Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Kurds, the Turks, and the President Trump

The Kurds and Turks have been fighting seemingly continuously since 1514 when Sultan Selim annexed Western Armenia and Kurdistan into the Ottoman Empire. The Kurds are consistently on the losing side in the Turk-Kurd conflicts.. Yet the Kurds persevere driven by an eternal quest for independence. They are also great fighters; they fight for independence even when it seems futile. Sultan Mehmet in conquering Constantinople in 1453 realized he possessed a once great but now empty city. He needed to repopulate it; hence be brought in people from throughout the Empire, regardless of religion or ethniciy. The Sultans may have denied certain rights to non-Muslims, but tolerated them. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch was moved to Istanbul, the former Constantinople. The Ottoman tolerance for non-Muslims ended with Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1894-6 when he unleashed a series of pogroms against the Armenians, killing an estimated 200,000, initiating three decades of religious cleansing in Turkey. The Three Pashas of the Young Turks initiated the Armenian Genocide in Southeast Turkey, their historic homeland, by slaughtering an estimated 1.5 Armenians, as well as Assyrians and Greeks. Several Kurdish groups assisted the Turks in their genocide, but others sheltered Armenians. The Kurds filled the vacuum in Southeast Turkey by settling in the former Armenian lands. Kurdish leaders have since apologized for their ancestors participation in the genocide. The Turks have not acknowledged the slaughter as a genocide. Turkey Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was heavily involved in the September 1955 Istanbul Pogrom directed at the Greek minority in Turkey. A mass migration of the remaining Greeks followed. Only about 7,000 Greeks remained in Turkey by 1978, down from 119,882 in 1922. The Kurds are Muslims, mostly Sunni, so religious intolerance is not President Erdogan’s problems with them. It’s their eternal guest for quasi-independence if not full independence. The Sultans had reached a modus vivendi with the Kurds. The two would mostly leave each other alone as long as the Kurds were submissive. Then came the breakup of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War II. The Kurds were promised a country of their own in what is now Southeast Turkey, Northern Syria, Northern Iraq, and Northwest Iran. The 1919 Treaty of Serves between the victorious countries and a weakened Sultan dismembered the Ottoman Empire creating an independent Kurdistan. It divided Turkey into pieces with the Greeks getting the larger pieces. Mustafa Kemal, now known as Ataturk, had other ideas. He rallied the defeated Turks, and won Turkey’s independence. The British, French, and Italians saw the writing on the wall and left Turkey. The Greeks were decisively defeated. Ataturk won an independent Turkey with the present boundaries. He was not going to give the Kurds a part of Turkey as an independent country. In addition, the British realized Northern Iraq, the Kurds’ home, contained most of Iraq’s large oil fields. There was to be no independent Kurdistan pursuant to the 1823 Treaty of Lausanne. The Kurds were betrayed for the first, but certainly not the last time of over the past 100 years. The Kurds rebelled against the Turks in 1925, 1930, and 1937-8 and in Iran in 1920. They lost each time. Iraq and Iran fought in 1974-75 with the Iranians providing support to the Kurds. A 1975 settlement between the two required Iran to cut off support of the Kurds. The United States followed suit in ceasing supporting the Kurds. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger famously said: “Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.” Another betrayal! Allies and allegiances in the Mideast are usually allies of convenience. They are transitory, can shift on a moment’s notice. The United States and Israel are locked together, as are most likely the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. The Kurds have already turned to the Syrian Army with the Russians as allies. They had been negotiating with the Syrians prior to President Trump’s decision. President George H. W. Bush during the first Gulf War encouraged the Kurds and other Iraqi to rebel. The war ended. Saddam Hussein unleashed his helicopters and tanks on the Kurds. The U.S. backed off. Another betrayal. Yet, the Kurds persevered and ended up with a quasi-independent Kurdish The media’s sudden concern with the fates of the Kurds is motivated by the desire to disparage President Trump. The media has been oblivious to the three year war President Erdogan has been waging on Turkey’s Kurds. He has unleashed his military and death squads on the Kurds in the name of fighting terrorism. He claims the Syrian Kurds are allied with the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party, labeled a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the United States. He is also scared that a united Iraq-Syria semi-independent Kurdistan would pose a threat to Turkey, making it difficult to hold onto Southeast Turkey. The media applauded President Obama when he pulled American forces out of Iraq. President Obama started the process of pulling out of Iraq and the Mideast. President Trump is accelerating it. President Erdogan is a Mideast dictator, who emulates the former Ottoman Empire. He is no more capable of restoring the Ottoman’s glory than Benito Mussolini could restore the Roman Empire. President Erdogan is totally untrustworthy. He and his son are corrupt. One of President Trump’s campaign’s promises was to get out of these endless wars in the Mideast in which the United States does not have a stake. The signs were on the wall that he would pull American soldiers out of much of the volatile Mideast. He saw no reason to shed for further precious American blood in these endless conflicts in which the United States does not have a vested interest. President Trump was in a difficult position. American forces in many areas serve as a deterrent. If attacked the result would be an American response. Turkey is a member of NATO, but President Erdogan is a wobbly, untrustworthy ally. The United States was not going to war with Turkey to save the Kurds. Turkey also had great leverage over the United States with Turkey’s Incrilik Air Base. The United States has had a large presence at the base beginning during the Cold War. About 50 nuclear bombs are stored at the base. Therein lies the rub. If Turkey and the United States have a major falling out, the Turkish military could seize the bombs. EU countries complained about Turkey’s invasion of Syria. President Erdogan threatened to unleash 3.6 million Syrian refugees, currently in Turkey, on the EU countries, triggering another humanitarian crisis. President Erdogan claims he want a safety zone 250 miles X 20 miles along the Turkey-Syria border. Just coincidentally this strip of land is a highly fertile agricultural area adjoining desolate land. President Trump is accused of betraying the Kurds, our allies in defeating ISIS. 11,000 Kurds paid with their lives fighting the Kurds. The optics are bad for President Trump and the political consequences foreboding at this time. I agree President Trump made a tragic mistake in abandoning the Kurds. President Erdogan’s attacks were highly predictable and the consequences tragic. The Kurds will survive, as they always have. Someday they will be united.

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