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The West is no friend of the Kurds

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Issue 2425
Graves of Kurds killed with chemical weapons by the Wests former ally Saddam Hussein
Graves of Kurds killed with chemical weapons by the West’s former ally Saddam Hussein (Pic: Enno Lenze)

The US is using and abusing the legitimate demand of the Kurds for national liberation to justify its latest assault on the Middle East.

It is rank hypocrisy. Those who have for decades oppressed the Kurds and sided with their enemies are now posing as their friends.

The Pentagon has said it has been “doing everything it can” with its air strikes to stop Islamic State gaining the Kurdish town of Kobane in northern Syria .

Yet at the same time the US is in alliance with Turkey, a Nato member that has waged a decades-long “dirty war” against the Kurds that has claimed at least 30,000 lives.

The Kurds, some 30 million people who inhabit parts of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq form the largest single people in the world without a state.

Socialists support their struggle for an independent homeland.

But the Kurds have been repeatedly picked up and dropped by all the imperialist powers—most of all the US .

The imperialists have never been interested in the liberation of the Kurdish people.

The Kurds have faced decades of oppression in Turkey, including severe punishment if they were caught speaking their own language.

Imperialism—the era of capitalism where capitalist powers compete for global dominance—is the root cause of Kurdish oppression.


The Kurds were one of the main “losers” of the imperialist carve-up that followed the First World War.

US president Woodrow Wilson talked of nations’ right to self-determination and promised the Kurds their own nation state.

But Wilson’s real aim was for the US to gain from the re-division of the world after the defeat of the central powers and their allies.

The British, having just discovered oil reserves in northern Iraq, helped make sure that no Kurdish liberation materialised.

British forces quickly moved to brutally suppress the Kurds, using chemical bombing in 1922. The Kurdish national movement has often used socialist rhetoric. But it has also been prepared to make deals with imperialism in the vain hope this would lead to a Kurdish state.

The Iraqi Kurdish leadership was formed after the Second World War, when Mustafa Barzani set up the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). 

The KDP now runs Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government under the leadership of Barzani’s son Masoud.

In the late 1950s Iraq saw a revolutionary upheaval against British imperialism.

Barzani’s KDP allied itself with the Arab nationalist army officer Abdel al-Karim Qasim, who led a rebellion against Britain’s puppet monarchy.

Hope beckoned for the Kurds. But the CIA sponsored a coup that brought the Ba’ath party and, in time, Saddam Hussein to power.

Hussein promised the Kurds autonomy. But he turned on the KDP once the Ba’athists had crushed the Iraqi Communist Party and the unions.

Barzani cooperated with Hussein. This caused a split in the Kurdish leadership with different factions allying with Hussein to bolster their own power.

And the US, as part of its on-off relation with Hussein, sometimes encouraged Kurdish revolt and at other times did nothing as the Kurds were ruthlessly repressed.

For example, the US encouraged Shia in the south and Kurds in the north to rise up towards the end of the war against Iraq in 1991.


But then it let Hussein crush the rebellions as its ally Turkey was against Kurdish independence. The US then set up a “safe haven” in the north, but this “no fly zone” had nothing to do with protecting the Kurds.

The US was more than happy for 5,000 Turkish troops to pour into northern Iraq to hunt down Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999.

Throughout the latest Iraq wars and occupation the US has wanted the Kurds strong enough to protect the West’s oil interests—and fight as a proxy army if necessary.

But it wants them to stay weak enough to deny them independence so as not to spark a rebellion in Turkey.

Turkey doesn’t want to help in Kobane because the Kurdish fighters are linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said openly that Islamic State and the PKK, are much the same and that “It is wrong to deal with them differently, we need to deal with them jointly.”

A senior member of the Erdogan’s ruling AKP party, Emrullah Isler, said the PKK was worse than Islamic State.

The Russian revolutionary Lenin insisted that revolutionaries must support all genuine national liberation movements against imperialism but warned against giving them “communist colouring”.

There is a difference between socialism and national liberation.

Capitalist nations are divided into classes, with a ruling class that exploits the working class.

Revolutionary socialists want an end to this class system and a world where working class people control the wealth they produce.

Nationalist movements don’t want an end to capitalism but they want to win changes within it. Kurdish oppression has been perpetuated by imperialism—and it will not be brought through its military aid or compromises with it.

National liberation for the Kurds can be won only by overturning the entire system of states in the Middle East. And we have seen a glimpse of how that can come about—not through hoping that imperialism will deliver change but through revolt from below.

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in 2010 and 2011 showed how ruthless dictators backed by the West can be beaten. Those revolutions have faced setbacks, but that does not annul the lesson.

The solution lies with the working class within the region, as part of a broader struggle against imperialism and the local regimes.

‘We are winessing a carnival of reaction across the region’

Simon Hester spoke on behalf of the Socialist Workers Party at a protest of Kurdish people living in London last week. We reprint part of his speech below. 

“Solidarity with the Kurdish people. Solidarity with the people of Kobane. Solidarity with the protesters across Turkey—under attack from the Turkish government.

Isis is a reactionary, sectarian force that has emerged from the chaos created by the 2003 invasion of Iraq and President Assad’s repression of the Syrian people’s uprising.

The West did nothing about Isis until their oil interests were threatened—now suddenly they are seen as a major threat to Western capitalist interests. 

David Cameron and Barack Obama praise the Kurdish people. But Cameron and Obama are liars and hypocrites.

If Cameron really supports the Kurds why is the PKK still a banned organisation—and why is the door closed to refugees from Syria, Iraq and Turkey?

And it is clear that Turkish prime minister Erdogan is more afraid of the Kurdish movement than of Isis.

Cameron, Obama and Erdogan are today’s inheritors of the Sykes/Picot agreement of 1916 when British and French imperialists carved up the Middle East in their own interests. 

The Kurdish people were split between artificial borders drawn up in London and Paris. 

They are no friends of the Kurds—or any ordinary Arabs or Turks or anyone else. Their only interests are oil, power and control of the Middle East—which is why we oppose their intervention into the Middle East.

We are witnessing a carnival of reaction across the region with state repression of people’s movements, sectarian war and imperialist intervention. Isis, Israel, Assad, the Iraqi regime, Saudi Arabia, Turkey are all part of this reaction.

But only three years ago we saw that a different world is possible. We saw the Arab Spring when millions of ordinary people rose up across the region and the power of the masses in the Egyptian Revolution.

We saw the hope created by the Gezi Park movement in Turkey.

That pointed to the possibility of a new world where people can unite in common struggle against dictatorships, against imperialism and for people’s justice.

The Socialist Workers Party says

  • Open the borders—let the refugees out and the fighters in
  • Down with Western intervention
  • Solidarity with the Kurdish people”

Read More

For more on the Kurds and imperialism see:

Arming the Kurds won’t stop Iraq’s brutal civil war
by Ken Olende

The multiple crises of imperialism
by Alex Callinicos

Kurdish gains of more than a decade are under threat from latest Middle East crisis
by Ron Margulies

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