The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 80/No. 35      September 19, 2016


Kurds’ long struggle for independence, sovereignty

There will be “no separate [Kurdish] entity on the border,” Vice President Joe Biden declared in Turkey Aug. 24, ruling out any support from Washington for Kurdish autonomy in Syria. He was speaking alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose troops had just entered Syria — ostensibly to fight Islamic State, but with the open aim of blocking Kurdish territorial gains.

“As Kurdish allies fighting against terrorism … we expected more from the United States,” Idriss Naasan, a former official in the Kurds’ government in the area known as Rojava in northern Syria, told the Washington Post a week later.

But Washington’s actions are consistent with how the U.S. rulers have for decades alternately doled out a bit of aid to Kurdish nationalist groups fighting for self-determination when it has furthered their imperialist aims, then abruptly cut off this backing, depending on shifting relations with regimes in the area.

Today the Kurdish people comprise the biggest nationality in the world without a homeland, numbering some 30 million people living in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. When the victorious powers of London and Paris carved up the Middle East following World War I, they denied Kurds a homeland.

These governments imposed laws to brutally suppress Kurdish culture and nationality. At various points this included banning publicly speaking, writing or conducting education in the Kurdish language. Kurdish uprisings took place across the region over decades. A high point was the establishment in 1946 of the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad in Iran near the Iraqi border. After a betrayal by the Stalinist government in Moscow, the Iranian monarchy, backed by Washington and London, moved in and crushed the republic after 10 months.

One example of how Washington has cynically tried to use the Kurdish struggle to further its imperialist aims came in the early 1970s. To weaken the rival regime in Baghdad, the shah of Iran in 1972 requested that Washington arm the Kurds in Iraq. During the coming months the CIA shipped some $16 million worth of weapons to the Kurds.

When the shah reached a deal with the Iraqi regime three years later, Washington’s and Tehran’s support disappeared overnight, as Iraqi troops began a massive offensive against the Kurds. “One should not confuse undercover action with social work,” said Secretary of State Henry Kissinger later in 1975, responding to a question in a Senate committee about the decision to abandon the Kurds.

From 1990-91, U.S.-led forces carried out a bloody assault on Iraq, using the Saddam Hussein regime’s invasion of Kuwait as the pretext. The six weeks of incessant air- and sea-bombardment followed by a 100-hour invasion left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced.

In the aftermath, the Kurds in northern Iraq and oppressed Shiites in the south rose up against the weakened regime. Kurdish militias gained control over many towns and villages in March 1991. Washington and its allies stood aside and watched as Baghdad ruthlessly crushed both rebellions. More than 2 million Kurds tried to flee across the Turkish and Iranian borders.

The U.S. rulers then declared a temporary “enclave” for the refugees in northern Iraq near the Turkish border. Washington sent special forces into the area, functioning as little more than a police force for Saddam. Along with Turkish soldiers, U.S. troops forced refugees out of Turkey and off nearby mountains into barren transit camps.

Kurdish gains to self-rule in Iraq

Later an imperialist-imposed no-fly zone over northern Iraq gave the Kurds some breathing space. Over the ensuing years they were able to establish the beginnings of self-rule — an unintended consequence of Washington’s war that expanded after the second U.S. invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam in 2003.

Today the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq increasingly carries out its own foreign policy and trade, and has its own peshmerga military force with some 200,000 men and women under arms.

In recent years Washington has provided some light weapons and carried out airstrikes to back the peshmerga in Iraq and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, both of which are the most effective forces combating the reactionary Islamic State. The U.S. rulers are counting on them to play a key role in projected battles in Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq.

This puts Washington increasingly at odds with its NATO ally in Ankara. The Turkish capitalist rulers fear advances in the fight for an independent Kurdistan and the impetus that would have on the class struggle in Turkey, where some 20 percent of the population is Kurdish.

That’s why Biden read the imperial law to the Kurdish fighters in his Aug. 24 news conference with Erdogan. “They must move back across the [Euphrates] river,” the U.S. vice president said. “They cannot, will not, and under no circumstances will get American support if they do not keep that commitment. Period.”
Related articles:
Washington backs Ankara against the Kurds in Syria
Obama tells Turkish president ‘finish the job’
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home