the Blog Papers of Dr. Michael Sakbani; Economics, Finance and Politics

Dr. Michael Sakbani is a professor of economics and Finance at the Geneva campus of Webster-Europe. He is a senior international consultant to the UN system, European Union and Swiss banks. His career began at the State university of NY at Stoney Brook,then the Federal Reserve Bank of New York followed by UNCTAD where he was Director of the divisions of Economic Cooperation, Poverty Alleviation, and UNCTAD`s Special Programs. Published over 100 professional papers.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Kurds: Victims of a Wrong Decision and Wrong National Aspirations

The Kurds : Victims of a Wrong Decision and a Wrong Nationalist Goal

                             Dr. Michael Sakbani*

Ever since President Trump decided to pull out the small US military contingent in Syria, thereby giving the green light to Turkey`s long advocated aim of establishing a protected zone on its border with Syria, US political personae, journalists and their expected echoes in Europe have been expressing outrage at abandoning the Kurds after their loyal service to the US. This outrage is justified because in effect the US proved its disloyalty to its allies and its ephemeral commitment to those who make the mistake of believing its word. But the moral outrage is a reaction to the decision of the moment and to its maker, President Trump, rather than one of considered and balanced reflection. The outrage lacks a balanced view of the wrong decision made by the US and the European countries to hire the separatist Kurds to do the fighting against ISIS.

With the US and European help and arms, the YPG, or what is called the Syrian Protection Forces started a drive towards independence in North-Eastern Syria. The YPG follows the teachings of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader languishing in a Turkish jail for many years. The undoubted links between the YPG and the PKK have meant that some of the US-supplied arms to the YPG found their way to the PKK, as claimed repeatedly by Turkey. The Turkish government made repeated presentations to this effect to the US to no avail.

The Syrian YPG is not the sole representative of Syria`s north East Kurds. Many of the Kurds are under the Kurdish National Council (KNC), the other Kurdish grouping. But whereas the KNC is a part of the Syrian opposition, the YPG has been complicit with the Asad regime and has taken up arms against all its opponents and drove a sustained campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Non-Kurdish population of this mixed area of Syria. The YPG objective is to establish a separatist political Kurdish body (they called it Roghava i.e. west of Kurdistan) as an independent entity with its own flag. Demography, however, does not permit that. The Kurds are only 7% of the Syrian population (2 million, CIA factbook), Most of the Northern Kurds of Syria, some 300,000, came from Turkey in 1923 fleeing prosecution at the time of the establishment of modern Turkey after the failure of the rebellion of Sheikh Said Peran against the Turkish Republic. There are other Kurds who have lived in Syria for centuries and are a genuine part of the Syrian national tissue. These Kurds live in Syria`s main cities. When the YPG took over control of North-Eastern Syria after its abandonment by Asad, they started to change village names to Kurdish and to teach school kids only Kurdish in 35% of the Syrian territory they controlled.

The UN and many human-right organizations, such as HRW, have documented and denounced crimes against the inhabitants, Kurds and Arabs, committed by the YPG. Western Commentators are rightly impressed, as this author is, with the secular and gender non-bias of the YPG in its surroundings of dictatorships, Islamic fundamentalism and gender discrimination. But those admirable attributes should not mask the reality of what the YPG is doing. and the false and historically unfounded rights of the Kurds to the territory containing the bulk of the Syrian agricultural, water, energy and mineral resources.

The advent of ISIS in 2014 in that part of Syria and later on, in Iraq, prompted the US to change its position from a supporter of the Syrian revolution, even though very ineffectively, to a single purpose policy of fighting ISIS. The US tried to recruit and train Syrians for this purpose. But its efforts failed as there were apparently very few Syrians willing to fight only ISIS and not Asad. This is when the US under President Obama fell upon the idea of hiring the separatist Kurds to do the fighting against ISIS. 

Arming the YPG separatists with their known and proven links to the PKK, alarmed Turkey. Despite the repeatedly voiced national security concerns of Turkey, who has been fighting the PKK for decades, and the wise counsel of those who believed that it is the Asad regime that is the core problem in Syria rather than any identity grievances of the Kurds, two US Administrations continued a misconceived policy that is harmful to Turkey and Syria as well as to many other countries in the neighborhood. Presidents Obama and Trump continued a single objective policy of fighting only ISIS rather than solving the underlying Syria-Turkey problems. After almost three years of this policy, President Trump made a momentary decision dictated by his “America first” adage and isolationist foreign policy inclinations.

And now, the Syrian Kurds find themselves in the same square where their separatist national predecessors in Iraq and Turkey found themselves. The Iraqi Kurds (16% of Iraq`s population, i.e. 5.5 million, CIA factbook) revolted against the royalist regime in the 1950`s under the tribal leader Mustafa Barazani. Barazani was working for the Soviets, the Israelis and the Shah of Iran against Iraq. In the late 1970`s, they revolted under his son Masoud against Saddam working for Israel, the US and Iran. Again once their value expired, they were left to their destiny. In our times, the Kurds for the third time tried to separate from Iraq with the support of Israel, France and the US. Although they have no identity problems in Iraq, at least with the Sunni Arabs of North Iraq, Masoud Barazani took advantage of the disintegration of the central Iraqi state after the US invasion and ISIS expansion to occupy by force 20% of Iraq's non-Kurdish majority territories. Against the advice of even the US, he conducted a referendum of separation. The Federal Government gathered its insignificant army and took over the three Kurdish provinces and the occupied parts in a few days.

In Syria, the same scenario unfolded. The separatist, Marxist YPG took advantage of the disappearance of the Syrian state in the North to occupy and ethnically cleanse 35% of Syria. This time the separatist Kurds were US mercenaries with the constant support of Israel. They used their arms against their neighbors as much as they did bravely against the Barbarian ISIS. When Trump abandoned them, they tried to go to Asad, who was, in their eyes, the lesser enemy than Turkey.

The disappointment of Kurdish national aspirations is the result of three things: their chauvinist 19th-century type nationalism, their dispersed demography within Syria and third their working against their own country. History`s unfortunate treatment of the Kurds after the end of WWI, was the result of European imperialist designs on the former Ottoman empire. Once the Kurds were distributed among four new independent states created by Versaille, their nationalist advocacy took a hostile stance against these states. Every time there was an opportunity, their nationalist leaders worked with outside powers against these new states seeking independence.

In Syria, Kurds are a majority in only three small cities: Qamishli, Kobani and Efrin. Each of those towns is 200 km away from the other. There are no identity problems for the Kurds with the rest of the population. The first President of independent Syria was of Kurdish extraction and so was the military General who deposed him in 1949. In both Syria and Turkey, half of the Kurds live in big urban centers like Aleppo, Damascus, Istanbul Ankara and Izmir. Surely such Kurds would not follow or support a separatist nationalist agenda. For the average Kurd in the land-locked and economically dependent areas, where they live, independence will mean no prosperity.

 The ravages of narrow-minded Turkish and Arab nationalism, along with the same in Europe in the last century, invalidate narrow chauvinist thinking. People live together with their neighbors in harmony when all of them are free and democratically governed. No rational person prefers to be only with his kind; we never chose our parents and we can never predetermine whom we love. Humanism and not ethnic nationalism brings out the best of our nature.

The legitimate desire to manage their own affairs can be secured for the Kurds in decentralized states where local affairs are run by the local inhabitants. This has been the case in Iraq. Erdogan, an autocrat I wrote against, seems to advocate the same thing. In Efrine and Jarablus, recently taken away from Kurdish control, local councils have been running the place and all inhabitants seem to fare alright. Why not give that a chance.

Turkey is waging war against the separatist terrorist Kurds spilling into its territory after waiting and complaining for years to no avail. War is surely an awful means to solve disputes and problems; there is no clean war and there has been non in history. Can those who criticize Turkey come up with a just solution that gives peace a chance?

Turkey has been a host for 9 years to more than 4 million Syrian refugees plus one more million of others. This is like having 20 million in the US. And Turkey`s government has been spending treasure and bearing popular resentment against these unfortunate destitute outsiders with only a small help from the rest of the world. Mr. Erdogan wants to carve a part of Syria to transfer into some of these refugees at their free will. This will secure demographically Turkey`s southern border, give the Syrian rebels, whom he has supported, a place at the table for future Syria, and return some people to their homes. Anything wrong with that?