• Navya Khanna

Kurdistan: A Century Long Betrayal Explained

The clash between the US and Turkey has been in the headlines for the past week. The Us president, Donald Trump also threatened Turkey president, Recep  Edrogan to obliterate Turkish economy. The cause of this clash lies in the history of an ethnic group called the Kurds. The Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in the middle east. They have had a long struggle for the creation of an exclusive nation state .They live in present day Syria, north western Iran, northern Iraq and make up fifteen to twenty percent of Turkey's population.

History  Of Kurds

The battle of Chaldiran in 1514 was a turning point in the history of the Kurds. It led to the victory of The Ottoman Empire and the formation of an alliance between the Kurds and Ottomans. During the First World War, Kurds decided to work with the Empire. However, the struggle for independence was still continuing underground. The young Turks implemented policies of ethnic cleansing on Kurds and Armenians. After the end of the war, the Treaty of Sevres was signed which promised  an independent state for the Kurds. British foreign policy under Edward William Noel, British diplomat supported the cause for their nationalism. However, they became apprehensive later as they felt that the French would respond by establishing a similar state.In the policy meetings, it was decided that Kurds will not be included in the Arab states but governed by British High Commission.

It was later decided it is best that area of the Kurds come under Iraq. British desire for peace with Turkey and Kemalist forces that resided within it overpowered the support for Kurdish independence. In the Treaty of Lausanne, there was no mention of the Kurds. Their rebellions have been brutally  suppressed by the government. However, this did not abate the voice of Kurdish autonomy. In the 1960s and 1970s, the main aim of the Kurdish Nationalism was to express their grievances of lack of civil rights and suppression of their culture to Turkish government. However, the failure in addressing their problems led to alternate and later violent approach for resolution and pursuit for political equality. This led to the formation of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

US and SDF Alliance

Kurds were fighting under the Syrian Democratic Forces along with other local militias against the IS. They were helped by the US led air strikes. SDF was successful in deriving out IS out of the borders of Turkey. SDF also captured the IS capital Raqqa in October 2017. When the US led international coalition was looking for partners to counter IS they took SDF as a wise option.

In October 2019, US under Trump administration decided to withdraw its troops. Turkey's president, Recep Edrogan said that it would make the area a 'safe zone' for Syrian refugees and will also get rid of YPG (People's Protection Units) SDF believes that it can lead to the comeback of IS. Turkish government considers YPG a terrorist organization which aims to secede through armed struggles. The Turkish attack aimed at eliminating Kurdish forces along the border. This bombardment led to the killing of many civilians on both sides. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says more than 160,000 civilians are on the move. According to Turkish reports,18 civilians were killed in Southern Turkey.

Turkey under Erdogan deceived the US and used it as an opportunity to gain control over the land. Turkey has already occupied 42 square miles  into Northern Syria and moves to occupy Ras al Ayn and Tal Abyad. Edrogan aims to provide resettlement to 2.3million refugees who are not Kurds. Critics have said that it can worsen the situation and increase the plausibility of civil war and ethnic cleansing. Considering, the very recent agonizing history of Syrian civil war.

New Alliance Between SDF and Syria?

An agreement has been made between Kurdish led SDF and Syrian government. According to this, Syrian government would provide it's forces at the border so that it can assist SDF in countering the Turkish army. This move also aims to liberate other Syrian states such as Afrin from Turkey.

On October 13, Mazloum Abdi wrote in Foreign Policy that SDF does not want US troops, but  the acknowledgement of its role in achieving a political solution for Syria. He also said that it is hard to know whom to trust but SDF will always choose it's people first and is ready to make compromises. Turkey has further assured that it will make every effort to prevent the return of IS reign. SDF had to make a very toilsome choice by working in tandem with Syria. This is because many SDF workers have been detained by Syrian authorities in the past including Mazloum Abdi. The SDF had to make a painful bargain by giving permission to Syrian troops to gain access to Syrian northern states called Manbij and Kobane. These northern states were captured by the SDF as a consequence of the civil war. 

Who stands to Gain?

The immediate winner is Turkey under Erdogan which has already occupied some parts of Northern Syrian land. It has benefited Syrian government as they could foray states which were occupied by the Kurdish forces. But, this can further lead to full control of the area by the Syrian government under Assad regime.

This would also give advantage to the foreign powers which support Mr. Assad's regime. It can further help IS to take advantage of instability and establish their control since the Kurdish forces no longer has the resources to fight it. Clearly, the one who are losing are the Kurds who feel betrayed by the decision of the US government.

Views expressed are solely those of the author.

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