A trend I’ve noticed is that pro-Kurdish Americans tend to be right-wingers, often neo-cons, but never leftists or even centrists. Spengler and secular Iranian in exile Ami Taheri are just two examples of broadly “conservative” intellectuals who have recently written in favor of an American-backed Kurdish state.
Standing godfather to Kurdistan would of course mean creating another “banana republic without the bananas,” as Spengler enjoys saying. A prudent Daniel Larison puts it this way: “A landlocked state whose independence would be opposed to one degree or another by its most important neighbors is not likely to be a very successful one, and in that case it would probably become a dysfunctional international or U.S. ward.” Larison then notes the terrible track record that America has in gifting “freedom fighters” with their own independent states:
Westerners have tended to pay little or no attention to the countries they have helped to create once independence has been achieved, which leaves the people in those countries at the mercy of their local rulers, and those rulers are usually much more authoritarian and abusive than they were made out to be during the earlier fight for independence. Those leaders are portrayed romantically as “freedom fighters” when they’re out of power, and then they prove to be heavy-handed and thuggish once they control their own government. Kosovo and South Sudan both stand out as examples of what can become of such countries whose independence the U.S. made possible. Eritrea is another experiment in self-determination that resulted in the creation of an awful authoritarian state. It’s possible that an independent Kurdistan would end up being better off than any of those, but that isn’t saying much and it isn’t a reassuring track record.
However, as Larison himself admits, Kurdistan might in fact turn out to be a special case. Why?
To answer that question, it helps to look historically at America’s position on Kurdish nationalists and an independent Kurdish state. It’s a complicated history, to be sure, but longtime war correspondent Greg Myre condenses it nicely:
If the U.S. is friendly toward a government (think Turkey), then it doesn’t support that country’s Kurdish nationalists. If the U.S. despises a government (think Saddam’s Iraq), then it sympathizes with that country’s Kurds. One exception was Syria, where the U.S. didn’t like the government or the Kurds.
In other words, the Kurds are stateless rabble-rousers whose rabble-rousing can either benefit or challenge the hegemony of American allies and of American influence. Their rabble-rousing (and manpower) was useful in Saddam’s Iraq but continues to be hazardous in Erdogan’s Turkey.
So what is the ideological tenor of that rabble-rousing?
The Kurds are an Iranian ethnicity who speak an Iranic language, but unlike the Iranians, they seem to embrace their own secularism rather than hide it behind a fiercely theocratic veil. In fact, the main reason why America has been slow to support Kurdish nationalism is that historically its most ardent supporters have been an insurgent secular leftist group in Turkey known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (the PKK in their native tongue). Here is Wik on Turkey’s Kurdish nationalists:
The organization originated in the 1970s from the radical left and drew its leaders, members from other existing leftist groups . . . The organization initially presented itself as part of the worldwide communist revolution . . . During the 1980s the movement included and cooperated with other ethnic groups, including ethnic Turks, who were following the radical left. The organization initially aimed to establish a fully independent Kurdistan covering land in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
While the KPP does the violence, the politics of Kurdish nationalism in Turkey are conducted by the Democratic Regions Party and the larger and officially affiliated People’s Democratic Party. Again, Wik on the Kurdish and pro-Kurdish face of Turkish politics:
The HDP is seen as the Turkish variant of the Greek SYRIZA and the Spanish Podemos parties, similar in their anti-capitalist stance. The founders of the HDP, Yavuz Önen and Fatma Gök, both emphasised the HDP’s fundamental principle of rejecting capitalism and labour exploitation for the benefit of all Turkish citizens regardless of race, gender or religion. The party in this sense is therefore secular . . . The party has long advocated the establishment of local ‘people’s parliaments’ to increase democratic representation and decentralisation of power. Much of the party’s attempts to unite citizens throughout Turkey is through the opposition to the governing conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), which the HDP has accused of being authoritarian, exploitative and discriminatory against religious minorities.
. . . Concerns have been raised whether the HDP respects or supports the unity of the Turkish Republic, especially due to its underground connections with separatist rebel organisations such as the PKK.
The HDP received 80+% of Kurdish votes in recent elections.
Turkey’s Kurds, in other words, are hardcore leftists who want to undermine their host nation state, reclaim territory as their own, and declare a workers’ paradise. An American equivalent might be a party of Mexican Americans who want to undo the Treaty of Hidalgo and claim the Southwest as their own socialist wonderland. (That party hasn’t actually appeared yet, though one can be sure that its basic outline exists in a post-colonial academic paper somewhere.)
What about the Kurds in Syria and Iraq?
Things get much more complicated there, especially in Iraq, because Iraqi Kurds are extremely divided. Nevertheless, as one probes into the ideologies of Iraqi Kurdish politics, one is sure to discover leftist thought before long. Right now, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is one of the political parties attempting to remove the current president of the Kurdish Autonomous Region from power (a legitimate attempt it is, too, as explained in this article at Foreign Policy). The PUK, however, is—wouldn’t you know it—a member of Socialist International. The vice president of Socialist International is Jalal Talabani, the first Kurdish president of Iraq and a former member of the Communist Party before joining the PUK.
So in the Kurds we find a group that is largely secular, historically oppressed, and dedicated to leftist principles. Why is it, then, that the Obama administration has not adopted them as a cause? They seem ready made to be a new kind of freedom fighter for the progressive 21st century, social justice warriors of the truest kind.
Problem is, the Kurds seem to be leftists of an early 20th century variety: the kind that wants to create a worker’s paradise for their own people but not the whole world: socialists who are also nationalists. “National socialists” we might call them. Their leftism is rooted strongly in the protection of labor within their own borders. Reading through Kurdish political writings, one gets the sense that Kurds care about justice for Kurds and the rest of the world can do what it likes.
Also, Kurds are Western Asians, not Arabs, so many of them look like a bit too much like gringos to be proper representatives of The Oppressed of the Earth.
Those are female members of the People’s Protection Unit, the military arm of the Kurds. Many are self-proclaimed feminists. But once again, their brand of feminism is of an earlier variety. Not so much 20th century as, perhaps, 10th century. Straight from the lips of one of these Kurdish feminists:
“When we arrived at the front, it was dark, and al Qaeda was close to our position … we shouted to them that we were women with weapons in our hands, here to defend our people to the death,” says Nojan.
These feminists are currently putting their equality into practice by helping the men ethnically cleanse Arabs from Syria:
A new report from human rights group Amnesty International suggests that Kurdish forces in northern Syria, among the most significant US ground partners in the fight against the Islamic State, has committed war crimes with a campaign of displacement and home demolitions aimed mostly at the local Arab population. In the report released on Monday, Amnesty says it has found evidence that the local armed group known as the People’s Protection Units – better known by the acronym “YPG” – forced Arabs and Turkmen in northern Syria from their homes on behalf of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish political organisation that has held de facto control of northern Syria’s so-called “Autonomous Administration” since January 2014.
What’s more, Kurdish women are fighting for things like The Vote and The Ability To Speak In Public Without Being Laughed At. Their feminist causes would make Western feminist causes look a bit . . . well, I’ll let you find an adjective.
And remember, according to Western feminists, who are largely pro-Muslim and pro-Arab, wearing a burqa is a revolutionary act.
I wonder what the Kurdish women in the photo above might have to say about the West’s brand of feminism.
In short, the Kurds are leftists from another era, an era the New Left would like to forget. They are not globalists. They are more interested in Kurdish rights than in some abstract notion of human rights. They like America. They like the West; and nothing is more right-wing in the West than liking the West. All of this might help explain why Obama has not made the Kurds a “cause,” why Michelle Obama is not tweeting in their favor, and why the Pentagon is still giving weapons to Erdogan without assurance that he won’t accidentally point them at the Kurds in the fog of war. Indeed, the Obama administration has made it clear that it does not want Iraqi Kurds to secede from Iraq.
Obama has spoken carefully in public, but it is plain that the Administration wants the Kurds to do two potentially incompatible things. The first is to serve as a crucial ally in the campaign to destroy ISIS, with all the military funding and equipment that such a role entails. The second is to resist seceding from the Iraqi state.
Resist your secessionist urges! There be dragons!
Zombie-like, the Kurds are undead revolutionaries from a pre-globalist era, an era when leftism still had use for blood and soil. That makes them as untrustworthy to the progressive and neo-liberal elite as any redneck with a Confederate flag and a cache of illegal firearms.