Kurds, eternal victims of betrayal

Current events are reminiscent of post-World War I times and the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Thursday 17/10/2019
Displaced Syrians arrive in the border town of Tal Abyad on October 17, 2019, as Turkey and its allies continue their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria. (AFP)
Displaced Syrians arrive in the border town of Tal Abyad on October 17, 2019, as Turkey and its allies continue their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria. (AFP)

More than eight years after the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, confrontations or, more precisely, liquidation of the Syrian wars are taking place before a final status is reached.

Under cover of the Astana track since the end of 2016, de facto spheres of influence have been demarcated, notably the area controlled by the Moscow-Tehran-Damascus axis, then the Euphrates area under Washington’s control along with the Syrian Democratic Forces and the area controlled by Turkey during the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations.

Behind the conflict of wills east of the Euphrates and the demand for a safe zone, there is a strategy of expanding Turkish influence towards northern Syria, as well as northern Iraq, simulating the historical influence of the Ottoman Empire over the Aleppo and Mosul provinces and of having a more effective participation in determining Syria's fate.

Ankara’s obsession with the Kurdish strip along its southern border and with repatriating Syrian refugees may be acceptable excuses to Turkish public opinion, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to mobilise with patriotic zeal after his failure in the Istanbul elections and the crisis that plagued his Justice and Development Party.

Indeed, the “Syrian ordeal” was the lever that allowed Erdogan to consolidate his domestic position and lead a foreign policy that was turned towards Russia without abandoning its Atlantic affiliation and links with Europe.

This is the context of Ankara’s so-called Peace Spring Operation in northern Syria, another in the international bazaar of operations, which is meant to consolidate Turkey's position in the regional balance of power.

Washington’s unwillingness to lose Turkey, which is increasingly becoming Eastern and Eurasian rather than European, is a realistic explanation for its pragmatic attitude to abandon the Kurdish card. Add to that US President Donald Trump’s focus on fulfilling his election promises to withdraw the United States from its endless wars, as he called them. All of this comes on the backdrop of a lack of coherent US foreign policy in Trump's era and a lack of interest in the Middle East.

Trump's talk of the United States’ “historic mistake of engaging in the Middle East wars” should not be taken as a sign of a superpower’s desire to repent or an expression of his personal point of view but must be taken as an expression of the triumph of an isolationist streak in US foreign policy and the beginning of a new chapter in international relations.

Thus, Trump’s impeachment fears because of the Democrats’ investigation into his so-called incitement of his Ukrainian counterpart to dig dirt about his election rival Joe Biden are mixed with the decision to abandon the Kurds, which both Republicans and Democrats have rejected.

More important in this context, the problem is not confined to Trump's twisted approach and his multiple reversals with the Kurds and other allies from Europe to the Middle East but goes beyond that to his predecessor Barack Obama's political and moral abandonment of the Syrian issue since 2012-13 whose consequences are being reaped today.

Of course, this does not diminish the responsibility of the rest of the international community in the Syrian tragedy, especially Russia with its repeated use of its veto in the UN Security Council that prevented establishing a safe zone in northern Syria and exacerbated the situation.

Moscow has played the role of a crossroads guard in managing the conflict in Syria. It was Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin who gave the green light to Erdogan to stab the Kurds in the back.

Recall that Trump ordered the withdrawal of US military forces from north-eastern Syria, which facilitated the Turkish operation. That decision had been taken in December 2018 but Trump postponed its implementation because it outraged the deep state in the United States on both sides of the political divide.

This shows that Trump's offer of mediation between Turkey and the Kurds is nothing but a smokescreen, especially considering the strange and surprising statement by Trump in which he either cynically or seriously chided the Kurds for not participating in World War II alongside the Americans, especially in the landing at Normandy in France.

Current events are reminiscent of post-World War I times and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The US president at the time, Woodrow Wilson, defended the Kurds’ right to self-determination and promised them a Kurdish state but that promise has never seen the light of day even though the Kurds remain one of the major ethnicities or linguistic groups that are without a country to unite them globally, especially as they are the largest in terms of population.

Since a very long time ago, the Kurds have been scattered among Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. It wasn’t just the Americans who betrayed the Kurds; the Soviets did it, too. After World War II, Joseph Stalin reneged on his promise of a Mahabad state for the Kurds in exchange for a major share of Iranian oil.

During the Cold War and in the context of the great regional conflicts, the Kurdish factor returned to the forefront in the 1970s. This time, it was the Kurds of Iraq who were at the centre of the renaissance. Once again, the Soviets, the traditional allies of the Barazani family, abandoned them. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger played a major role to that end.

Perhaps out of naivety or perhaps they had no choice, the Kurds forgot those events and went back to cooperating with the Americans during the Obama and Trump presidencies only to find themselves betrayed again, once their usefulness in fighting the Islamic State on behalf of the international community and humanity ran out.