The Kurdish people pride themselves in a very old history, forerunners reaching back to early Neolithic settlers up to 10’000 years B.C.. Sykes-Picot map drawing of 1916 willingly sacrificed their national territorial aspirations to serve British and French imperialist colonialism. Today Kurdish population is estimated to count between 30-45 million people – estimates suffering from lack of data –, divided to mainly four countries: Turkey (15-20 million), Iran (11 million), Iraq (8 million) and Syria (estimates between 1.6-2.5 million).
US covert and overt policy is using Kurdish tribes to destabilize all four home countries, including terrorism. From around 2014, the Assad government, suffering from Washington-designed militia war since spring 2011, granted greater autonomy to its Kurdish tribes to help push back the 40’000-plus foreign-paid mercenaries occupying and devastating the country.
Thus Washington, unable to provide larger military intervention forces of its own, was forced to raise the – both political and financial – price to win more Kurdish co-operation. For 2019 the Trump administration budgeted half a billion US Dollars to arm and supply Syrian Kurds, in open preparation of a Kurdish rump state on Syrian territory alongside the Turkish border, with Kurdish YPG forces to form the backbone and mainstay of the so-called Syrian Defense Force (SDF). This development of policy is unthinkable without Turkey discovering, that it was planned to be the next victim in Washington’s ME policy gaming – and consequently looking for better understanding with the main power in the region: Russia. Russian foreign policy followed a highly considerate strategy, next to the opposite of Washington’s hyper power style, which more often than not tends to fall to suspicions of incurable arrogance and literally one-sided decision-taking processes. Moscow granted the warming of the Ankara relations huge breathing space, which led to successes in the Astana peace process dwarfing progress under the competing western-ruled negotiations in Geneva.
If history of mankind wasn’t so brutal and bloody, it could sometimes make people laugh, especially in the hardest of times: Turkey and the Syrian Kurds are following somewhat similar objectives: gaining greater autonomy! Turkey desperately needs to secure a new position between Washington and Moscow – the Kurds in Syria dream of some kind of nation-building, struggling desperately to make a home of their own between interests and policies developed in Ankara and Damascus.
Since Turkey is hosting the biggest part of the Kurdish population in the whole region and in comparison with the remaining three host countries, it is forced to play a role or face terrible consequences threatening not only its national security but national unity as well.
US president Trump came down on this extremely both sensitive and complex situation with a single blow of a sledge hammer-style tweet: announcing withdrawal of US troops from Syria and an accompanying deal with Ankara. These tweets may be ridiculed by Trump critics all over the globe, but fact is: No matter what powers factually ruling US policy may plot, people and leaders in the ME theatre no longer take Washington’s presence for granted, nor do they believe in consistent reliable strategy implementation. This fatal impression gained further momentum, when Trump one day announced destruction of Turkey’s economy, should they attack US Kurdish allies – and assured mutually very fruitful developments of trade relations the next.
Moscow was wise enough neither to send congratulatory comments nor gifts to “the Donald”. From this “sledge hammer day” onwards, any thought of Ankara putting all its eggs in the Washington/NATO basket again is pretty much dead, president Erdoğan’s multilateral foreign policy strategy without reasonable alternative, which in fact strengthens his difficult interior position. Much the same on the Kurdish side: Being forced to turn to Damascus for help from one day to the next was a tough wake-up call. Not knowing what the next day will bring, will exact further learning.
But the biggest chance is with Moscow. Enjoying the most gifted foreign policy planning at hand today, it might be able to juggle all the balls in the game successfully: continue stabilizing Syria, while accommodating Turkey’s anxieties and getting Ankara to co-operate better in Idlib – without needlessly alienating the Kurds.
Kurdish sensitivity is fostered by a decisive US foreign policy blunder described impressively by the former CIA station chief and recipient of the highest CIA order, Robert Baer, who published the terrible experience (“See No Evil”, New York, 2002), Kurdish leader and later Iraq president Talabani faced in the second term of the Clinton presidency: Washington abandoned the already started CIA-sponsored Kurdish uprising in Iraq in 1996, sacrificing thousands of Kurdish agents and fighters to Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat bone crushers. Talabani, his family and quite a few of his people were highly rewarded by Washington from 2003, when this author met him personally and under four eyes only – but he increasingly and helplessly watched US mismanagement and corruption in Iraq.
If Kurds in four countries could learn in time, that wars fought and violence acted out in their neighborhood and host countries on behalf of foreign pay checks may ultimately never really serve their true and rightful interests – that could help to ease a lot of regional tensions. And teach Washington how to play by international rules and to stick to original American ideals.