The Kurds – 30-45 million strong — are a Persian people who have inhabited various areas of the Middle East for centuries, speaking various languages that are part of the Western Iranian branch of the Indo-European family, and practicing various religions. A majority subscribe to the Shafi school of Sunni Islam, while significant minorities are either Shiites or Alevis, Zoroastrians or Christians. Currently, Kurds constitute 18-20% of the population of Turkey, 15-20% in Iraq, 10% in Iran and 9% in Syria. The areas they inhabit in each of these countries are contiguous, meaning that were it not for the relevant central governments, there could be an independent Kurdistan.
When the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I, the Western allies included a Kurdish state in their plans for the Middle East, but when three years later, the Treaty of Lausanne set national boundaries, it left the Kurds with minority status in four different countries. This inevitably led to a series of genocides and rebellions, with the current Turkish President, Erdogan making his Kurdish minority, concentrated along the border with Syria (and Iraq) his special enemies. Kurds managed to organize an autonomous region in an oil-rich part of Iraq, its capital in Irbil.
During the Syrian Civil War that began in 2011, a Kurdish-dominated coalition led by the Democratic Union Party as well as some other Kurdish, Arab, Syriac-Assyrian and Turkmen groups established the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS), drafting a ‘democratic confederate’ constitution in 2016 that enshrined a form of libertarian socialism that emphasizes decentralization, the need for ecological local governance and gender equality, which in turn led to the prominent role played by women both on the battlefield and within the newly formed political system as outlined by the 20th century Jewish American philosopher Murray Bookchin. (Bookchin first inspired the leader of the Turkish Kurds, Abdullah Ocalan who has languished in prison along with other members of his PKK Party for decades as Erdogan’s nemesis.)
Unique in the Middle East, the Kurdish region that stretches across Syria’s northern border with Turkey, organized itself as an egalitarian, ecological entity, which it called Rojava. It only came to Western attention when its remarkable female fighting brigades were featured in the news, however the Rojava Constitution of 2014 that guarantees cultural, religious and political freedom, specifically mandates public institutions to “work towards the elimination of gender discrimination”.
The Syrian Kurds have had mixed relations with the Assad government, however both are fighting ISIS, and the Kurds guard its prisoners. When President Trump allowed the Turks in, the Kurds had to prioritize fighting, allowing many ISIS fighters to escape. (When alerted to this, President Trump shoed how he feels about his allies, when he said, dismissively “They’ll head to Europe”. Camps for ISIS wives and children are left to be rescued by international forces, the question being whether their home countries would take them back.
It was not until after Trump agreed to Turkey’s invasion of Syria that he learned of the significant role the Kurds had played in the defeat of ISIS — or that Turkey planned to turn Rojava into a refugee area for Syrians who had fled the US war against Assad to Turkey- a two-fer if ever there was one. When Trump tried to tell Erdogan to abandon that plan, he threatened to turn the thousands of Middle East refugees he has also been hosting loose on Europe.
(Turkey applied to join the EU In the nineteen-eighties, but panicking at the thought of a Muslim country among them — this was before the refugee crisis that began in 2015), the Europeans kept kicking the can down the road. Then, when they had to deal with Muslim refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq arriving via Turkey, it demanded that Erdogan take back those who were not granted refugee status. Now Erdogan is threatening to abandon that agreement if it is prevented from carrying out its plan for Rojava.)
The question now is, did the US abandon the Kurds simply in order to please Erdogan, whose capital sports two Trump hotels? Or is Washington’s green light also related to the fact that Rojava’s ecological communalism is further to the left than any other system the US has had to contend with? The fact that Turkey is allowed to proceed suggests a plan to methodically stop communalism before more people hear about it.
Deena Stryker is a US-born international expert, author and journalist that lived in Eastern and Western Europe and has been writing about the big picture for 50 years. Over the years she penned a number of books, including Russia’s Americans. Her essays can also be found at Otherjones. Especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.