Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Kurdish Roulette

Once again the Kurds find themselves in the middle of things. Back during the first Operation Desert Storm vs Iraq, the Kurds of Northern Iraq rebelled against Hussein and fought with the allies. There were promises made to the Turks that the allies would protect them, and guarantee their autonomy -  in Northern Iraq only. The US imposed a "no-fly-zone" on the airspace above the Kurds for awhile after the war, but, and it's a big but, they abandoned the Kurds on the ground. Hussein took the opportunity to exact severe revenge. In Desert Storm 2, and with Hussein defeated, the US established a state of autonomy for the Kurds in Northern Iraq. Turkey was unimpressed.

To understand Turkey's almost hatred of the Kurds it's necessary to understand that the Kurds claim the southern, mountainous region of Turkey as a part of their homeland. That home also includes Northern Iraq and North Eastern Syria. In other words, they are in the middle of it. Here is a picture of their "homeland":

From their autonomous area in Northern Iraq the Kurds have moved west, and into Syria. Ostensibly they are fighting President Assad of Syria, along with several radical Islamist groups. In reality they engaged an overly ambitious ISIS army that attempted to conquer their Iraq territory - until the US air force put an end to it. Now the Kurds fight with those same ISIS formations to overthrow Assad. But is their goal to overthrow Assad, or is it more like carving  North East Syria up, and adding it to their "historic homeland"? I suggest the latter to be true.

Turkey seems to understand this ambition extremely well. It has fought a decades old guerrilla-type war against the Kurds to keep its territory intact. Now, with the Kurds again working with the allies to topple another middle eastern head of state, Turkey has become very alarmed. So much so that today it released the following statement:

"The PYD (Kurds) has been getting closer with both the United States and Russia of late. We view the PYD as a terrorist group and we want all countries to consider the consequences of their cooperation."

In other words, the Kurds are an enemy of the state of Turkey, and cooperation/legitimization of their interests will be considered an act of war by Turkey. Now some may say that is reading into it too much, but consider the US response - the withdrawal of all Patriot missile systems from Turkey today. Those systems were meant to safeguard turkey from Syrian aircraft, but they also kept the peace (relatively) between Syria and Turkey during the 5 year old conflict. Now there is no such buffer. In another development today, it was reported Turkish forces, equipped with armor and bulldozers, entered Northern Syria. Right where the Kurds are. You get the idea. Turkey is putting its national interests first, which are defensive in nature, before those of its allies or adversaries - economic and otherwise.

Meanwhile, the Russians are faced with a predicament. On the one hand they have no beef with the Kurds, and perhaps even see the Kurds as being useful in the interim to fight other Islamic groups in Syria. Perhaps they have even done a quiet handshake deal with the Kurds to look after them with some territory in Syria if the Kurds play ball in saving Assad. That wouldn't be too surprising. The problem is that to keep that promise would mean going to war with Turkey - the 4th largest military in the world. All very complicated and messy. That means the Kurds become expendable at the right time, and there is all smiles around the table of great powers within the region.

That in a nutshell has been the nature of the Kurds dilemma for along time - too small a player swimming against a tide of geo-political interests that only match theirs on a temporary basis. Each time their young people lay down their lives in this or that conflict, with the ever lasting hope that a great power will deliver them their complete homeland as compensation, they get betrayed. The nature of the game known as Kurdish Roulette.

1 comment:

  1. I think this analysis is way off. First, the Kurds are either allies or have a truce with Assad (see the situation around Qamishli and Hasakah here: ). The Kurds are also allied with some anti-ISIS rebels, who helped them beat back the offensive on Kobane and connect the two cantons in the north & north-east of Syria, north of Raqqa.

    I don't feel sorry for Turkey at all, either, as you seem to. They allowed and encouraged thousands of Islamist extremists to enter Syria, and they continue to support ISIS as well as other al-Qaeda-like groups like Jabhat al-Nusra (they all seem to be connected, have the same ideology, have free flow of weapons between them...).

    Ever wonder who was ISIS selling its oil to? You know, before the Russians destroyed their pipelines recently. Makes a lot of people wonder why the US, in a full year of bombing, didn't do that - it would seem like the first thing one would do if one were serious about defeating ISIS. Could it be because NATO member Turkey wouldn't allow it?

    Second, Erdogan is deliberately trying to start a war with the Kurds in order to win a majority from Turkish nationalists in a new election, after elections earlier this year saw a secularist left-wing Kurdish party get big support from ethnic Turks and deny him a majority. He supposedly started an anti-ISIS offensive in return for letting the US use his air base, but in fact the vast majority of his attacks have been against the Syrian Kurds (you know, the US anti-ISIS allies). Maybe the US has pulled their Patriots in response to Turkey stabbing them in the back by attacking the main anti-ISIS force the US coalition has.

    Russia's involvement in Syria has reeled in Erdogan's ambitions. Russia wants to destroy Wahabbist terrorists, whether they call themselves ISIS or al-Nusra or something else, and then stabilize Syria. This means that they're allies of Assad and of the Kurds. The US and its allies, in contrast, want to destroy both ISIS and Assad, and are having difficulty figuring out which goal is more important if both can't be achieved (most of the US's Middle East allies, though - like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar - definitely want to destroy Assad more).

    Ultimately, the Kurds will be protected not by Russia but by the government of Assad (or whoever follows him), because I'm pretty sure that early on in the conflict the two sides made some sort of deal at the highest level that explains why there have been almost no battles between them. Perhaps it would see Kurdish territory grow but remain within a federated Syria. The most important part would be that people would be living in peace.


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