After President Trump withdrew troops from Northern Syria, an ethnic minority group called the Kurds have been thrown into national attention.
The Kurds and the US have been allies in fighting ISIS groups since the American-led intervention in Syria. Their militia groups (like the “People’s Protection Unit”) have been crucial in successfully capturing ISIS strongholds, however, their victories have come at the cost of thousands.
Their latest joint partnership with the US in Syria has been a much celebrated victory by US defense officials — but, as US troops have pulled out of Syria, a Turkish offensive has begun against the Kurds bringing about a familiar feeling of betrayal and abandonment.
The Kurds have a complicated history — one that is a reflection of regional conflicts and western hegemony. As an ethnic minority group, the Kurds currently remain stateless even though they were promised a homeland following World War I. As Britain carved out the borders and boundaries for the Middle East, the land that would have been considered as the historical home for the Kurds was divided up between other Middle Eastern countries.
Fast forward to present day, and the Kurds still occupy their historical homeland. Numbered at around 30 million, they are largely scattered throughout the Middle East in an area known as Kurdistan — across Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria.
For decades Kurds have fought for their promised homeland. They have formed insurgency groups as a means to get sovereignty, including engaging in guerrilla warfare in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey where they have formed strong militia groups across the regions.
One of these formations has been the US, which has become an ongoing story of collaboration and betrayal. It began as early as the 1950’s when the United States supported Kurdish insurgency groups against the then Iraqi leader, Abd al-Karim Qasim. However, when the US reached an agreement with Qasim, the US supplied his Baathist government with napalm bombs which were then used towards the Kurds. In 1975, when the US was in conflict with Saddam, the US government supplied Kurdish groups with aid — only to then cut off the aid when Saddam reached a peace agreement with Iran which, in turn, led to their further persecution. This continued into the 80’s when President Reagan backed Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war while Saddam was committing mass levels of genocide against the Kurds, which led to March 1988 where the northern city of Halabja was attacked, killing 5,000 people, mostly civilians.
It is a cycle the Kurds are all too familiar with. We support Kurdish resistance when we need Kurdish military aid. But when they need us, we abandon them.
For the past couple years, the US has partnered with the Kurds to defeat the Islamic State in Syria — which they for the most part have won. Now that the US has gotten what they want, it has pulled out of Syria, clearing the way for a Turkish invasion.
Turkey sees the Syrian Kurds as a threat. The Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey has been designated as a terrorist organization whilst Turkey has and continues to deny Kurdish rights since the founding of the state. This is why the global reaction to a Turkish offensive in Northern Syria comes as no surprise as a reactionary measure to US withdrawal — but it still does not undermine the feeling of US betrayal.
Despite their poor treatment, the Kurds need the US. Their status as an ethnic minority has left them heavily persecuted with little citizenship rights. So when the US swoops in with (temporary) support (that often leaves them in a more compromising position than before), the Kurds have no choice but to take them up on it.
It is a vicious cycle that has continued for the past 100 years. A cycle that desperately needs to stop… but when?