Category Archives: Kurdistan

The Road to Defeating the Islamic State Runs through Kurdistan

Now that President Trump concluded that the Syrian gas attack “crossed many, many lines” and reacted accordingly, he must formulate a battle-plan to convert dynamic “talk” into ongoing “walk.”

In the process, he should recognize that it is in America’s best interest to recognize Kurdistan as a sovereign state and to deduce how to proceed thereafter based upon the historic, military, economic, religious and political implications of this overdue stance.

Its immediate impact would be felt in the Pentagon, as it plans how to defeat the Islamic State, but its long-term import can provide a template as to how to remodel the Middle East to maximize the interests of the United States, American allies, and long-suffering Middle Eastern peoples.

And it would serve as the culmination of regional battle plans we have proposed for almost a decade: in 2008, we focused upon how to confront the major source of global terrorism, and in 2015, we demonstrated why the United States cannot evade this trouble-spot.  In 2013, we simply concluded that the Kurds can lead a reborn Syria, at peace with all of her neighbors, and in 2014, we suggested thatNATO must help the Kurds now.

Historically, the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres was one of 35 treaties addressing the disposition of the former Ottoman Empire following World War I.  It was signed by the Ottomans, French, British, Italians, and Armenians.

Unfortunately, the Turks reneged after initially having accepted it, leading to its being supplanted by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that officially settled the conflict.  It was signed by Turkey, Greece, Italy, Japan, and Great Britain.

The former advocated for a Kurdish referendum to decide its fate, which was to include the Mosul Province, per Section III, Articles 62-64.  The latter defined the borders of the modern Turkish Republic.

Thus, the unfinished business created by the former should yield re-establishment of an independent Kurdistan in the Syrian-Iraqi region.  To accommodate the latter, acknowledged, would be a regional diaspora in Eastern Turkey and northwestern Iran, thereby resolving presumed vague territorial claims.

Yet, following defeat of the Islamic State, the only superpower that could subsequently protect the Kurds (and Kurdish Yazidis) from Turkish, Iranian, Russian, and Syrian attack is America.

And the only way to prompt Moscow to act to oust Iran from Syria is for America to ante up and – functioning as a player who no longer is following from behind – to encourage implementation of a Grand Plan to end this half-decade civil war by creating key spheres of influence:

Russia would legitimize its military presence along the Mediterranean, while America would both provide a buffer between Damascus and the Golan Heights (in southern Syria) and protect the Kurdistan region of Syria (currently and historically heavily populated by Kurds) south of Turkey from the Mediterranean Sea to the Tigris River (in northern Syria).

Indeed, it may be the pendency of this Grand Plan that explains both why President Trump had avoided criticizing President Putin and why relocation of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been delayed.

In any case, militarily, by introducing troops into Syria in conjunction withOperation Inherent Resolve, America would help create safe zones to which Syrian refugees could be relocated (from Europe, Turkey, and Jordan), within which they could be able to work with non-Islamists to found a country led by freedom-loving Kurds and to defend it against barbaric terrorists.

Two constituencies would have to become convinced of the wisdom of assuming this limited leadership role: myriad Kurdish factions and American public opinion.

The former would have to adopt a unified structure that maximizes its independence from foreign influences, and the latter would have to be educated as to how the United States would benefit from achieving stability in this volatile region.

Pivotal would be creation of a coalition government composed solely of Kurds who share Western values, thereby precluding inter-Kurdish conflict as occurred in the 1990s in Iraq.

Under American leadership – respecting “facts on the ground” – the pro-Assad YPG (“People’s Protection Units”) in the northeast would join with the pro-American KurdNAS (“Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria”) in the northwest to create a solitary administrative unit.

Positive public opinion could be mustered from Europeans (and their governments) to gain support from the NATO alliance, for they are increasingly recognizing that many restless refugees may be “overstaying their welcome.”

It would then be easier to muster domestic support for this limited incursion – already presaged by the presence of  about 5,000 special forces in the arena – behaviorally answering Iran’s “slap America in the face” threat.

This region would be contiguous with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq – that some feel should have become an independent entity after the Gulf War – and, thus, could subsequently become the Kurdish homeland envisioned a century ago.

Re-establishing Kurdistan would resolve the agitation of the PKK (“Kurdistan Workers’ Party”) in eastern Turkey, for the Turkish Kurds would constitute a diaspora that would no longer rebel against Ankara.

Sensitivity to this concern were reflected by delay in American provision ofheavy armaments to the Kurds, who are leading the assault on Rakka, until after the upcoming Turkish referendum, a posture that perhaps was enhanced by recapitulation of the demand that Ankara release an American pastor.

American’s military and diplomatic moves during the past fortnight – as also detailed at the DebkaFile – are consistent with these strategic goals, including U.S. helicopters having dropped Kurdish and Arab fighters west of Raqqa, and Secretary of State Tillerson having met with embattled Russians and Islamist Turks.

Thereafter, absent Iranian involvement, Turkey suddenly ended its “Euphrates Shield” invasion of Syria, and the Syrian army and rebel groups signed an agreement that will allow an estimated 60,000 people to depart from four besieged areas of the country.

Any residual Turkish resistance to this negotiated outcome would be resolved by providing President Erdoğan the corner of Syria that encompasses the Tomb of Suleyman Shah – who was the grandfather of Osman I (d. 1323/4), the founder of the Ottoman Empire – that arguably triggered his military to invade.  He would no longer feel compelled to purchase missiles from the Russians.

The exit strategy could, unfortunately, allow secular President Assad to remain in power if elected in a referendum conducted within a shrunken country, for myriad governmental and non-governmental militias would be left to determine the character of the resulting entity, including Christian forces.

Unfortunately, the Alawite-Russian bond has strengthened following ex-President Obama’s initial failure to honor his “red line” pledge and his ongoing blind neo-isolationism.

Kurdistan’s oil reserves and ingenuity – born of its sustained ancient culture – would allow her to continue to flourish economically, American support for this entity would undermine claims of anti-Muslim religious posturing, and the outcome could help resolve longstanding political conflicts such as friction between Baghdad and Erbil and conflict among myriad Kurdish factions.

Thus, at long last, America must recognize Kurdistan and, by serving as midwife for a new country, would defeat the Islamic State and obtain both immediate and long-term dividends.

Kurds would become the buffer for Europe and America’s allies in the region by interdicting Iran’s dream of creating a Shia Crescent to the Sea and Turkey’s aspiration to recreate an Ottoman Empire.  American inactivity would constitute a lost opportunity that might become irretrievable.

Sherkoh Abbas is president of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria.  Robert Sklaroff is a physician-activist.

The Kurds and President Trump, Its time for #Kurdistan

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What is the largest ethnic group that wants but does not have a nation-state of its own?  No, it’s not the “Palestinian people,” but rather the Kurds, who number between 30 and 35 million.  Living in areas of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Armenia, they constitute the fourth largest ethnic group.  They constitute 18% of the Turkish population, 10% in Iran, 17% in Iraq, and 10% in Syria.

In all the four countries, they have suffered persecution, discrimination, and marginalization, though they were protected to some extent in Syria by the French mandate.  In Turkey, the repression of Kurds has been constant and the Kurdish language forbidden for a time.  In Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini declared “holy war” against them, and 10,000 Kurds were killed.  Saddam Hussein in Iraq removed thousands of them in his “Arabization” program.  At best, there has been an uneven relationship between Kurds and government authorities, who may see Kurds as a security problem.

Calls for Kurdish autonomy began in the late 19th century under the Ottoman Empire.  Organizations to that end were formed after World War I and again after World War II in the four countries in which Kurds lived.

The Kurds have played a role in history, especially when the Kurdish Saladin the Magnificent took power in the 12th century.  Saladin, renowned as a liberator and good ruler, is regarded as a symbol of courage and resistance, as a unifier of the Middle East and the conqueror of Jerusalem, not only by Kurds, but also by Arabs.

Throughout history, the Kurds have maintained their ethnic identity in spite of divisions and conflicts among them, which has made their situation complex.

They have become more important in the context of international politics since they have been playing a prominent courageous role in the fighting in Syria and Iraq, particularly in the struggle against ISIS.  The Kurds, with support of U.S.-led coalition airpower, have been responsible for a number of victories against ISIS in northern Syria and control territory along the Turkish border.  They have driven ISIS out of a number of towns.  There is a virtual partnership between the Kurds and the U.S. in the war against radical Islam.

This indigenous people are a distinct people because of common race, culture, and language, though they differ religiously.  The question is, why do they not have a state of their own?  With the end of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the Western Allies by the Treaty of Sevres of August 10, 1920 suggested both local autonomy and a Kurdish independent state.

But there were acute international and Kurdish differences on this, and the proposals were put aside in the Treaty of Lausanne of July 24, 1923, which set the boundaries of Turkey and left the Kurds in minority status in the various four countries.  The argument can be made that the Kurds were the great losers in the international machinations to establish political entities after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Since then, Kurdish groups, both legal parties and organizations, and those calling for armed struggle and guerrilla tactics, have struggled for a state of their own, or for some autonomous status.  These groups developed in a number of countries, starting in 1927 with the Khoybun in Syria and Lebanon, and then in Iran in 1946 with the PDK (Democratic  Party of Kurdistan) in which Mustafa Barzani was a central figure.  Their cause has not been helped by the tensions among the Kurdish groups, which at one point led to civil war.

That struggle has been particularly acute in Turkey, where Kurds constitute almost 18% of the population.  After a number of Kurdish uprisings, Turkey imposed brutal treatment on its Kurdish citizens.  Among other things, Kurds were removed from their areas, the Kurdish language was restricted, and Kurdish names and costumes were banned.  Kurdish ethnic identity was denied.

In response, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), a leftist Marxist and militant group, was formed by Abdullah Ocalan in 1978 , calling for an independent state in Turkey, and soon, in 1984, Ocalan began an armed struggle in which 40,000 were killed and thousands were displaced.  The PKK withdrew the demand for an independent state.  Instead, it called for greater cultural and political autonomy, though fighting continued.

A temporary ceasefire was ended in July 2015 with clashes in southeastern Turkey and air strikes on PKK camps in Iraq.  However, the PKK, whose leader, Ocalan, has been imprisoned since 1999, operates a number of camps in northern Iraq.  It is a sign of his political blindness that Turkish president Erdoğan declared in 2015 that Turkey does not have a Kurdish problem.

Further violence resulted from a suicide bomb attack in Ankara in February 2016 that Turkey blamed on the Syrian Kurdish YPG (Popular Protection Units), aligned to the  PYD (Democratic Unity Party)  that Turkey labels terrorist organizations.  Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the PKK.  In fact, the PKK, though not the YPG,  is officially regarded as a terrorist group by the U.S. and the EU.

Kurds make up about 10 % of the population of Syria and an estimated 15-20% of Iraq.  In Iraq, the Kurds have created the KRG (Kurdish Regional Government), which has the Peshmerga as its armed forces and the Iraqi Kurdish Party led by Massoud Barzani.  The Peshmerga force of 150,000 has been a significant part of the forces in the war against ISIS in Iraq, especially in Mosul.  It has suffered severe losses, and more than 1,000 have been killed by ISIS.

In  Syria the basic rights of Kurds have been suppressed.  Many have been denied citizenship while Kurdish land has been taken and given to Arabs.  All demands for greater autonomy have been suppressed.

In January 2014, the Syrian PYD and other groups declared the creation of an autonomous government with three branches.  This was not an independent state, but a democratic administration within a federal framework.

The PYD leader, Salih Muslim, has declared that a political settlement to end the conflict in Syria must recognize Kurdish autonomy.   The PYD has fought against rebel groups though not allied to Assad, who it believes should not be in power.

After a Kurdish revolt against British rule failed, the KDP was formed by Mustafa Barzani in 1946 to struggle for autonomy in Iraq, but  this proposal for self-rule  was rejected by the central government, and  KDP launched an armed struggle in 1961.  In 1975, divisions in the KDP led to Jalal Talabani leaving and forming  the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan).

The Kurds took the side of Iran in the war with Iraq.  As a result, Saddam Hussein  in 1988 attacked the Kurdsm including  a poison gas attack on Halabja.  A Kurdish rebellion was brutally suppressed.  Some 1.5 million Iraqi Kurds fled into Iran and Turkey after the 1991 rebellion was crushed.

The Iraqi Kurds cooperated in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that ended the rule of Saddam Hussein.  In 2005 the Iraqi constitution recognized the autonomy of Kurdistan.  The KRG ( Kurdistani Regional Govermnent) was created to administer three  provinces in the country.  It controls an area of about 16,000 square miles, one tenth of Iraq, and has oil reserves of 4 billion barrels.  In February 2016, Massoud Barzani, president of Kurdistan since 2005, called for a referendum on independence.

It is unclear what will be the boundaries of an independent state, beyond the three provinces, especially with claims to the oil-rich Kirkuk area.  Yet irrespective of the boundaries, it is incumbent on the Trump administration to support such an outcome. There has been no overall U.S. policy concerning the Kurds, though it has included secret relationships and humanitarian aid.

Now there is collaboration in the fight against Islamic terrorism.  Though increased U.S. support for the Kurds may involve problems with Middle East countries, especially Turkey, the Kurds have proved they are the most effective fighters in the war against ISIS.  The Trump administration must persuade Turkey that the Kurds are not a threat to its national security , and that the Turks would benefit from an established Kurdistan.

Syrian Kurds ‘to declare’ federal system in N. Syria

Kurdish fighters gesture while carrying their parties’ flags in Tel Abyad of Raqqa governorate after they said they took control of the area June 15, 2015. (File photo: Reuters)
The announcement would mean “widening the framework of self-administration which the Kurds and others have formed,” said Idris Nassan, an official in the foreign affairs directorate of Kobani, one of three autonomous areas set up by Kurdish groups two years ago, speaking to Reuters.

The areas would be named the Federation of northern Syria, he said, and represent all ethnic groups living there.