The Kurds once again caught in the great game of nations

Turkey’s concerns reflect those of Ankara, Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus over the potential creation of a Kurdish state.
Sunday 21/01/2018
Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) head a convoy of US military vehicles in the Syrian town of Darbasiya near the Turkish border, last April

If one were to be overly opti­mistic, one could consider the fact that the Kurds – one of the Middle East’s “forgotten people” — made front-page news as something positive, even though the news itself was not very encouraging.

What was the news that brought the Kurds to the front page? The United States’ announcement that it is planning to finance and train the Kurds in northern Syria, a deci­sion that deeply worries Turkey.

The Kurds are one of several large ethnic minority groups that have been short-changed by history. They have also been short-changed by geography but it is precisely their geographic presence that gives them strategic importance today.

Throughout history, the Kurds have been denied a state of their own. Still, they have fared better in some parts than others. In Iraq, for example, the Kurdish Autono­mous Region effectively operates like an independent state, except for issues involving foreign affairs, defence and, of course, oil sales, all of which are handled by Baghdad.

In general, however, history — as well as geography — has not been kind to the Kurds.

Among the Middle East’s groups of stateless peoples, the Kurds are some of the most important. Time and again, they have proven themselves to be faithful, depend­ent and powerful allies. They have consistently used their militias to help Western interests, only to be left empty-handed.

As early as the first world war, the Kurds were promised a home­land in exchange for their support of Western allies against the Otto­man Empire. They were abandoned at the end of the war.

The West made flimsy promises again to the Kurds after Saddam Hussein defied Western powers. The Kurds suffered greatly under the Iraqi dictator, who deployed chemical agents against Kurdish villages, gassing entire families as they slept. Again, the Kurds were forgotten at the end of the war.

Today, with Russia playing a central role in the Syrian civil war, the United States — fearing it could be sidelined — placed its bets on the Kurds again, despite strong opposi­tion from Turkey, which threatened military intervention in response.

The Kurds are again caught in the middle of the great game of nations, only this time the United States has replaced Great Britain as the principal Western power.

The Kurds have often been the odd man out in the Middle East because of their unique culture and background, which includes an amazing will to survive in the inclement weather of the rugged mountainous regions they call home. Kurdistan, as an independ­ent state, does not exist but, if it did, it would comprise land from Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. That’s why those countries are not very eager to see the creation of a Kurd­ish state.

There is another detail that makes it harder for the Kurds to ob­tain their independence: The lands the Kurds claim are rich in oil. Oil means revenue and who wants to give away a potential cash cow?

In Turkey, for example, where oil extracted from Kurdish land serves as an important source of financial revenue, the government worries that a move towards Kurdish inde­pendence in Syria would encourage Turkey’s Kurds to follow suit. The way Turkey sees it, an independent Kurdish state would erode parts of Turkey, something neither its military nor its politicians want to see happen.

Turkey’s concerns reflect those of Ankara, Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus over the potential crea­tion of a Kurdish state. They are all particularly anxious about and vehemently opposed to the idea of a Kurdish state.

For the Kurds, who have lost so much fighting for the West in the far-off hope that they will get rewarded accordingly, keeping their name in the limelight for the time being is a positive step.