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15.02.2015
The civil war in Syria and the increasing fragility of Iraq have thrown the long-term future of these states into question. The Kurds number around 30 million, and are generally considered to be the world’s largest stateless nation.
When the Western powers carved up the remains of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, they promised the Kurds autonomy in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres. Unsurprisingly, the Kurds have developed a long tradition of heroic defeat over the course of the 20th century. The leader of the fleeting republic’s armed forces was Mulla Mustafa Barzani, an Iraqi Kurd and father of Massoud Barzani, the current president of Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). In 1983, the Iraqi Kurds rose up yet again, now led by Massoud Barzani and his Kurdish Democratic Party, in alliance with the younger Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Jalal Talabani.
Meanwhile, the Syrian civil war has led to the emergence of a Kurdish-ruled enclave in the northeast of the country. It is very telling that the Kurdish areas in both Syria and Iraq have become destinations for Arab refugees from elsewhere in these countries. The PKK, by contrast, is a leftist organization, with its roots in the radical ferment of Turkey in the 1970s. This is reflected in its very progressive approach to the role of women in society and politics, which is in stark contrast to the surrounding culture. Both of these movements are political-military organizations, and suffer from the authoritarian tendencies inherent in such groups.
Neither the KDP nor the PKK is openly committed to the achievement of Kurdish statehood, albeit for very different reasons. These two very different movements are set to dominate the next and possibly decisive chapter in the modern political history of the Kurds.
Neither of these movements is going to replace or defeat the other; so the future of the Kurds is likely to depend on whether they can find a way to cooperate.
For decades, the Turks have seen Kurdish national aspirations as an anathema, but this is no longer entirely the case. The main obstacles to the burgeoning alliance between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds are the future status of Turkey’s Kurds and the Kurdish enclave in northeast Syria, which shares a long border with Turkey. The emergence of a Kurdish enclave in northeast Syria helped push Turkey toward resolving its long conflict with the PKK.
Relations between the Iraqi autonomous zone and its Syrian counterpart are similarly fraught; partly because of their differing relationships with Turkey.
One way to do so would be for the US and other Western powers to support Kurdish sovereignty as a legitimate goal.
If Kurdish unity and a strategy for statehood cannot be achieved, the most likely result is two Kurdish quasi-states, existing on adjoining territories but unable to maintain good relations with each other or achieve complete sovereignty. The problem with such entities is that while they can survive on the basis of their monopoly on the use of force, they cannot thrive. The Middle East remains beset by deeply problematic political trends that undermine political stability and economic development. Political Islam exists among the Kurds, but because of the predominance of ethnic identification, it has demonstrably less appeal than among other Mideast peoples. There is neither benefit nor justice in a situation where the legitimate national aspirations of a largely pro-Western people are subject to the veto of the Islamist prime minister of Turkey. Other opponents of Kurdish statehood include the Maliki government in Iraq, the Assad regime in Syria, and Islamist groups among the Syrian rebels. The Middle East is in the midst of enormous historic changes, and the Kurds stand to be one of the main beneficiaries.
In order for this to happen, however, the US must adopt Kurdish sovereignty as a strategic goal. Moreover, the forces ready and willing to replace the US as the region’s strategic hegemon—above all, Iran and Russia—do not intend to manage it as custodians of order and stability. A sovereign Kurdish state could be a powerful bulwark against such disorder and a solid, pro-Western ally in this most troubled of regions. If you are a current Subscriber and are unable to log in, you may have to create a NEW username and password. A female fighter of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) goes back to her place after receiving her military card in January 2015. In the past two weeks, a remarkable new development has taken place in Syria that bodes ill for the future of the so-called Islamic State group, referred to in Arabic as Daesh.
On Tuesday, it was reported that Kurdish fighters supported by Arab rebels of the Euphrates Volcano paramilitary took the town of Ain Issa from Daesh, as well as the nearby Syrian military base, Brigade-93, which had been overrun by Daesh.
Kurds speak an Indo-European language ultimately related to English rather than Arabic, the language of most Syrians, which is related to Hebrew. Politics is making for very strange bedfellows here, showing how much geopolitics has changed since the Cold War. The PKK says it has given up its Marxism and separatism and now just wants a federal system in Turkey with a Kurdish province.
On the other hand, critics of the YPG accuse it of brutality and ethnic cleansing of Arab inhabitants from some areas, in favor of creating a contiguous Kurdish territory. During the past year, the Kurds have been the most effective fighting force in the region countering the advance of Daesh. But now the United States is actively allied with the YPG, apparently having been disappointed by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s insouciance toward Daesh. In spring of 2011, Syria’s revolution was like the Egyptian and Tunisian youth revolts, involving protests in favor of more civil liberties, protests by slum dwellers in favor of jobs, protests by small town and city dwellers against the neglect and arrogance of the Baath Party officials and crony billionaires in Damascus and Aleppo.
Then the so-called Islamic State of Iraq, an Al Qaeda affiliate, came over the border from Mosul and began taking territory in Syria, attracting local supporters as well as international volunteers. Daesh also began attacking the Kurds, in Kobane and Hasaka, making it clear that either they must enter the fray or risk being ethnically cleansed or massacred.
The Syrian civil war has seen a great deal of back and forth, with rebels taking territory from the regime and then being pushed back, as at Homs, and with rebels contending with one another for predominance. The following report is a complimentary offering from MEMRI’s Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). In the second part of the film, a group of armed and masked ISIS fighters stand on a Mosul street around a Kurdish soldier who is kneeling on the ground. At the end of the film the fighter, screaming, beheads the prisoner with a knife, to the cheers of people who have gathered to watch.
William Murray on Barack Obama’s Middle East StrategyPresident Obama and his pals in the Senate such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham have the absurd belief that the Sunni Muslim fighters they arm and train are actually going to carry out the will of a gay-loving, dope-smoking, alcohol consuming, over-eating, feminist dominated secular nation such as the United States, which they view as the great Satan.
Turkish police arrest a Kurdish boy during a demonsration in main Kurdish city Diyarbakir on December 31, 2011 as they protest aginst a Turkish air raid. In 2010 the Turkish Parliament, reacting to criticism by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, modified their Anti-Terrorism Laws to end the prosecution of children in adult courts solely for taking part in demonstrations.
What has taken place at Pozanti prison outside of Adana, Turkey, reveals just how badly children are being abused and mistreated under these laws. If you are interested in the issue of Human Rights in Turkey, consider joining us on our Turkey Regional Action Network on Facebook. This entry was posted in Children's Rights, Europe, Prisoners and People at Risk and tagged amnesty international, detention and imprisonment, European Parliament, Followers of Justice for Children, Kurdish children, Pozanti Prison, Turkey by William Jones.
Viewing this issue as an outsider from thousands of miles away, makes this issue seem unreal.
Kurdish kidds have been under punchs and torture with facist Turkey police system since decades. Meet our ContributorsOur writers include Amnesty International USA staff and volunteer experts. But one people—proud, self-sufficient, and surprisingly pro-Western—has waited far too long for their place at the table of nations.
For years, they were ruled by brutal regimes that held power in the name of Arab nationalism; as a result, they failed to knit together the populations they ruled into a coherent national identity. I last visited these areas four months ago, and have an extensive network of friends and contacts there and in the wider Kurdish world. A non-Semitic, non-Turkic people native to the Middle East, the Kurds believe themselves to be descendants of ancient Iranian tribes that predated the Turkish and Arab invasions. Subsequent resistance to the treaty by the Turkish nationalist movement led by Mustafa Kemal led to its renegotiation at Lausanne in 1923, where the West recognized the borders of the new Turkish republic.
Modern Kurdish nationalists like to trace the origins of their movement to the short-lived Mahabad Republic, the first attempt at Kurdish statehood. Kurdish agitation and uprisings continued under Barzani family leadership for years afterward.
This uprising was brutally crushed by Saddam Hussein in the infamous “Anfal” campaign, during which Hussein used poison gas against the civilians of the village Halabja in 1988, killing 3-5,000 people.
Since the 2003 US invasion, this zone has emerged as a quasi-sovereign entity, with its own armed forces, political system, and economic interests. The second major nationalist movement began with a 1984 uprising led by the Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (the Kurdish Workers Party or PKK) in southeast Turkey, with the goal of founding a Kurdish state.


There is a simple reason for this: Generally speaking, where the Kurds are in control, things stay quiet.
Two powerful—if very different—Kurdish autonomous zones have emerged out of the collapsing societies of Iraq and Syria, while Turkey’s Kurds are engaged in negotiations to advance their rights. It is rarely discussed openly, but looming above it all is the question of Kurdish statehood and what it would mean for both the Kurds and the region in general. While the KDP is based in northern Iraq, it maintains smaller offshoots and sister parties in both Syria and Iran.
The KDP is a traditional, conservative organization; it is pro-Western, pro-business, and pro-American in outlook, rooted in the clan and tribal structures of Iraqi Kurdish life. There have been verified instances of political repression in both the Kurdish zones of northern Iraq and northeast Syria. But this designation is more a concession to Turkish sensibilities and interests than an objective assessment of the group’s current modus operandi.
Iraqi Kurdish officials will privately concede that an independent Kurdish state is their goal, but stress the difficulties of achieving it and the need for a pragmatic, cautious strategy. This will probably be difficult, however, because of the KRG’s burgeoning strategic relationship with Turkey. Over the last few years, Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdish government have been building a close relationship based on mutual interests. The situation is even more complex because the PKK uses the Qandil Mountains, which are under the control of the Iraqi Kurds, as a base for its insurgency against Turkey. Should open hostilities resume, however, there is a real possibility that the long border controlled by the Syrian Kurdish zone and the Assad regime will be used as a base for attacks on Turkey.
The Iraqi Kurds control the border between their own territory and that of the Syrian Kurds. This would pave the way for greater Western investment and diplomatic support for Kurdish goals and weaken Turkey’s ability to snuff out a Kurdish bid for independence. Such quasi-states have become a familiar feature of the Middle East and the post-Cold War world in general.
Their uncertain status precludes the development of their economies or their civil and political institutions. Extremist political Islam, deeply rooted anti-Western sentiment, widespread and pervasive anti-Semitism, and hostility to non-Muslim minorities are all on the rise across the Arab world, Iran, and Turkey. There is no need to romanticize either the Iraqi zone’s government or the PKK in order to see this. That the two primary rivals in Kurdish politics are both secular nationalist movements is proof of this.
For the most part, their grievances are directed not against the US or Europe, but the local oppressors of the Kurds. Due to Turkey’s de facto veto over Kurdish independence and the lack of Western support for the Kurdish cause, the PKK might turn toward Turkey’s main rival for support—Iran. Western endorsement of the principle of Kurdish statehood, removal of the PKK from lists of terror organizations, and the development of closer relations with the Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish enclaves could help break the current stalemate on the issue.
This is particularly the case given that Prime Minister Erdogan is adopting an increasingly problematic stance vis-a-vis the West and more and more repressive domestic policies. Maliki and Assad are both clients of Iran, and the former is actively aiding the latter in his fight for survival. Kurdish sovereignty would mean the establishment of a strong, pro-Western state in Middle East that is likely to be characterized by pragmatism, stable governance, and a pro-Western strategic outlook.
At the moment, caution, timidity, and the desire to withdraw from the region make this unlikely.
Their interest is in the promotion of movements and regimes aligned with them and hostile to the West. Kurdish fighters from the northeast of the country have taken Tel al-Abyad, a key border town with Turkey through which Daesh smuggled arms and fighters. The Kurdish forces received aerial support from the United States and its allies, who conducted an intensive bombardment of Daesh positions and convoys. Kurds make up about 10 percent of Syria’s 22 million people, and inhabit three formerly unconnected enclaves in the north of the country, which they call Rojava, consisting of Afrin in the west, Kobane in the middle, and Jazira in the east, abutting Iraq. You would not have thought leftist Kurds a natural ally for bourgeois Washington, but the vicious theocracy of Daesh has managed to unite the two against itself. A few thousand fighters are now holed up on the Iraqi side of the border in Qandil, occasionally launching attacks on Turkey.
Arabs forced to flee from Tel al-Abyad reported that YPG fighters told them it was Kurdish territory now and there was no place for them. Kobane is in northern Raqqah Province, and Daesh almost took it last summer, causing tens of thousands of its Kurds to flee to Turkey.
It specialized in attacking other rebels and taking their territory once they had displaced the regime. Unlike Syrian townspeople, however, the Kurds had a long guerrilla past and were effectively able to mobilize. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History and director of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan. He threatens that he and his comrades will reach America and behead Barack Obama in the White House; will target France and Belgium with car bombs and explosives, and will behead Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani. Reality check: The Islamic fighters we are arming, training and paying a monthly salary hate every aspect of America’s secular society, and particularly what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton stand for.
Despite this change, children, and particularly Kurdish children, continued to be arrested, prosecuted, jailed and abused under other provisions in the Turkish Anti-Terrorism laws. According to a report by members of the European Parliament, children in the prison were deprived of food and medical treatment, beaten while naked with iron bars by prison staff, and sexually abused by adult prisoners. The Turkish NGO Followers of Justice for Children (CIAT) organized a forum in honor of the occasion. Comments are not pre-screened before they post but AIUSA reserves the right to remove any comments violating our guidelines.
With the decline of repressive centralized authority in Syria and Iraq, however, older nationalities and identities are reemerging. And it has become overwhelmingly clear to me that Kurdish sovereignty would be of benefit to the Kurds, the region as a whole, and Western interests in the Middle East. As a result, the Kurds found themselves divided between the post-Ottoman states of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, with a small population in Iran.
Instead, the separated Kurdish populations each developed political movements of their own.
Officially known as the Republic of Kurdistan, it was declared in the Iranian city of Mahabad in early 1946, and was crushed by the Iranian army several months later. Most significantly, Mustafa Barzani led an unsuccessful military campaign in northern Iraq from 1961-70. Traveling there today is to witness a little-known Mideast success story in the midst of regional chaos and meltdown.
Will the Kurds continue to develop their quasi-states while avoiding a direct push toward sovereignty? Although the movement has come a long way from its early days, it still represents a distinct, secular leftist nationalism of a type rarely found in today’s Middle East. This is not the case with the Pesh Merga, the armed forces of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous zone. Whatever may have been the case in the past, the PKK today is a guerrilla organization at war with Turkish security forces, not a group that deliberately targets civilians. Some PKK members speak in similar terms, but others stress the views of their leader Ocalan, who is opposed to very idea of the nation-state and advocates a system of “democratic autonomy” or “radical democracy” for the entire Middle East. Turkey currently relies on Russia and Iran for its oil supplies, and has deteriorating strategic relations with both.
Although the Kurdish zone’s government does not officially sanction the presence of the PKK, it does nothing to prevent it. Partly as a result, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has entered into peace negotiations with the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan; but talks have rapidly run aground. When I crossed this border in March 2013 with a group of Syrian Kurdish fighters, it was necessary to avoid Iraqi Kurdish forces deployed along the border. The Iraqi Kurds needs their flourishing relationship with Turkey in order to continue on its path toward greater autonomy and possible independence. As a result, they also tend to become centers of paramilitary and criminal activity, such as Gaza and Lebanon, as well as Kosovo, Bosnian Serbia, and Transnistria. In the Iraqi zone, Islamist parties support the Gorran movement, a reformist party that does not even profess political Islam; which testifies to the relative weakness of the area’s Islamic movement. Indeed, other than Israel, the KRG in northern Iraq is the most pro-Western of all the non-monarchical governments in the region. The Syrian rebels are Islamists and Arab nationalists who are determined to maintain the unity of the Syrian state.
It would also possess substantial natural resources and a mobilized populace willing to defend it.


At the same time, the rise of the anti-Western Sunni Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic extremists with the support of Turkey and Qatar is leading to war and disorder across the eastern Mediterranean.
Now, under cover of American bombing raids, they have gone south to take an important army base only 30 miles from the city of Raqqa, the Syrian capital of the self-proclaimed caliphate. Reportedly, their formations were breaking up toward the end of the battle and the fighters were simply running away.
By far the most populous of these enclaves is Jazira, from which the current campaign was launched. In the 1980s, the Kurdish left was dominated by the then-Communist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which turned to guerrilla violence against the Turkish state in particular and sought secession for the country’s Kurds in eastern Anatolia. As for the YPG, it does not have a command line to the PKK but is rather autonomous in Syria, and has announced an ideology of direct democracy for all ethnic and religious groups in its territory, equality of the sexes, and environmentalism.
YPG leaders say, however, that they have Arab supporters, including the commandos of the Euphrates Volcano guerrilla group.
Intensive US and allied aerial bombing of Daesh convoys and positions, in support of Kurdish fighters on the ground, pushed Daesh out and saved the canton.
Without an effective infantry on the ground, the airstrikes would likely have remained ineffectual against Daesh. The Kurds at first attempted to stay out of the fighting, and turned to establishing a semi-autonomous set of cantons beyond the reach of the genocidal Baath regime.
It also developed the technique of raiding poorly defended regime bases for weapons, capturing rocket propelled grenades and even tanks. Daesh benefited from its store of captured medium weaponry, some of it taken from a fleeing Iraqi army in Mosul, and from the disarray and weakness of its enemies. Still, the combination of Western bombardment and a determined ally on the ground has worked militarily before, in Kosovo and in Afghanistan in fall of 2001. I find it unfortunate that the emerging Kurdish success story receives so little attention in the West—both among policymakers and the general public. The autonomous zone is the most peaceful part of Iraq, and the absence of political violence is encouraging investment. But this year, a ceasefire was declared and a peace process begun in hopes of ending the conflict.
Or are events leading inexorably toward Kurdish independence, with the resulting partition of Iraq and Syria? Until recently, it was for all practical purposes led by Murat Karayilan, its commander in the Qandil mountains area, and is now headed by movement veteran Cemil Bayek. In mid-July, with the peace process frozen, the Kurdish leadership in northeast Syria declared an “interim administrative body” in the area under its control, alarming the Turkish government. At the same time, however, it was clear that a sort of ambiguous live-and-let-live attitude existed between the two groups, with each doing its best to ignore the other.
The establishment of a single “national congress”-type organization could defeat Turkey’s strategy of divide and rule.
They show certain authoritarian tendencies and the enclaves they rule are unlikely to resemble US or EU-style democracies any time in the near future. In Syrian Kurdistan, there is no identifiable Islamist movement, and the its militia has been actively engaged in combat with Syrian rebel groups associated with Al Qaeda.
All of these forces are hostile to the West, and acquiescence to their rejection of Kurdish rights makes little or no sense. A Kurdish state in northern Iraq, moreover, would likely absorb the Kurdish enclave in northeast Syria, effectively breaking up Iraq and Syria—two failed states that have been a byword for war, repression, and terrorism for most of the last fifty years. After all, if the US and other Western nations do not want to be involved in the Middle East, then there is no point in supporting the emergence of a pro-Western ally in the region. As with everything in Syria, these events are fraught with moral and ethical questions, but that they could be a game changer is not in doubt.
The Kurds are now only 30 miles from Raqqa, the capital of the so-called caliphate of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (the nom de guerre of Ibrahim al-Samarrai, a minor Iraqi academic). It is spearheaded by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the paramilitary arm of the far-left Democratic Union Party. A dirty war ensued with the Turkish military, with extensive war crimes on both sides, in which some 30,000 are estimated to have been killed. The Democratic Union Party also advocates a federal Syria after the war ends, with substantial states’ rights and a Kurdish province, Rojava.
The Turkish government, a NATO ally of the United States, is afraid of the People’s Protection Units because they are a branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
The advances of the past two weeks suggest a high degree of coordination between the US and the Kurdish fighters, which appears to have been kept covert, possibly because of Turkish sensitivities. When the government of Bashar al-Assad put snipers on buildings above city squares and began shooting protesters like fish in a barrel, then drew up tanks and fired on peaceful demonstrators, it drove the opposition to pick up arms. The movement split over these treacherous tactics of preying on putative allies, with the breakaway group declaring itself the real Al Qaeda in Syria and taking the sobriquet “the Support Front.” The opportunistic policy of Daesh which weakened and polarized the fundamentalist opposition to the regime, led Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to expel it from his organization. In northern Raqqa Province it has begun to lose because US and allied air strikes are neutralizing its armored vehicles, tanks, and light artillery, and because in the YPG it faces a determined and organized guerrilla foe with a substantial demographic base. If the successes of the YPG continue, we could see the faux caliph, icon of the Muslim far, far right, ignominiously chased from his very capital by feminist socialists.
Indeed, current regional developments make Kurdish statehood a realistic possibility for the first time in living memory. In recent years, each of these factions has made considerable progress toward forming rival “pan-Kurdish” movements. This movement and its various front organizations are the dominant force among both the Kurds of Turkey and the Kurdish autonomous zone in Syria.
As a result, Turkey has recently been making private agreements with the Iraqi Kurds for the purchase of crude oil supplies.
For the Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish zones to unify, the PKK must move toward rapprochement with Turkey. An upcoming conference in Erbil is intended to lay the foundation for such an organization.
The Hezbollah state-within-a-state in southern Lebanon is arguably another example—though in that case the quasi-state appears to have largely devoured the legitimate state. But Kurdish political culture is largely free of the kind of extreme dysfunction noted above. And unlike the Arab monarchies, its pro-Western orientation is deeply rooted in popular sentiment. But recent events in Syria and Egypt have shown what happens when the West fails to cultivate allies or abandons reliable clients in the region: Chaos. The YPG fields female as well as male soldiers, to the consternation of Daesh militants, who are said to be afraid that a male fighter killed by a female commando cannot go to heaven.
Therefore, Washington brokered a deal to allow the peshmerga from Iraqi Kurdistan to send in fighters to Kobane last fall.
It is also not clear whether the peshmerga from Iraqi Kurdistan brought in to help save Kobane are continuing to fight, or whether more have come to help Jazira Canton. Initially, the Free Syrian Army formed of anti-regime activists and soldiers defecting from the Syrian Arab Army supported the aspirations of the Syrian National Council for a democratic Syria. Daesh then turned on him, as well, rejecting the Al Qaeda approach of remaining a terrorist organization in favor of taking big swaths of territory and becoming a statelet based initially in Raqqa Province. The purport of an American alliance with these leftist Kurds for the future of Syria and for American relations with Turkey is even harder to predict. The Yekineyen Parastina Gel (People’s Protection Units or YPG) militia does as much as possible to prevent the entry of both Islamist rebels and Assad regime soldiers. This is despite vocal objections from the US—which is opposed to any attempt by the Kurdish autonomous zone to secede from Iraq—and, of course, opposition from the central government in Baghdad.
The Syrian-Kurdish YPG was a sister organization of the Turkish-Kurdish PKK, which remains on Washington’s list of terrorist organizations (though the YPG is not). Rojava’s elected assemblies have a quota for women and make a place for Christians and Turkmen.
Exxon Mobil has signed an agreement with the KRG to search for oil and develop an energy industry in the zone. The militia and the Kurdish security service, the Asayish, maintain an extensive presence and a firm grip on the area. The Democratic Union Party ideals sound a little like the anarcho-syndicalism of Spain during the Spanish Civil War, for which George Orwell fought as a volunteer.
Know also that we will cut off your head in the White House and transform America into a Muslim province. This is one of your soldiers’ fate, and every time you launch a missile, we will send you back the head of one of your soldiers.



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