With the Turkish offensive in northern Syria, the internet s full not only of news of fighting and atrocities—beheadings being live-streamed to social media, a senior woman Kurdish politician pulled from her car and executed—but beguiling pictures of Kurdish children. They are wide-eyed, curly-haired, charming. Yes, it’s a form of propaganda, but it worked with me. I was charmed and spent some time this morning exploring the internet to find out who these people are and, if possible, why Russia and Turkey are determined to wipe them out.
This is sort of a primer for me, a simplification of what I found online. Wiser heads will no doubt find errors and misinterpretations, but maybe this will help others begin to understand what’s happening.
In my mind, I think I equated the Kurdish with Europe’s Gypsies—people without a country. Although they are racially closer to Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, the Kurds are the largest ethnic group without a country. And that is part of today’s problem.
The Kurdish number between thirty and fifty million worldwide, with the highest concentration (about thirty million) in southwest Asia in an area known as Kurdistan, a mountainous terrain located in parts of Iran, Syria, Turkey, and Iraq. There are Kurdish communities in Istanbul as well as diaspora communities in Germany, America, and other countries. The focus today is on those people in the Asian mountains. They have their own strong culture and their own language, but they are usually bilingual, often fluent in Arabic. Islam is the predominant religion, although Kurds follow several other religions. A minority are Christian.
Betrayal runs through Kurdish history, including from western nations that have promised protection. A treaty signed after WWI created a Kurdish state but was cancelled three years later when the boundaries of Turkey were drawn without regard to the Kurdish state. They are historically a minority in whatever country they occupy, a fact that has led before to genocide and rebellions. Throughout the twentieth century the Kurdish people have fought for their culture and for the creation of a Kurdish state, despite the fact that their host countries seem determined to wipe them out. Because militant Kurds support force to backup nationalism, Turkey has declared the Kurds along its southern border “terrorists” and sees them as a military threat. Turkey wants to control a narrow strip of land on that border now held by the Kurds (at least until last week).
And yes, Kurdish forces fought alongside the Allies in WWII and more recently alongside U.S. forces to defeat Isis in the 21st-century conflict known as the Syrian civil war, in which the U.S. and its allies, including Russia, supported Syria in its defense against Isis and the militant forces of Iraq.
So why now are we reading that the Russians bombed four Syrian hospitals? Why are they in the mess? They claim they are supporting the regime of Syrian president Beshar Al-Assad, who inherited the presidency from his father in 2000; his father ascended to the presidency through a coup in 1971. A democracy this is not.
Russians insist they are fighting terrorists. In fact a Russian general used the same unfortunate description for the Kurds that a Texas sheriff spouted last week from the White House about Mexican immigrants: They’ll run over your children. Of all the things I worry about, immigrants running over my children--or grandchildren—is low on the list. Experts in international relations suspect, not surprisingly, that Putin’s reasons are much more complicated and self-serving. The politics are so convoluted, I won’t begin to try to sort them out here.
The saddest picture on the net: a small Syrian boy, about three, obviously injured and in distress, said, “I am going to tell God everything.” They were his last words.