8th October 2019 at 12:07 pm

“…some other dictator in town who has a grain of morality?”

Why would you think Russia would have any interest in that? Assad is their puupy now; bought and paid for.

Ven Oods

8th October 2019 at 12:10 pm

And their puppy, too!

A Game

9th October 2019 at 11:27 am

His reputation is unsalvageable – his fondness for chemical solutions on his population guarantee that. Secondly, he is the cause of the civil war, which means the rebels are defeated, but the reason/problem hasn’t been solved. Russia might find themselves with their own Iraq… and when the EU Army invades, they’ll need to be free, ya know! (Also, possibly just out of jealousy, but Vlad would never get away with chemical warfare like Assad, so he should draw a line over that, too.)

Melissa Jackson

8th October 2019 at 7:30 am

I have a great deal of sympathy for the Kurds as a people, but lets not eulogise them more than we should. The primary Kurdish military faction, the PKK, are communists and I shouldn’t need to tell anyone why this is concerning. Helping the communists beat the islamists is not a great victory.

The PKK claim to be “the good guys” and we buy it because they are as close as anyone comes in that conflict. But being the least bad doesn’t make them good. Their claims of being “for the people” come with all the asterisks all such claims always come with. And while it is good they aren’t militant jihadists, they are still pre-existing militants fighting their own war that we really shouldn’t be helping with.

If the West want to actually support the Kurds and create a state for them then I’ll be 100% behind that. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We are, one again, talking about arming and supporting a middle eastern militia because they are the enemy of our enemy. How did that work out with the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan?

Winston Stanley

8th October 2019 at 6:46 am

More like USA saved the Kurds and everyone else from IS, who would have overrun them without US air support. “Betrayed”, hardly, USA owes them nothing, on the contrary. Many Sunnis on the ground think that they owe the Kurds plenty but not in that way. Everyone knew that it was going to come to this but somehow sp iked act surprised. Quite why RC P/ sp iked have some special attachment to the Kurdish cause is anyone’s guess.

Azovian Nationalist

8th October 2019 at 6:04 am

I see this another Trump bash… what exactly is he meant to do, if he leaves troops there he breaks his election promise and has boots on the ground in a unfriendly fireign country, also runs the risk of a confrontation with a NATO ally who is already making overtures to Russia. If he pulls them out he gets bashed for supposedly deserting the Kurds. I agree that the Kurds need a country of their own but until that happens is the West meant to baby sit them? Besides that they are pretty good at looking after themselves.

A Game

8th October 2019 at 8:22 am

Trump is at his worst with this stuff. The line that he’s “full of tweets” is accurate.

Greg Sheridan, an Australian journo, got it right, when he wrote, not long after Trump’s win, which he, as a conservative, was happy about, but he didn’t whoop it up on election night like his friends did, he already knew this: Trump is neither all good or all bad. Anyone who thinks either will be wrong 50% of the time.
Trump calling China out for their imperialist push? Calling them out for their constant theft of intellectual property? Excellent.
Tearing up the Paris agreement? Excellent. Clod footing about with Nth Korea? Bad. They’re still doing what they want to do. He’s easily manipulated, and he’s gone into a job that most of his power lies in foreign policy, without having ever paid much attention to foreign policy.
And being a business man, he is cavalier about the role of government. Government is not business. You must be a parent in government. You have to spend money you’d rather not, because you need to nurture the child. You have to put thought and care into areas that seem dull or irrelevant, but is future building. Business is profit/loss, hire/fire… which is fine. But its not government.
And in this case, a moral case is to be made. The whole point of funding the Kurds was to stay out of Syria themselves. But now they are throwing them to their usual enemies. Sometimes it comes down to fairness. Ergadon is a piece of work. Morally… his propping up is vile. Donald likes Vlad Puty. Hopefully he’ll be appealing to him behind the scenes (I doubt it… if it aint tweetworthy, it aint worth doing) to help them out.
ISIS was a global threat. Those who fought them, their efforts, should never be diminished. And the work isn’t done. Al Qaeda is rising up again. This will never stop. Without a strong Kurdish presence to step in as required to avoid US/UK/AUS/NZ troops…
Our governments use all the rhetoric available to them, all the time, about freedom and what is right, what is democratic, what is fair… which is distasteful when their actions speak louder than their words. People are tired of it.

Joe Ker

11th October 2019 at 11:21 pm

So are you going to armor up and go and fight? My guess is no. You’re another chicken hawk with an advanced case of TDS.

Amin Readh

8th October 2019 at 1:57 am

The Kurds did a lot to defeat ISIS, but it didn’t amount to much. This does not negate their valid demand for a homeland. But their is nothing much the West can do about it without setting off even more problems. Lest we forget it was the British Empire who mostly drew up the maps in the first place.

Turkey and Iran are not going to give a single inch of their territory. And why would they? The only solution is bit of land from Iraq and this will require constant policing by Western forces for years to come.

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