In the aftermath of US President Trump okaying the Turkish invasion of northern Syria, ‘Kurds’ are in the news. The Kurds, an Iranian ethnic group native to a mountainous region of Western Asia known as Kurdistan, spans southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, and northern Syria.
After World War I and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the victorious Western allies made provision for a Kurdish state in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres. However, that promise was nullified three years later and the Kurds are now in parts of Turkey, Iran Iraq and Syria. The Kurds, however, have never given up the dream of setting up their homeland and are therefore suspects in the countries which house them.
Recently the Kurds shot to fame for the role they played in defeating the Islamic State as an ally of the US. In that war around 10,000 Kurdish fighters died, whereas only around 10 or so US soldiers perished in the combat. The Kurds were the closest US allies in the battlefield.
Then suddenly on October 6, President Trump gave the green-light for Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria controlled by Kurdish fighters. An operation that would sweep away American-backed Kurdish forces near the border with Syria.
This recent US betrayal of the Kurds is not a unique action. It happened before in the 1970s, when President Nixon visited the then Shah of Iran in 1972, the Shah encouraged Nixon to support the Kurdish revolt against the Ba’thist regime in Iraq. But the US did not want the Kurds to be too successful or powerful, lest their Iranian cousins follow their lead and challenge Shah. As a result, when Iraqi Kurds made gains against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the United States cut them off, and the Kurds were left alone to face the Iraqi Army.
It did not end well for the Kurds. Then in March 1991, a day after a cease-fire went into effect bringing Operation Desert Storm to an end (after the Iraq invasion of Kuwait), President George H.W. Bush encouraged the Iraqi Kurds to rise up against Iraq leader Saddham Hussein. Believing they had American support for an uprising against Saddam... The Kurds did rise up. But in the end, American support for the uprising was not forthcoming and... it did not end well for the Kurds.
More recently, in the aftermath of the Islamic State (IS) capturing large swathes of land stretching from Iraq to Syria, it was the Kurds who took the brunt of the US adventure to militarily defeat of the IS. Unfortunately, yet again on October 6, the US turned its back on the Kurds and again... it does not look as though it would end well for the Kurds.
By Saturday, a major hospital along the border had been abandoned and tens of thousands were fleeing the south as Turkish forces continued their military offensive into Kurdish-controlled parts of Syria. On Thursday, CNN reported the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces telling a senior US diplomat, “You are leaving us to be slaughtered,” and demanding to know whether the US was going to do anything to protect Syrian Kurds as Turkey continued its military operation targeting America’s Kurdish allies in Syria. “You have given up on us. You are leaving us to be slaughtered,” Gen. Mazloum Kobani Abdi told the Deputy Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, William Roebuck
One has to wonder why Kurds keep putting their faith in the US. According to ‘Foreign Policy’ The answer is clear: The US is powerful, and can afford to be duplicitous, whereas the Kurds are weak and are thus forced to be credulous.
There is a lesson here for us Sri Lankans as we face another Presidential election in November this year. Some of our political leaders seem to be consumed by the belief that the US is a reliable partner who can bolster our security. They have already forced different regimes of this country to accept its ACSA and SOFA security arrangements. Even now, the US is attempting to persuade the present rulers to accept the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a five-year, $480 million Compact.
Opposition sources claim the compact includes a section that demands Sri Lanka should abrogate her land laws and other inimical clauses. Though Sri Lanka is financially weak, we should not fall into the trap the ‘Kurds’ now find themselves in. And it is most important to remember that ‘in politics, there are no permanent friends or permanent foes, only permanent interests.’