Tag Archives: war

Syrian Kurds: Stateless and Depending on Assad

Map of the Kurdish Region
The dotted area on this map is occupied by Kurds. Readers can find this map on the website “The Kurdish Project.”

President Donald Trump last week ordered the withdrawal of U.S. ground troops from Kurdish-occupied northern Syria. Immediately after, invectives rained upon the President’s head for suddenly leaving the Kurds, who helped the U.S. defeat ISIS, to fend for themselves against attack by Turkish troops.

The media is in a frenzy of Trump accusations. Both sides of the Congressional aisle stand united in rebuke of Trump. Vocal opponent of U.S. interventionism, Representative from Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard, called the Turkish incursion into northern Syria genocide against the Kurds, and stated that because of “Trump’s failure to end the regime change war in Syria the Kurds are now paying the price.”

President Trump has a way of making his decisions seem impulsive, and he is in the habit of speaking loosely. No one should be comfortable with Turkish troops bombing Kurds, or with taking such a scenario lightly. However, it might be useful to review the other side of the current media narrative.

The Background

Trump was elected in part based on his campaign pledge to end forever wars. After assuming the presidency, Trump has on numerous occasions condemned U.S. foreign incursions, unless the underlying conflict involved clear and resolvable threats to U.S. specific interests abroad. Therefore, the withdrawal of ground troops from Syria should not have surprised anyone.

In December 2018, President Trump specifically said he would withdraw ground troops from Syria. He indicated that ISIS had been sufficiently defeated, and therefore, there was no further need for U.S. fighting in Syria.

ISIS perpetrated enough destruction that it needs to be viewed as a threat to orderly democratic social structures. In 2014, the newly-formed Coalition to Defeat ISIS consisted of 79 member countries, several of which engaged in actual military action against ISIS in the Middle East.  Thus, although the U.S. acted in a leadership position, the U.S. is not the only country responsible for ensuring against the resurgence of ISIS or assuring the safety of Kurds.  Russia is a member of the Coalition and also an ally of Syria.

A rough estimate of 18 million ethnic Kurds reside in Turkey, some of whom have militantly called for a separate Kurdish state for the last 10 years. Turkey has vehemently opposed Kurdish separatism, clamping down Kurdish language and culture inside Turkey. It should not be surprising that as soon as the opportunity arose, Turkish troops started bombing Syria in an effort to establish a buffer zone inside Syria to put distance between Turkey and Syrian Kurds.

Since 2011, millions of Syrians have fled the country’s civil war. Turkey accepted 3.6 million of the fleeing refugees. With the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Turkey wants to carve a “security zone” along the border on Syrian territory in which Syrian refugees can be resettled.  This zone would be in territory occupied by Kurds.

One of President Trump’s responses to criticism over the Syrian withdrawal is that the Kurds and the Turks have been fighting over Kurdish autonomy for a long time, so a new fight upon U.S. troop withdrawal would be nothing new. Indeed, the conflict can be said to date back to the end of World War I.

At the end of WWI, the victorious Allies partitioned the defeated Ottoman Empire into newly-created countries under the control of Britain, France and Italy. Several treaties ensued, but for the purpose of this discussion the last two treaties are the most significant. The Treaty of Sevres (August 1920) included the regions of Anatolia and Kurdistan, and no specific Turkish country. Soon after the signing, prominent Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk, began a fierce battle for Turkish independence. The new Treaty of Lausanne (July 1923) was ratified, Anatolia became independent Turkey, and the Kurds were left without their autonomous region.

Kurds Today

The region today sometimes unofficially referred to as Kurdistan is an area spanning parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey – the general region of Kurdistan under the Treaty of Sevres. Kurds are considered the largest stateless ethnic group in the world. They have some level of autonomy in Iraq, but little or none elsewhere.

Since 2011, the U.S. has been critical of Syria’s President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, accusing him of tyranny and use of chemical weapons. It is understandable that the U.S. military and officials hate to see Kurds in alliance with him, but alliance with Assad is what Kurds had to do, and did, in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal. Upon some thought, one should realize that Assad is protecting his own country by agreeing to fight the Turkish incursion.

Statelessness is painful, as Jews, Palestinians, Kurds, and so many other ethnic or religious groups now or formerly without a country can attest. Kurds are a capable people, and of course deserve a country of their own. The question is where. Meanwhile Kurds forcefully defend the territory they inhabit, anticipating that some day they will be able to establish meaningful autonomy for themselves.

The Rough Beast at Your Ballot Box

W.B. Yeats wrote his often-quoted poem The Second Coming in 1919, in the wake of the devastation of WWI and that war’s chaotic aftermath that foretold the inevitability of WWII.

The poem is short, free verse with iambic pentameter, and somewhat to the point – “somewhat,” since, like all good art, The Second Coming does not spell out, but only hints. Here is the poem,

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Battle of SommeClick here for a link to a beautiful audio version.

The images on the audio/visual Youtube post are from the World War II Battle of Somme — 141 days July 1 to November 18, 1916, of trench warfare on the Western Front, with a million men wounded or killed by its end.  The war did not end until 1918.

Why is the Just Vote No Blog Recommending Yeats Poem?

So, why would the Just Vote No Blog recommend The Second Coming? The poem makes for beautiful reading or listening, and it raises a favorite question of the Just Vote No Blog: are the forces of destruction and chaos inevitable reality or the result of bad ideas?

The literati in their analysis of The Second Coming often wax eloquent about Yeats’ reference to “the widening gyre” as testimony of his view of humanity and history as cyclical in the Biblical or mystic sense – birth, death and rebirth. Indeed the history of nations bears out such trajectory, with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire standing as prime example.

But here is what the Just Vote No Blog prefers to offer as testimony instead:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

When a politician says that there ought to be a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, he or she makes sure passion and intensity accompanies the message, which “the worst” immediately take up with equal verve and soon turn the message into reality. While “the best” often remain cynically aloof, lacking in conviction.

By the way, defining the difference between “the worst” and “the best” is up to you.  Maybe, though, you could look at results, or promises vs. reality.

The Rough Beast

Yeats ends The Second Coming with possibly the most utilized line in modern western literature:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The Biblical second comer is no sloucher,

For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Matthew 24:27 

The vision Yates creates is of someone moving patiently but relentlessly towards a goal. What if we chose to take that beast as the embodiment of bad ideas, the type of bad ideas we vote for at the polls, or bad ideas proselytized by politicians? What if we just say no? Would we stop the beast?

Obviously, a website titled the Just Vote No Blog would have to say “yes.”