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Monday, April 14, 2014

The world's shame and cowardice in denying the Kurds a homeland

The horrendous civil war in Syria being fought out between the forces of Baathist dictator Bashar al-Assad, monstrous jihadists trying to replace him with even worse Islamist oppression, and Syrians who want to free themselves from both of those types of tyrannies has yet another component.

Eastern Syria is home to a large Kurdish population and they have carved out a relatively stable area amid all the chaos. But they are at war with Islamists who are threatened by the Kurds' pro-western values and their culture which places an important role on women's rights and equality.

In the aftermath of the wars in Iraq, there is a semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan which is an oasis of security and prosperity in that violent, fractious country.

The Kurds are the largest group of stateless people in the world, numbering about 30 million. Their traditional homeland covers territory in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey. The Kurds' cultural practices and values are far more liberal and western than their Arab neighbors. But the Kurds have been prevented from carving out an independent state for themselves largely because of pressure from Turkey.

The Turkish government is fearful that an independent Kurdistan in Iraq and Syria would inspire Kurdish separatists in Turkey, where they are already outlawed. Turkey, which lacks the democratic practices and institutions to gain membership in the European  Union, and which continues to deny the genocide of Armenians it carried out a century ago is a lynchpin in the region for the NATO alliance.

Concerned about offending a fellow NATO member, western governments have capitulated to Turkish pressure and betrayed Kurdish national aspirations by confining them to the autonomous region in Iraq.

But with the war in Syria raging and the need for a bulwark against the growing al Qaida-influenced Islamists in the region, rethinking the idea of a Kurdish homeland is not only now a moral imperative for the west,  but a strategic one.


Skippy Stalin said...

Strategically, it's of reas a terrible idea for a number of reasons.

First, restarting the great power practice of carving up other people's countries sets precedents that can play out in unpredictable ways.

There was a great moral case for George W. Bush's unilateral declaration of Kosovar independence. However, it allowed Vladimir Putin to exploit it to his own ends in both Georgia and Crimea, and with greater historical justification.

Once these trends start, they're very difficult to stop, and it would be a superior idea to not let the trend expand into regions like South Asia, where the consequences could very well be nuclear.

I'm also not sure how NATO survives when we're complicit in partitioning the territory of a member state. And what if they respond by retaking Cyprus? Do we really need that headache now?

Oh, and Canada - for obvious reasons - officially opposes unilateral declarations of independence, as does the United Kingdom and Spain.

Second, who exactly is going to guarantee and, more importantly, defend the borders of a new Kurdish state? It'll be a good long time before they can do it themselves, and it's a virtual certainty that Turkey, Iraq and Iran would pursue a military solution.

Such a mission wouldn't pass muster with NATO, the Russians and Chinese would veto it in the UN Security Council, possibly joined by the UK and France; and there's zero political support in the United States for a new Middle Eastern war.

Kurdistan would almost certainly be inconveniently landlocked, which would make it the ideal target of a blockade.

Third, Bush ans Cheney weren't wrong when they said that al Qaeda was operating in Iraq before 9/11, they were just awfully selective with the facts. They never said that they were in the Kurdish autonomous region.

There's no region to believe that wouldn't happen again, particularly in the chaotic days of a new state. Geographically, it would be an ideal base of operations against the Shia governments of Iraq and Iran and the Alawaites of Syria.

Fourth, just the publicly stated intent to do something like this is tantamount to a declaration of war. The United States would have to tie itself into intellectual knots trying to explain how this would be any different from the Zimmerman Telegram that brought them into the First World War.

I have a hard time seeing how this is a good idea. At all. The potential for nasty unintended consequences is practically endless.

Richard K said...

In this instance, I think the alternative of the status quo is even worse. The Kurds have the misfortune of living in one of the world's worst neighborhoods and have been at the mercy of brutal dictators and vicious discrimination.

They were gassed by Saddam,are having their language and culture suppressed by the Turks, and are now the targets of Jihadist maniacs from all over the Muslim "Ummah." Their having the right to national self-determination and a homeland is something that I think, from a moral standpoint, should occur. But beyond that and the opposition you mentioned, which I agree it would likely face. the benefits of having a pro-western, relatively liberal Kurdish homeland in that region would outweigh all the potential deficits.

Skippy Stalin said...

Firstly, how do you know that a Kurdish homeland would be "pro-western" or "relatively liberal"?

Even if they weren't okay with al-Qaeda operating there in the late 90s, they were unequal to the task of doing anything about it. And there's no evidence to suggest that's changed.

Moreover, morality has nothing to do with it. Morality, over the years, would have had us stopping the Holocaust and innumerable other genocides that we couldn't be bothered with.

A potential Kurdistan would have zero diplomatic, let alone military, support. Therefore, it would be crushed in a week.

Dwight Eisenhower is a hero of mine, but what he did in Hungary in 1956 was unforgivable. You don't ask people to rise up against their oppressors unless you're goddamned good and ready to go in there and defend them when things go sideways.

Eisenhower ALWAYS knew that Hungary was an impossible military adventure, which is exactly why he shouldn't have had the CIA in there whipping people up in the first place.

If you want to have your heart well and truly broken, you should read chapter 13 of "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA" by Tim Weiner, which deals with the Hungarian uprising.

The fact is that a potential Kurdistan would be crushed into dust by Iran, Iraq and Turkey in less than a week, and there would be absolutely nothing we could do to stop it.

If NATO can't supply it's own forces in Afghanistan without the permission of Russia and Pakistan, how would you supply the Kurds, with no cooperation from the neighbors?

I get that your heart is in the right place, Richard. Really,I do. And I sympathize with your position.

But I can't see how asking a lot of people to get dead for something that still doesn't accomplish the objectives of anyone other than the enemy is in anyone's interest, especially that of the Kurdish people.

If there was an appetite in the west for us to fight an impossible war to do it, I might feel differently, but no such appetite exists.

For all the tough talk that Stephen Harper throws around on behalf of Israel and Ukraine, he's not willing to put any skin in the game, making his rhetoric useless at best, and destructive at worst.

At the end of the day, we shouldn't encourage people to commit suicide for nothing.

Richard K said...

The Kurds have traditionally been pro-western. Maybe for expedience, but that's how it's been nonetheless. They certainly have a culture which is less oppressive to women than the Arab majority countries in which Kurds are minorities. And beyond that is the example of the administration of the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq.

I wouldn't expect the Kurds to commit suicide. They have been fighting for independence for a very long while now, because not having it is costing them lives and their liberty. Undoubtedly they will continue to fight for their right to a homeland, so the question is really whether or not the west decides to support them.