Thursday, 14 March 2013

Not Forgetting the Kurds!

    For a long time Robert Fisk always rendered his references to the Palestinian homeland with quotation marks - it will be 'Palestine' until it exists as a state he righty put it. That was the case until the UN voted to bestow a limited form of statehood to the Palestinians. At that moment 'Palestine', at long last, became Palestine. There remains another stateless people in the Middle East, and there is a state that has yet to be established for the political liberation of that people. I am referring to the Kurds and 'Kurdistan'. Even though the Kurds are the largest people without a state in the world it's a cause that too often goes unheard. It's a cause which deserves a lot more support than it is given in the West. By comparison the Palestinian cause gains much more coverage - even though it's mostly framed as a defence of the Israeli position on Palestine.
    The Western media regularly goes on the defensive whenever Israel engages in outright aggression. Typically it's the wars, not the systematic forms of oppression that the Palestinians are subjected to on a day-to-day basis. For a long time the Kurds have been ignored, as the crimes against them constitute the constructive bloodbaths which go on in the blindspot of mass-media. Note the presuppositions of all debate on the Kurdish grievances are often schewed to the side of their oppressors. This was true of the complicit silence of the West over the campaigns of ethnic cleansing in countries such as Iraq and Turkey. Somehow the Kurdish cause became a fetish of liberal hacks looking to justify their support for the invasion of Iraq. The Far-Left in many countries campaigned against the war and conceded this ground to the pro-war camp. It made perfect sense to many of the Kurds to support the invasion with the hope of regime change and the possibility of greater autonomy for their people.

    It was a mistake for the radical Left to disregard the not-so-historic grievances of the Kurdish people. For it was the Ba'athist regime of Saddam Hussein that had subjected the Kurds to a brutal attempt of extirpation by poison gas. It was a campaign which left over 180,000 people dead in the late 1980s. At that time Saddam Hussein was a recipient of enormous support from the US and Britain, who cared nothing for the victims of his slaughterhouse regime. Nevertheless, the case for Kurdish rights would later be used as part of the justifications for the interventions in Iraq made by both Bush administrations. In 1991 it was convenient for George the Elected to make quick use of the Kurdish claim to rights and promptly abandoned them soon after withdrawal. Yet the Americans created a no-fly zone over the country they betrayed the Iraqis again, with support for Saddam over Iraqi dissidents and support for sanctions which ravaged the country.
    This was not the first time the Kurds had been betrayed by the US. It was in the 1970s that the caretaker administration of Gerry Ford pledged support to the Kurds and compelled them into a rebellion. It was an insurgency that was only defeated once the Iranians and the Americans abruptly withdrew their support for the Kurds. Later, The Kurds actually benefited from the no-fly zone in that the dark days of the late 80s were not revisited. By that time the campaign of violence had hardened the forces of Kurdish liberation. There was a price for this breathing time, Iraqi 'Kurdistan' later found itself the door into the country for Abu al-Zarqawi. The presence of Zarqawi in Iraq (the part not controlled by Saddam) was later used to back claims that the Ba'ath Party had links to al-Qaeda. Once again the Kurds would find themselves the beneficiaries of US-led interventionism.
    The first election to take place in occupied Iraq during the occupation instated Jalal Talabani as President. Talabani had been a leader of the fight for Kurdish rights and autonomy in Iraq long before and amidst the savagery unleashed upon his people by Saddam Hussein. Talabani's Kurdish sisters and brothers broke into celebration in Iran and Syria. Of course, the election was only held in 2005 after a great deal of protest within Iraq and, in the end, it was arranged to ratify a series of illegal economic measures imposed on the country. The mercurial socialist Talabani had no way of undoing the reforms passed by the Americans at that time. Just as Talabani had pledged loyalty to Saddam Hussein as the strong man annexed Kuwait. Fortunately, for the Kurds, Talabani had made a wise bet, whereas the Palestinians in Kuwait had made a most unwise bet. Soon the Palestinians became victims of Kuwaiti reprisals and were ultimately expelled.
    It is not difficult to see why the Kurdish question has gone unheard, only to be neglected by the Left as the US invaded Iraq and exploited by liberals at the same time. Whenever the rights of Kurds have positive value for the West then the discourse will turn in their favour. So as the Kurds became a force for opposition to Tikriti gangsters and the mullahs in Tehran the apologists for Empire discovered them. It's worth mentioning that the poison gas method employed by the Ba'ath Party was first advocated by Winston Churchill. That was just as the British occupied Iraq after the state was created in the aftermath of the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It may be due to the lack of a certain plan for Kurdish emancipation that it has left the Kurdish people in an ambiguous position with regard to the American superpower. The Palestinians are certainly the victims of American imperialism.
    However, this should not deter us on the radical Left from standing in solidarity with the Kurds. The artificial condition of the borders of states such as Iraq and Syria lends greater weight to the case for Kurdich autonomy. The political emancipation of the Kurds may offer a way to redefine boundaries created by imperialism. It was the interests of British and French colonialists (let alone the Turks and the Russians) have always prevailed over any demands for Kurdish autonomy. This was the case when modern Iraq was created, the Kurds were first promised independence and then briskly stabbed in the back over the oil under their feet. Instead of a democratic state the Kurds were absorbed into Iraq, a state constructed without any regard for local tribal formations. And so it was the Kurdish people were left to languish in abject servitude for decades to come.
    We can further the cause of human emancipation without giving up on anti-imperialism. The liberation of the Kurds won't be fulfilled until the boundaries created by Empire are undermined and the economic system that sustains the situation in the Middle East has been overhauled. The bourgeois forms of liberation made possible by liberal interventionism may hold extrinsic value insofar as these means facilitate the emancipatory process. The invasion of Iraq had tremendous disvalue, the occupation was a great injustice and Iraq still lives with the horrifying consequences of its results. The intrinsic value is in the ultimate liberation of human beings. It's possible to walk a fine line on this question. It takes subtlety and sophistication. Something our discourse lacks desperately. Even if the Iraq war had been a total success then the position of the Kurds would still be one of relative insecurity. It was a military project that was never concerned Kurdish liberation.
    There are obvious limitations in liberal internationalism as in the precarious position it has left the Kurds in. The copious quantities of oil under the feet of men like Massoud Barzani means that the autonomy may well be subject to the whim of foreign interests. The prospects of independence are interesting right now as a new pipeline between 'Kurdistan' and Turkey may enable the Kurds to export oil without permission from Baghdad. Potentially this could give 5 million Iraqi Kurds a degree of economic independence in order to further enable greater political independence. It's not impossible for Turkey to decide that it is not in its interests to defy Baghdad and break up Iraq. After all the Turks have their own Kurds to worry about. As Patrick Cockburn reflects "Self-determination is close, but not quite there yet."

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