Saturday, October 12, 2019

"We Have No Friends Except The Mountains": The Plight of the Kurdish People


When I was considering topics for this week's article, I originally gave serious consideration to writing about the possibility of whether President Trump will be brought up on impeachment charges. After all, the Democrats have been desperately looking for something...anything...to either discredit "The Donald" and effectively destroy any prospects of him winning a second term here and now.

The corporate owned media, which controls the narrative, has been in character assassination mode even before Trump took the oath of office. Even members within his own party have been secretly (and not to secretly) plotting to bring down this anti-establishment President. It's like the entire political establishment, so stunned that Hillary didn't get the coronation they thought she was entitled to, has been engaged in a cross party conspiracy to bring down the President.

Of course, Trump has given them plenty of ammunition hasn't he? Be it his comments to the media, his speeches, or his Tweets. Trump isn't exactly know for being subtle! And while he loves the public spotlight, I don't think he bargained for the kind of scrutiny he's been getting since day one. In fact, I seriously doubt any U.S. President has received the barely concealed loathing from the press that Trump has. Certainly, there's a lot to write about. However, it was a move by the President which caught my attention.

Just a few days ago, President Trump made the decision to withdraw American troops from areas in northern Syria in order to allow Turkish forces to launch an invasion, which may extend to parts of Iraq. The invasion will be directed against a small stateless group of individuals known as the Kurds. Now why would I choose to write about a bunch of stateless people instead of an attempt to bring down an American President?

Simply this. The Kurds are possibly the single most important group of people who've done more to help us in the Middle East than any other, with the possible exception of the Israelis. What's more, it strikes at something I deeply value on a personal level, namely loyalty and trust. But first, let me tell you about the Kurds.

If the Jews are considered a biblical people, then so too are the Kurds. The Kurdish people have been around almost from the beginning of civilization; originating, at least in part, from ancient Medes, and may be related to the ancient Hurrians who laid the groundwork for civilization itself. They've endured the Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites, Persians, the Islamic Caliphates, Mongol invasions, and countless other empires which have come and gone. More recently, they survived the collapse and breakup of the Ottoman Empire following World War I.

In fact, in 1920, the Allies (principally the French and British)"inherited" much of what was the Ottoman Empire, promised the Kurds a homeland in the Treaty of Sevres, yet just three years later, they reneged on their promise of a Kurdish homeland with the Treaty of Lausanne (this treaty established the boundaries of modern Turkey while craving out Iran, Syria, and Iraq. The result since has been decades of genocide, rebellion, and near constant war.

Ultimately, the Kurdish people were divided between four nations---Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Through it all, they adapted. They did whatever they could to remain together as a people with one goal in mind, to become a nation, while managing to exist mainly as a semi-autonomous province in northern Iraq. The estimated 35 million Kurds today represent the single largest ethnic group in the world which does not have a country of their own. Those who oppose a Kurdish homeland claim that it would represent a "second Israel" despite their presence in the same area for at least 5000 years, predating the countries which oppose its creation!

Currently, approximately 18% of the Turkish population is Kurdish. Most live in the southeastern portion of the country. As an aside, the Turkish Government refuses to even acknowledge the Kurds, referring to them as "Mountain Turks" instead. They're also guilty of several attempts at "ethnic cleansing" of the Kurds. About 10% of Iran's population are Kurdish, while 17% of Iraq's population are Kurds. Meanwhile, 9% of Syria's population, mostly in the northeast, are Kurdish. Outside of the region, there are substantial Kurdish populations scattered in about 21, mostly European, countries.

In terms of religion, the majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims of the Shafi sect, which puts them in conflict with the majority Hanafi sect of most of the Arab world, including the Sunni Turks. There are also large numbers of Christians and Zoroastrians (which predates Judaism). However, the fastest growing segment is secularism. In terms of their politics, the majority of Kurds support a secular democratic republic, which is quite different from the governments surrounding them which are mainly non-democratic theocratic monarchies (as an aside, Israel is the only democratic country is the region. A Kurdish state would make it two).

Fast forwarding to the 1990's, Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, attempted several times to eliminate the Kurdish people, mostly through attacks by mustard and sarin gas. I'm sure many of you remember seeing the horrific video on the nightly news. Between 1988 and 1991, an estimated 281,000 Kurds were murdered by Saddam. Of course, Congress and the United Nations promised to investigate, and there was the usual sanctions, yet little else happened, but here's a little something I bet you didn't know.

The Kurds had been a thorn in Saddam's backside for decades, but it wasn't until the U.S. promised them support to help oust Saddam that they really went all out. Washington even went as far as to promise to come to their aid in the event things got rough starting in the early 1980's (we were looking for an excuse to get rid of Saddam even then). However, when Hussein stepped up his attacks, we offered little more than words. When the mustard and sarin (nerve) gas started to fall, we were nowhere to be found. We didn't come to their aid like we had promised. Nevertheless, the Kurds still actively participated in both Gulf Wars. In fact, if it wasn't for their intelligence on the ground, our losses would have been much higher.

When things began to breakdown in Syria, it was the Kurds who helped us the most. It was the Kurds who took on ISIS fighters in village by village and town by town fighting. It was the Kurds who helped rescue thousands of Assyrian Christians and Yazidis, victims themselves of ISIS genocide or being sold into slavery, by attacking ISIS positions and evacuating large masses of Assyrian Christians and Yazidis to the safety of the Zargros mountains and away from certain death despite centuries of mutual mistrust.

It was Kurdish fighters, many of whom being women, who provided on-the-ground intelligence. In fact, approximately 11,000 Kurdish fighters---our "ally"--- died fighting ISIS. Without them, that could have been 11,000... or more...American soldiers. In short, if it wasn't for the Kurdish fighters, large swaths of Syria would have been lost to the Islamic terrorists.

So, what have we done on behalf of these beleaguered but invaluable allies? We've withdrawn our troops in the region in order to allow Turkish forces to engage them. The Turkish Army is one of the largest and most modern in the region while the Kurds have pretty much whatever they could capture or acquire on their own. They have no air force or other form of air protection from the Turkish Air Force. They lack heavy artillery or tanks. Most of what they have is light artillery and perhaps some shoulder launched rockets. The majority of what's available to the Kurdish fighters is small arms such as automatic rifles and pistols. They're grossly out gunned and outnumbered. Any direct military engagement will be a slaughter. This is what we've done for our allies, the Kurds. Can you imagine the damage this has done to our credibility, not just in the region, but worldwide? Here is America, your "ally of convenience"!

While many have argued (and rightly so) that the Middle East is a region largely stuck in the 9th century, our actions---regardless of whether they support or oppose the Kurds---demonstrates for all to see that the U.S. is a country not to be relied on. From a Middle Eastern perspective, we are a country which can't be trusted to stand by its friends. In a region like the Middle East, where one's word is their bond, our actions have shown friend and foe alike that we lack honor as a nation.

I'm one of those people who put great stock in honor and loyalty. Your word is your bond. I expect you to keep it come hell or high water just as I will. The same holds true for friends. If you're a friend, you can count on me to help, and by the same token, I expect the same. I cannot abide by a thief, a liar, or someone without honor. At the same time, I believe that the duty and responsibility of those with power is to protect and aid those without. What we've done and what we're doing to the Kurdish people is irreprehensible.

Of course, that's just my personal opinion. However, I'm not alone. Members of both political parties have spoken out over the President's decision. So have senior Pentagon officials as well as our allies who now have to consider just how reliable we are. An interesting aside is that Turkey is a key member of NATO. It provides a key staging area for our missiles; locating them virtually on Russia's doorstep and also putting them within striking range of our regional arch-nemesis, Iran. It also serves as the doorkeeper for all shipping traversing the Bosporus Strait between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, including the Russian Navy based in Sevastopol on the Crimea.

As I stated earlier, Turkey has one of the largest militaries in the region---412,691 active duty personnel along with another 378,700 in reserves. In fact, Turkey is second only to the U.S. in terms of a standing army in NATO. They have 2,246 tanks, 1,108 armored fighting vehicles, 872 Howitzers, and 418 multiple rocket launchers. They have "officially" 635 military planes, including 245 F-16 Falcons and 59 UH-1 "Huey" helicopters, not to mention four Boeing 737 AWACS air command and support aircraft. Naturally, it's chief supplier is the United States, which makes Turkey as very valuable customer for the domestic "merchants of death".

In addition, it's worth noting that prior to the recent "invasion" of Europe of military age "migrants' (cough cough), Turkey provided the largest source of low skill workers, especially to Germany. Turkey, which has been a candidate for the EU since 1999, is Europe's fifth largest trading partner. Its principal exports to the EU are mostly machinery, transport equipment, and manufactured goods while the EU exports machinery, chemicals, and manufactured goods.

As for the Kurds, they export nothing. They have no country, so they don't have a economic infrastructure. Much of what they produce simple items commonly found in street markets. However, Kurdish workers do make up an important niche of the employed in the various countries they live in. In terms of military, the semi-official Peshmerga (comprised mainly of forces loyal to either the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) along with other, much smaller parties, is approximately 325,000 strong, far less than what the Turks can bring to bear, and about the same in reservists though much less trained and even worse equipped.

Speaking of equipment, it's largely odds and ends of captured weapons; mostly of Russian, Chinese, or American origin. As I pointed out earlier, there are no tanks, heavy artillery, or aircraft. However, they do bring a lot of moxie to the fight, which at times, can turn battles. Equally, their communication and medical capabilities are just as lacking. Against a modern and well equipped military like Turkey, it can only be a delaying action to get civilians out of harm's way.

Lastly, you should know that of the thousands of ISIS prisoners being held throughout northern Syria, it's Kurdish troops who are guarding them. If, and when this invasion takes place, the Kurdish guards will be forced to evacuate the prisons, leaving them wide open. Can you imagine what will happen if these battle harden ISIS fighters escape, especially given their hatred for the West, Israel and the United States in particular? We'll see terrorist attacks and genocide on a whole new and far more bloodier level ever before.

So there you have it. We've turned a hungry wolf loose on a flock sheep. Trump quipped that the Kurds "didn't help us" in World War II, which is hardly the point. However, that the Kurds sit on 1/3 of the oil in Iraq does. I hope enough pressure can be brought to bear on President Trump to rescind his withdrawal order in time. However, it's likely that the Turks have anticipated this and move quickly to annihilate the Kurdish people as quickly as possible. It's little wonder that the Kurds have a saying, "We have no friends except the mountains". I wish I could say they're wrong; that the United States is their friend, but it looks like we're no better than all those who've come before us.


Trump's betrayal of the Kurds is a gift to Putin and Assad

Trump tells Turkish president U.S. will stop arming Kurds in Syria

Turkish troops advance into Syria as Trump washes his hands of the Kurds