Stabs in the back don’t get much nastier than this.
For the past year, Western leaders have feted the Kurds of Northern Iraq,praising them as one of the few forces gutsy enough to face down the death cult of Isil.
Now, those leaders turn a blind eye, or even worse give an active nod, toattacks on Northern Iraqi Kurds by the Turkish air force.
Heroes one minute; fair game for massacre the next. In the long list of Western betrayals of former allies overseas, this one feels especially grotesque.
Last Friday, following months of negotiation with Washington, Turkey launched its first-ever air strikes against Isil in Syria.
A few hours later it started dropping bombs in Northern Iraq — not on Isil, but on the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, with which Turkey has been locked in bitter conflict since 1984.
Turkey, and Washington, consider the PKK a terrorist outfit. Confirming Turkey’s Kurd-targeting attacks inside Iraq, the office of the Turkish PM said: “Strikes were carried out on targets of the Daesh [Isil] terror group in Syria and the PKK terror group in Northern Iraq.”
This might sound like a causal official announcement. But it’s actually a morally loaded, and morally warped, statement.
For the conflation of Isil with the PKK — with both depicted as “terror groups” Turkey wants to demolish — suggests there’s a moral equivalence between them; between a barbaric group that seems to have been teleported form the Middle Ages and a Marxist guerrilla outfit that wants to create a Kurdish homeland on Iraqi, Turkish and Syrian territory.
Yet whatever you think of the PKK — whether you agree with Western capitals that brand it terroristic or with Kurds who think it’s a legit army —there’s simply no comparison between these Left-wing militants and the Islamic forces currently plundering, statue-smashing and beheading their way through Syria and Iraq.
Some Western observers say Turkey is only pounding PKK positions, rather than indiscriminately targeting all Kurdish groups in Northern Iraq, and that’s why Western leaders aren’t too worried.
But it’s way more complicated than that. The PKK has close links with the YPG, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units in Syria, who have been among the bravest battlers against Isil.
In the words of Kani Xulam of the American Kurdish Information Network, the YPG, assisted by the PKK, have been allies of the West in the attempt to snuff out Isil — in fact, they’ve been Washington’s “most effective boots on the ground against [Isil]”.
So for Washington to turn a blind eye to Turkish attacks on Kurdish positions in Isil-threatened territory is not only immoral — it’s also really dumb, threatening to rupture links that the West has built up with certain Kurdish forces.
Boris Johnson visiting Kurdish controlled regions of Iraq
Now there are reports that Turkey has directly targeted YPG positions in Syria. YPG spokesmen claim that on Sunday their fighters were shelled by Turkish tanks near Kobane, the northern Syrian town that young Kurdish men and women fought tooth-and-nail, with true grit and soul, to win back from Isil. Turkey is “investigating” these claims.
It’s unclear whether Washington and other Nato powers — Turkey being a Nato member — actively endorse Turkey’s assaults on the Kurds or are simply tolerating them.
Xulam says Washington gave Turkey a “green light” to bomb the PKK in return for its promise to attack Isil too. But according to political scientist Mehmet Ali Tugtan, of Istanbul Bilgi University, Americans haven’t “approved” Turkey’s anti-Kurd crusade — they’re simply “tolerating it … [in return] for continuing Turkish cooperation against [Isil]”.
But whether Western powers are cheering or quietly okaying this anti-Kurd aggression makes little difference. It still adds up to an act of treachery against the people who have done most — more than all our politicians put together — to curb the spread of Isil and halt its imposition of unforgiving, misogynistic, Christophobic rule on even more of the Middle East.
Where members of the Iraqi Army fled at the first whiff of Isil forces, Kurds stood their ground, trained hard, and went to war against Isil, to guard what they consider to be Kurdish territory in Syria and Iraq and also to protect other non-Kurdish communities in the region.
And they won plaudits. John Kerry visited Northern Iraq last year. The Western press sang their praises. And now? Now we watch as they are attacked by a Western ally, and as even their ability to politically express themselves is pummelled: in recent days Turkey has banned 96 Kurdish and left-wing websites.
One of the websites blocked is Rudaw, a Kurdish TV channel I was interviewed for last year. During the interview I said Kurds should be wary of Western support, because it can be fickle. I hate to see I’ve been proved right.