Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Notes on Turkey, the Kurds, Incirlik, and ISIS

 

11705352_1005341582823689_7540684201876452080_nI’ve refrained from writing much about this past week’s news for a number of reasons. The first is that I’ve been deeply depressed about it, which doesn’t make for sober analysis. The second is that there are many elements of this story I don’t yet understand. I’ve been hesitant to make a categorical judgment about many of the rumors I’ve been hearing from Turkey, since I’m not there to evaluate any of them myself. The third is that there are so many aspects of this I do understand that I’m tempted to write too much, drowning everyone here in detail that’s essential — yet failing to convey the essence. The fourth, as one (good) journalist in Turkey put it on Twitter, is “[redacted’s] just too complicated. Moving too quick.”

I’m also aware how difficult it is to write about this in a way that makes sense. I remember studying the Spanish Civil War as an undergraduate and feeling so overwhelmed by the number of acronyms that I decided my exam strategy would be to play the odds, skip the Spanish Civil War, and instead master every other topic that might come up on the Modern European History finals. To this day, I could tell you all about Béla Kun, but my knowledge of the Spanish Civil War remains limited to what I learned from reading Homage to Catalonia.

So I’m not going to try to write a definitive update. I’ll just direct you to three articles, open the floor to discussion, and try to answer questions, although I may not know the answers. I’ve extracted key quotes from the articles, but if you read them in full, they’ll make more sense — not least because all these beastly acronyms refer to things that are, in fact, very different.

The first is by Patrick Cockburn, in the Independent. Cockburn is, to say the least, a controversial journalist. My rule with him is that whatever he writes is worth reading, but requires confirmation by at least two independent sources before it should be considered accurate. I include this because he’s correct to point out the potentially huge strategic consequences of US policy here. Also, in this case, everything he’s written is correct. (I haven’t confirmed his quotes, of course, but those aren’t the essential points.)

The US denies giving the go-ahead for Turkish attacks on the PKK in return for American use of Turkish air bases, or of any link with Turkish action against Isis fighters and volunteers, who were previously able to move fairly freely across Turkey’s 550-mile border with Syria.

But whatever America was hoping for, initial signs are that the Turkish government may be more interested in moving against the Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq than it is in attacking Isis. Ankara has previously said that it considers both the PKK and Isis to be “terrorists.” [my note — the US and Europe also consider the PKK to be terrorists. Having walked over their handiwork more than once, I can confirm that this is the correct designation.]

Meanwhile, Turkish police have stepped up suppression of all types of dissent – using water cannon against everybody from activists to members of the heterodox Shia Alevi sect, who number several million and claim they are discriminated against [my note — they claim it because it’s true]. …

The result is that the US may find it has helped to destabilise Turkey by involving it in the war in both Iraq and Syria, yet without coming much closer to defeating Isis in either country. If so, America will have committed its biggest mistake in the Middle East since it invaded Iraq in 2003, believing it could overthrow Saddam Hussein and replace him with a pro-American government.

The next is by Erik Meyersson. I almost wrote, “my friend Erik Meyersson,” but in truth we’ve never met. I’ve just been following his writing about Turkey and exchanging messages with him on Twitter for so long that I feel as if I know him. He’s a perceptive analyst of Turkish domestic politics, and this piece — Bombing the PKK: It’s the (domestic) politics, stupid! — struck me as dead on target, as his writing usually is:

The “peace talks,” “solution process,” “Imrali process,” or whatever you want to call the talks between members of the PKK and those of the Turkish government, was always an asymmetric engagement and, at best, a long shot … When the peace talks started in the late 2000s, PKK had its back against the wall, squeezed between Turkey, Iran, the KRG in Iraq, Assad in Syria, and a Europe that then still saw Turkey as promising and ripe for EU talks …

… With the Syrian civil war, Assad’s pulling back from Kurdish areas, and the rise of the Syrian Kurds, the PKK’s outside option improved markedly. With its success in Syria, PKK was no longer in such a bad state, with military successes in Sincar, and even greater political successes in its cooperation with US forces in beating back ISIS. Undoubtedly the terms demanded by the PKK likely swung into red territory for the AKP. To make things worse, the electoral success of the Kurdish party HDP made things even more complicated as the AKP would now have to negotiate with two organizations, each looking to claim specific concessions and each wanting to be seen as the main spokesperson for Turkey’s Kurds. But most damaging, the surge in “political Kurdishness” caused direct political harm to AKP in the last election, as HDP climbed above the ten percent threshold needed for parliamentary representation, scuttling an AKP supermajority in parliament and its plans for an executive-presidential constitution. As I’ve discussed previously on this blog, a large share of this surge came from Kurds previously voting for the AKP.

Bombing PKK camps in Iraq is unlikely to destroy the organization, or to weaken it to levels it can’t recuperate from. Turkey has witnessed multiple rounds of mass incarceration of Kurdish activists (recently in the KCK trials), and bombed Qandil mountains as recently as in 2011. The Turkish government probably knows it can’t defeat PKK military, so then why is it resorting to violence then?

The likely target here is instead the HDP. By striking hard at the PKK, the Turkish government is pressuring the HDP to pick a side. Either it denounces PKK to end violence, risking political blowback among its Kurdish base, or it adopts a more pro-Kurdish rhetoric, risking the ire of the Turkish public as well as the judiciary, which has a long history of banning Kurdish parties and politicians. The strain could furthermore risk breaking the HDP party, with its more pro-PKK members leaving to pursue its goals elsewhere.

As coalition talks to form a new government are stalling, Turkey may soon see another round of elections. If the current conflict results in HDP polling below the ten percent threshold, this could leave the field open for an AKP supermajority, an Erdogan presidency, and a new era of political AKP dominance in Turkish politics.

I add the third link with some hesitation, because it doesn’t begin to do justice to the complexity of Kurdish politics. But it’s a useful corrective to a tendency to romanticize an alliance with “the Kurds,” who are in fact anything but a single political entity. Let’s be realistic about Kurdistan; it’s a deeply unpleasant autocracy, writes Alastair Sloane:

Now, let’s be clear, the Peshmerga are certainly brave and they are certainly holding back ISIS, but their rulers, the Barzani clan, are dictators and gangsters. Masud Barzani isn’t meant to be president; there is a strict two term limit on the post, which he’s just ignored. When a Kurdish poet wrote a satirical piece recently poking fun at the Barzani family, he was arrested and executed. If Kurdish businessmen don’t pay the right bribes to the Barzanis, they too face arrest. Numerous journalists writing critically about the clan have simply disappeared.

“You son of a dog, if you publish that magazine tomorrow, I’ll entomb your head in your dog father’s grave,” one newspaper editor was told. Eighteen months later, he was shot dead outside his home. When Arab Spring-inspired street marches hit Kurdistan in 2011, there were over three hundred and fifty attacks on journalists by the Barzanis’ thugs. There have been hundreds more since then.

The Barzanis also appear to be overseeing a campaign of ethnic cleansing, both directly in Iraqi Kurdistan and via their affiliated fighters in Syria. They deny these charges, but diplomats and several aid workers attest to seeing Sunni Arabs driven from their homes in their thousands, their former dwellings burned to the ground. Many of the displaced Sunnis have lived there for decades, having been encouraged to move there by Saddam Hussein.

Looting, arson and forcible removal hardly seems a recipe for ongoing stability, and with the West simply standing by, often the only place for the Sunni Arabs to go is into ISIS-controlled territory.

I could clarify, update, and analyze all of this for pages and pages, but suspect it would be more confusing than helpful. The key point is that we’ve made a momentous decision — but it doesn’t seem to be one we’re much debating. And given our absurdly hesitant stance toward ISIS thus far, I want to know how we plan to use this access to Incirlik: Do we in fact plan to use it to wipe ISIS off the face of the map? If not, is it worth this price?

I’ll summarize with a comment sent to me by e-mail by a very reliable Western journalist in Turkey who doesn’t wish to be identified:

This morning was terrible. [Every time I tried to finish my article], I discovered that some even more absurd and terrible event has happened. … I was one of the first people to think that boots on the ground were needed for ISIS. But breaking an entire country, starting a war, wrecking a democracy, killing people and sending others to prison — all for what is ostensibly a desire to defeat IS but in reality a pursuit of domestic political goals both in Turkey and the USA?”

Photo credit: AFP/Ozan Kose. It was taken a few days ago in the Gazi neighborhood of Istanbul. Not Syria. Here’s some background on the neighborhood.

There are 96 comments.

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  1. Could Be Anyone Member

    I would argue we have been ignorant of the culture of Islam. That isn’t to say that muslims themselves (as with any human being) are inherently savages but rather that Islam was a faith built on aggression and has more or less internalized it and has come to see it as a means of solving most issues so its more or less tradition in many muslim majority nations, regardless of ethnicity. Prior to Islam the Middle East had been the battle ground of the Diadochi, the Roman Empire, and mainly the different forms of the Persian Empire (whether the Parthian Pahlavi or the more Persian Sassanid) and the faiths of the Persians was Zoroastrianism, which was a remotely peaceful monotheistic faith.

    When Islam was founded and spread it was carried by the sword and was greatly helped by the last Roman-Persian War that lasted 2 decades if I remember correctly and they slaughtered populations in droves as they conquered unopposed usually. Likewise this tradition carried on toward the Fatimid Caliphate (Shia) to the Seljuk Turks (Sunni) drive west to the Ottomans (Sunni) to Timurlane (Sunni) till today.

    Don’t mistake me for saying that Islamic Culture is doomed though, it can change for the better. But if you wish to do it, it will take time. When we occupied Nazi Germany and Japan it took decades to change the culture in a relatively peaceful environment. Ergo we should annihilate ISIS and finish what we started in Iraq.

    • #1
    • July 28, 2015, at 9:41 PM PST
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  2. Douglas Inactive

    We’re absolutely shocked, just shocked, to find that Turkey is pretending to act against ISIS in order to attack Kurds.

    I’m under no illusions about the Kurds. I’ve never quite bought the narrative that Kurds were this great untapped well of pro-Americanism in the Middle East. It just smells too much like the “But Iranians really love America!” trope that gets wheeled out every couple of years. There’s undoubtedly some pro-Western types there, but they’re probably outnumbered by a combination of Islamist-leaning and Communist-leaning Kurds that would just as soon see the United States be one big smoking hole in the ground.

    That said, I still think there should be an independent Kurdistan. It would be one more counterweight to other forces in the region, Turkey included. We just shouldn’t expect Team America with Korans.

    • #2
    • July 28, 2015, at 9:43 PM PST
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  3. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Douglas: That said, I still think there should be an independent Kurdistan.

    How do you expect this to come into being? It’s one thing to say, “If it happens, I wouldn’t object,” quite another for Americans to try to make it happen.

    • #3
    • July 28, 2015, at 10:07 PM PST
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  4. Zafar Member

    What is Turkey’s (Erdogan’s) issue with Assad?

    Because looking at this map from wikipedia an Assad (red) and Kurd (yellow) combo would be the best bet to beat ISIS (grey). The FSA (green) doesn’t seem that well placed.

    Syrian_civil_war

    • #4
    • July 28, 2015, at 10:14 PM PST
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  5. Could Be Anyone Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Douglas: That said, I still think there should be an independent Kurdistan.

    How do you expect this to come into being? It’s one thing to say, “If it happens, I wouldn’t object,” quite another for Americans to try to make it happen.

    I thought from what media coverage I had seen on the topic that it was looking more and more likely that Iraq was falling apart between the lines of Shia east and central Iraq, western Sunni Iraq, and Kurdish controlled northern Iraq.

    If this alleged trend continues, it seems as though the Kurds will kind of naturally (the best word I can think of when thinking of nations becoming independent) become an independent nation regardless of what the central government in Iraq thinks or wants.

    To further clarify my position on foreign policy to ISIS I think we need to deploy roughly a Corps of US Troops (50-60,000 troops) to Iraq for a ground game (with air support obviously) and to at the minimum push ISIS into Syria again (no doubt in the process eliminating the bulk of their equipment, their prestige, and their manpower) and then station that Corps to defend Iraq and ensure democracy can at least survive in Iraq so as to build those republican traditions thus securing Iraq and weakening the cause of Radical Islam globally with empirical results.

    Also if possible cancel the Iran Deal (I know that is outside this discussion, but its pretty important).

    • #5
    • July 28, 2015, at 10:22 PM PST
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  6. Douglas Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Douglas: That said, I still think there should be an independent Kurdistan.

    How do you expect this to come into being? It’s one thing to say, “If it happens, I wouldn’t object,” quite another for Americans to try to make it happen.

    Oh, don’t mistake me… I don’t think WE should make it happen. I think we should get out of the world-boss business, period. The Kurds… or anyone else… should do their nation-making. That includes fighting and dying. The only thing holding me back at this point from a full-throated endorsement of breaking up Iraq into 3 blocs and letting them go their own way is the probability that Turkey would almost certainly immediately invade and occupy Iraq… or at least a chunk of it… and make things even worse, if you can imagine that’s possible. But ideally, Pat Buchanan and yes, Joe Biden are right on this: Iraq isn’t a country. It’s a collection of at least three tribes that at best, dislike each other, and at worse, hate each other’s guts. “Iraq” was a nation only because Saddam wielded enough terror to force it into being one.

    • #6
    • July 28, 2015, at 11:00 PM PST
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  7. Zafar Member

    Could be Anyone:

    If this alleged trend continues, it seems as though the Kurds will kind of naturally (the best word I can think of when thinking of nations becoming independent) become an independent nation regardless of what the central government in Iraq thinks or wants.

    The Kurdish majority areas are mostly contiguous, but fall in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. So an independent Kurdistan would alter the current borders of four states – not just Iraq or Syria. Hence Turkey’s sensitivity to Syrian and Iraqi Kurds establishing autonomous polities which could edge towards statehood.

    Also – for a number of reasons war resulted in a more homogenous ethnic situation in Iraq (and Syria?) than is the case in Turkey, where the city with the largest number of Kurdish speakers is Istanbul. You could draw a border, but there would probably be more (?) Kurds in the rest of Turkey than in the SE.

    • #7
    • July 28, 2015, at 11:01 PM PST
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  8. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Zafar: What is Turkey’s (Erdogan’s) issue with Assad?

    Several. The first is that Assad’s a monster. Long before anyone had heard of ISIS, refugees from the war were streaming over the Turkish border.

    Second, Assad very deliberately activated the PKK against Turkey, which is indeed — as the cliche goes — an existential threat to Turkey. Erdoğan, and presumably most of the Turkish military and intelligence establishment, doesn’t view ISIS as the same kind of threat.

    What Turks are most afraid of is partition (for reasons any Indian will understand: Don’t forget that the world’s largest Kurdish city is Istanbul.) Erdoğan also believes that Assad caused ISIS — which is partially true — and that it makes no sense to speak of eradicating ISIS without eradicating Assad, given that Assad’s brutality (and the West’s lack of response to it) is, in his view, the reason for ISIS’s existence. 

    Third, he’s incapable of adjusting his view based on changed circumstances for both reasons of personality and domestic political reasons. The American leadership is (I hope) somewhat capable of adjusting its position based on what you see on that map, but Erdoğan keeps no one around him who doesn’t tell him what he wants to hear. (And don’t forget: He purged the military and the intelligence forces, so it’s not clear whether anyone competent is left to tell him what’s going on in Syria. But even if he hadn’t done this, the Turkish military establishment would view the respective threats, I assume, in a similar fashion: A civil war in which 40,000 people died, in recent memory, leaves an indelible mark — as did losing an empire and then nearly being partitioned in the Treaty of Sèvres.)

    Fourth, Erdoğan’s a demagogue. He staked everything, quite early in the war, on the phrase “Assad must go.” Americans easily forget about something like that: It’s not their border, after all. Turks don’t. He can’t reverse himself on that and remain credible in the eyes of his supporters. Nor will Assad ever forgive and forget; and a deal that leaves in power a mortal enemy with a grudge and a stockpile of (unremoved) chemical weapons probably strikes him as undesirable.

    Fifth, the map doesn’t show Iranian militias: Assad is effectively being held up by Iran (and Russia), neither of which are traditional Turkish geopolitical allies, to say the least, and not just because of the sectarian divide.

    Sixth, there’s a sectarian divide. People who suggest that Erdoğan’s motivated only by sectarian hatred are wrong: Until the civil war began, he and Assad vacationed together. But the war has surely inflamed sectarian hatred. 

    Seventh, people tend to forget this, but it’s very peculiar that we’re speaking of Erdoğan at all, given that right now the prime minister is Ahmet Davutoğlu. Turkey is in the hands of a caretaker government — there is no coalition yet — and the President, according to the Turkish Constitution, is not authorized to be making any of these decisions. So I wonder with whom we’re negotiating, I really do. It might be nice if we at least pretended to respect the results of Turkey’s elections. 

    • #8
    • July 28, 2015, at 11:02 PM PST
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  9. Douglas Inactive

    Could be Anyone:

    If this alleged trend continues, it seems as though the Kurds will kind of naturally (the best word I can think of when thinking of nations becoming independent) become an independent nation regardless of what the central government in Iraq thinks or wants.

    I reiterate my prediction that the moment an independent Kurdistan of any kind is announced, Turkey rolls the tanks in the next day and conquers it, NATO, the UN, the US, etc be damned. I said I think there should be an independent Kurdistan. But if it’s to come into being, they’re going to have to shed a lot of their blood to wrest it from Turkey.

    • #9
    • July 28, 2015, at 11:04 PM PST
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  10. Could Be Anyone Member

    Zafar:

    -snip-

    I understand the diaspora of the Kurdish ethnic group but I would guarantee that the Kurds will more or less create their nation state around the traditional Kurdish territory in northern Iraq (thus Kurds will move to live there, akin to the same immigration of many Jews to Israel) and while I do agree that the Kurds threaten Turkish foreign policy interests I don’t think the Kurds would be so willing as to kowtow to the wishes of the Turks. It will make for interesting commentary on what happens given the weak US military actions occurring currently. It gives us a case study of Middle Eastern disagreement and to see how the people of that region will decide the land for themselves (assuming Iran does nothing, which it will not; the Mullahs crave power and dominance).

    • #10
    • July 28, 2015, at 11:07 PM PST
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  11. Could Be Anyone Member

    Douglas:

    Could be Anyone:

    If this alleged trend continues, it seems as though the Kurds will kind of naturally (the best word I can think of when thinking of nations becoming independent) become an independent nation regardless of what the central government in Iraq thinks or wants.

    I reiterate my prediction that the moment an independent Kurdistan of any kind is announced, Turkey rolls the tanks in the next day and conquers it, NATO, the UN, the US, etc be damned. I said I think there should be an independent Kurdistan. But if it’s to come into being, they’re going to have to shed a lot of their blood to wrest it from Turkey.

    Don’t be too hasty, if the Turks are so happy to invade a Kurdistan they may be walking into a Winter War 1939 and I doubt the Kurds will be as kind as the Finns were (and the Finns weren’t that kind).

    • #11
    • July 28, 2015, at 11:11 PM PST
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  12. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Could be Anyone: If this alleged trend continues, it seems as though the Kurds will kind of naturally (the best word I can think of when thinking of nations becoming independent) become an independent nation regardless of what the central government in Iraq thinks or wants.

    Maybe. Don’t forget Barzani hates and fears the PKK (and all of its affiliates — PYD, PJAK, etc.) And the KDP and PUK were at war until we brokered a truce in ’98. So these aren’t people with a tendency to “kind of naturally” come together. This has been true in the Turkish southeast, too: Much of the violence during the Turkish civil war was Kurd-on-Kurd; the PKK’s revolutionary Maoism didn’t sit well with traditional conservative Kurdish Muslims. (By the way, Öcelan has latterly been talking about unifying Turkey under a multi-ethnic Islamic identity, marking rather a change from his Maoist days, but they’ve got him locked up on an island and can probably make him say whatever they want. He’s diminishingly important compared to Cemil Bayak, although it is very significant that in the past week they haven’t let him speak; in past flare-ups of violence, they’ve allowed him to call on the PKK to put down their weapons, which has worked, since they revere him as a demi-god. This time, they haven’t allowed him to say a word, which further confirms my sense that they want this war.)

    To further clarify my position on foreign policy to ISIS I think we need to deploy roughly a Corps of US Troops (50-60,000 troops) to Iraq for a ground game (with air support obviously) and to at the minimum push ISIS into Syria again (no doubt in the process eliminating the bulk of their equipment, their prestige, and their manpower) and then station that Corps to defend Iraq and ensure democracy can at least survive in Iraq so as to build those republican traditions thus securing Iraq and weakening the cause of Radical Islam globally with empirical results.

    I agree that this is the minimum required, but Obama would never do it, seeing as there’s no public support for it, and any candidate who says this, honestly, will lose. To be able to make this case persuasively, you need leadership skills vastly beyond anyone I see in the Republican field.

    Also if possible cancel the Iran Deal (I know that is outside this discussion, but its pretty important).

    Cancelling it, at this point, seems to me the least practical of our options, seeing as the rest of the P5+1 are committed to it. We need to go ahead with it, wait until Iran violates it, and then do the obvious. If they don’t violate it, great — a miracle. If they do, at least we’ll have international support. It’s insane that we’ve boxed ourselves into this position, but we have, and we have to look forward, not backward.

    • #12
    • July 28, 2015, at 11:18 PM PST
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  13. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Douglas: The only thing holding me back at this point from a full-throated endorsement of breaking up Iraq into 3 blocs and letting them go their own way is the probability that Turkey would almost certainly immediately invade and occupy Iraq… or at least a chunk of it… and make things even worse, if you can imagine that’s possible.

    Oh sure, I can imagine it being still worse than that: Iran will formally annex the Shi’a regions.

    But ideally, Pat Buchanan and yes, Joe Biden are right on this: Iraq isn’t a country. It’s a collection of at least three tribes that at best, dislike each other, and at worse, hate each other’s guts. “Iraq” was a nation only because Saddam wielded enough terror to force it into being one.

    Iraqi Kurdistan as a semi-autonomous zone seems to me the best and most practical solution thus far, and not one with which we should tamper in any way. As for the rest of Iraq, it is hopeless unless we return, and we won’t.

    • #13
    • July 28, 2015, at 11:23 PM PST
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  14. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Douglas: I reiterate my prediction that the moment an independent Kurdistan of any kind is announced, Turkey rolls the tanks in the next day and conquers it,

    Well, it wasn’t quite the next day, but yes, it hasn’t taken long for Turkey to do just that. I don’t think they’ll use ground forces, but expect to see a lot of YPG “collateral damage” in Rojava.

    They’re very happy to deal with Iraqi Kurdistan, however; and in fact that’s pretty much the only one of their neighbors with which they have no problems. But that could change if Iraqi Kurds become too outraged by Turkish attacks on Rojava. (The KRG usually murmurs something disapproving but is secretly delighted when Turkey bombs Qandil; they hate the PKK as much as the Turks — and many Turkish Kurds — do.

    • #14
    • July 28, 2015, at 11:30 PM PST
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  15. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Could be Anyone: Don’t be too hasty, if the Turks are so happy to invade a Kurdistan they may be walking into a Winter War 1939 and I doubt the Kurds will be as kind as the Finns were (and the Finns weren’t that kind).

    We don’t have to guess. We need only look at what happened during the civil war. The PKK was aided by Syria then, so imagine how much more they’d be aided now — and probably also by the Russians, although not by Iran, which has it’s own PKK problem in the form of the PJAK.

    It was a war of real savagery. They’re still finding the mass graves. That’s why no one in his right mind wants to see it start again.

    • #15
    • July 28, 2015, at 11:36 PM PST
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  16. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Could be Anyone: I understand the diaspora of the Kurdish ethnic group but I would guarantee that the Kurds will more or less create their nation state around the traditional Kurdish territory in northern Iraq (thus Kurds will move to live there, akin to the same immigration of many Jews to Israel)

    Perhaps. But that territory is already semi-autonomous, and Kurds don’t want to move there — not least because some Kurds want to be Turkish; and some Kurds are PKK. The PKK is not welcome in the KRG. What Kurds want in Turkey is an autonomous zone, which the rest of Turkey views roughly the way the North of the US viewed the south seceding. What makes it all the more complicated is that Kurds have moved en masse to the big cities, especially Istanbul, for the economic opportunities there. They’ve intermarried; they’re assimilated. If something like this happens, it is easy to see communal conflict breaking out in the big cities — previously unthinkable.

    and while I do agree that the Kurds threaten Turkish foreign policy interests I don’t think the Kurds would be so willing as to kowtow to the wishes of the Turks.

    They’re not willing at all — they spent years setting off bombs in Turkish cities, assassinating Turkish officials, ambushing the Turkish military, and killing Kurds who didn’t agree with these plans, leading to a death toll 0f 40,000. Erik’s article, above, makes some important points both about why they were in the end willing to negotiate, and why they might not be, now.

    It will make for interesting commentary on what happens given the weak US military actions occurring currently. It gives us a case study of Middle Eastern disagreement and to see how the people of that region will decide the land for themselves (assuming Iran does nothing,

    It will not. It faces too big a threat from PJAK to stay out of it.

    • #16
    • July 28, 2015, at 11:44 PM PST
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  17. Valiuth Member

    So to paraphrase. “Hell in a hand basket.”

    I recall that when the whole Syria mess started there was a whole faction of us crazy aggressive interventionists who kept saying, if we let this go on it will spin out of control and suck in the whole region. Everything is now in flux and the old borders are gone. No sense in pretending like they are still there, especially if we aren’t going to do anything about it.

    In a sense breaking the whole thing apart and putting it back together might now be the only real solution. If everyone’s ethnic cleansing works then maybe you might just create stable highly homogeneous states. This was the whole idea of self determination in Europe following WWI. Of course the resentments of that war did not die and peace was elusive, but many of the changes stuck more or less, and I would argue even kind of worked out. Of course it took two generation destroying wars to make it work.

    One question I have is what is keeping the Kurds from actually pulling an Israel? Just declare statehood grab up the land you think is yours and defend it. It is not that crazy of an idea. Especially if you consider that Iraq and Syria are basically up for grabs. They are highly popular in America and if they devoted sometime to building up a lobby I think they would get American support.

    • #17
    • July 28, 2015, at 11:46 PM PST
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  18. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Valiuth: One question I have is what is keeping the Kurds from actually pulling an Israel? Just declare statehood grab up the land you think is yours and defend it. It is not that crazy of an idea. Especially if you consider that Iraq and Syria are basically up for grabs. They are highly popular in America and if they devoted sometime to building up a lobby I think they would get American support

    I think if you scroll up my comments and check on some of the links, you’ll get a sense of the obstacles. Key word in Kurdish politics isn’t “democracy,” it’s “clan.” Israelis mostly (at first) came from countries where there’d been traditions of parliamentary democracy, until those collapsed, and so had a better chance of figuring out how to cooperate with each other peacefully. I don’t rule out entirely that such a thing could happen with the Kurds, only that it hasn’t happened yet, or at least, not for very many years at a stretch.

    • #18
    • July 28, 2015, at 11:55 PM PST
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  19. Could Be Anyone Member

    Valiuth:-snip-

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    -snip-

    1) My apologies on my previous quote about Iran and its machinations. I forgot to put a not after will. I completely agree that Iran has plans (since when did the Persians that invented Chess not have plans?)

    2) Self-Determination+Ethnic Cleansing+History of using nerve gas+Iran gets nukes=many problems. I don’t think letting these nations to their own machinations is a good situation, we need to more or less attempt to undo our foreign policy mistakes under the current administration.

    3) On the topic of the Kurdish Diaspora I would say that akin to the culture assimilation of the Hebrew people in Europe prior to WWII has happened to the Kurds across Turkey. Those that assimilate will most likely assume their new lives as Turks (what they perceive themselves to be) and those motivated by the ideals of a Kurdish State (whatever those are) will move back.

    Everyone needs to remember that Israel wasn’t exactly the land of milk and honey when the Hebrews came back and resettled it. It took precious sweat and toil to make that land the place it is today. Likewise the Kurds have the possibility to do the same.

    • #19
    • July 29, 2015, at 12:10 AM PST
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  20. Valiuth Member

    Historically clan structures can be made coherent if you get some powerful warlord to get them all to submit. It would seem to me the clan that manages to make an independent Kurdistan will come out as the strong horse. If any significant fraction of Kurds actually believe in a Kurdish nationalism they might just go with that for lack of options. But, maybe there isn’t any kind of nationalist Kurdish movement? That is really I think what they would need first, and what really drove the Jews to form Israel. They had a strong sense on Jewish Nationalism, which meant they wanted a Jewish state first, and then they would squabble about how to run it second. Now I think it helped that many of them came from democratic traditions so they could squabble in a remotely civilized manner. This might not be possible for the Kurds if they are very tribal.

    I’ll read through the sources tomorrow as its quite late here in Chicago. Naturally I expect that this will be little covered by the US news. So keep posting Claire, go ahead be long winded, that is what Ricochet is for.

    • #20
    • July 29, 2015, at 12:17 AM PST
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  21. Ontheleftcoast Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Israelis mostly (at first) came from countries where there’d been traditions of parliamentary democracy, until those collapsed,

    At first they mostly came from Russia and were pretty ideological.

    After the mid 1920s it was pretty much as you describe and the number of immigrants increased too.

    • #21
    • July 29, 2015, at 12:33 AM PST
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  22. Zafar Member

    Valiuth:In a sense breaking the whole thing apart and putting it back together might now be the only real solution. If everyone’s ethnic cleansing works then maybe you might just create stable highly homogeneous states.This was the whole idea of self determination in Europe following WWI..

    It would be very messy and violent – and there is this assumption (I think?) that the nation state (one language/ ethnicity/religion) is the best (and default) outcome.

    Imho this Kurdish issue in Turkey is a problem today precisely because of that assumption – I wish Ataturk had founded an Ottoman Republic as a successor state to the Ottoman Empire rather than a Turkish one – a state that had space for all the languages and ethnicities that were, in fact, a part of the country in reality. Not a blind imitation of the European nation state (with a Swiss Constitution, hats and Western classical music to boot).

    Perhaps the times and flow of ideas were against that (I’m looking at you Lord Byron), but it would have had its advantages. (Far less bloody breakup of empire because less population ‘exchange’, no mad insistence that Kurds were Mountain Turks because….they lived in Turkey so what else could they be…)

    As Claire pointed out India is still traumatised by Partition in 1947 – I get Turkey’s fear – but since then, the only time India has been on the verge of dissolving was when the state denied linguistic diversity rather than accepting it.

    • #22
    • July 29, 2015, at 12:54 AM PST
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  23. Zafar Member

    Valiuth:If any significant fraction of Kurds actually believe in a Kurdish nationalism they might just go with that for lack of options. But, maybe there isn’t any kind of nationalist Kurdish movement? That is really I think what they would need first, and what really drove the Jews to form Israel. They had a strong sense on Jewish Nationalism, which meant they wanted a Jewish state first…

    They were also, in 1948, significantly driven by centuries of anti-semitism which culminated in the Holocaust. That hasn’t really happened to the Kurds (Halabja and Turkey’s civil war notwithstanding) and I really hope it doesn’t.

    …keep posting Claire, go ahead be long winded, that is what Ricochet is for.

    Seconded. I can’t imagine where else one would find stuff like this pulled together and with the opportunity to ask questions and discuss it.

    • #23
    • July 29, 2015, at 1:04 AM PST
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  24. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Could be Anyone: Everyone needs to remember that Israel wasn’t exactly the land of milk and honey when the Hebrews came back and resettled it. It took precious sweat and toil to make that land the place it is today. Likewise the Kurds have the possibility to do the same.

    It would be wonderful if Kurds could build a state like Israel. And I agree that Israel was no land of milk and honey at its birth. I even agree that it’s a possibility Kurds could do the same; but if you ask me about probabilities, I would have to say that to be optimistic about this is would be to ignore history, which is rarely a good idea.*

    *Perhaps that’s just typical historian rent-seeking. But I’d be willing to wager that historians would make better predictions, in this case, than game-theorists, international relations theorists, political scientists, military planners, or any other discipline you might reasonably call upon to predict what might happen. It would be interesting to record these predictions now and see who proves right. I don’t say this only out of vanity; I would genuinely be curious to know.

    • #24
    • July 29, 2015, at 1:11 AM PST
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  25. jetstream Inactive

    You know Claire, I read your posts and comments and understand that this all important but have the same reaction to the acronyms here as your own Spanish Civil war experience with acronyms.

    My take away is that there is something approaching an infinite number of acronyms either in conflict or at war in and around Turkey. And I don’t know who’s on first.

    By comparison the technical jargon of the stock markets is trivial.

    • #25
    • July 29, 2015, at 1:29 AM PST
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  26. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Zafar: They were also, in 1948, significantly driven by centuries of anti-semitism which culminated in the Holocaust. That hasn’t really happened to the Kurds (Halabja and Turkey’s civil war notwithstanding)

    The Zionist movement antedated the Holocaust, and I think it would be fair to compare some elements of the Kurdish experience to some elements of what Jews faced in pre WWII Europe and the Middle East. There’s no shortage of good reasons for Kurdish nationalism and Kurdish longing for self-determination. But the advantage Jews had in coming from industrialized nations, many of which had traditions of democratic politics (again, even if these failed completely); in being, in many cases, highly educated and literate (although not always); and — very simply — having nowhere else to go, was indeed significant.

    Kurds have for the most part been nomadic pastoralists, organized in tribes based on patrilineal descent. Traditionally, Kurdish tribal leaders increased their power against one another by lending their warriors to various empires — exactly as we’re seeing today. (Kurds, above all, perpetrated the killings in the Armenian genocide.) The clans themselves are prone to blood feuds. Tribal and lineage leadership is inherited, although other families can and do challenge and take over the leadership. The transition from “warring, tribal mercenaries” to “thriving, modern, industrialized, democratic nation-state” is not apt to be an easy one.

    Westerners are often greatly impressed that women fight for the PKK. Well, it’s not so surprising: It’s the only alternative to traditional Kurdish culture, in which women are treated like donkeys, or worse.

    Turkish counter-terrorism sources, for what they’re worth, indicate that the percentage of female suicide bombers in the PKK is much higher than that of any other terrorist organization in the world. (And they’re officially atheists, so I understand this as “simple suicide,” not “suicide motivated by promise of an eternal reward.”) Reports fairly consistently show that the PKK started training female suicide bombers after 1996, when it began to have difficulty attracting male recruits. Since then, more than half of the PKK’s suicide bombers have been women. Happy warriors they are not.

    and I really hope it doesn’t. …keep posting Claire, go ahead be long winded, that is what Ricochet is for. Seconded.

    Thanks. It’s good for me to write about this, even if I’m having trouble organizing my thoughts. I’m slipping into despair thinking about all of this, and feel so terribly helpless. Writing about it at least makes me feel I’m doing something, however small.

    I can’t imagine where else one would find stuff like this pulled together and with the opportunity to ask questions and discuss it.

    • #26
    • July 29, 2015, at 1:46 AM PST
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  27. jetstream Inactive

    Some of us are in need of a primer to understand all the intricacies.

    • #27
    • July 29, 2015, at 1:49 AM PST
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  28. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    jetstream:You know Claire, I read your posts and comments and understand that this all important but have the same reaction to the acronyms here as your own Spanish Civil war experience with acronyms.

    My take away is that there is something approaching an infinite number of acronyms either in conflict or at war in and around Turkey. And I don’t know who’s on first.

    By comparison the technical jargon of the stock markets is trivial.

    Would a glossary/guide help? I’m happy to write one up if you think it would.

    • #28
    • July 29, 2015, at 1:53 AM PST
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  29. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    jetstream:Some of us are in need of a primer to understand all the intricacies.

    Yes, I’m trying to think of whether there’s a simple one I could write or direct you to. I do understand how hard this is to follow, and I’m very sympathetic. Can you point me to the places that seem especially hard to follow? I’ll try to find good basic sources that don’t take too long to read.

    • #29
    • July 29, 2015, at 1:55 AM PST
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  30. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Zafar: no mad insistence that Kurds were Mountain Turks because….they lived in Turkey so what else could they be…)

    I’m reminded of a joke a Turkish friend once made to me about Israel. “If they were like our elders, they’d just have called the Palestinians desert Jews.

    It’s a funny joke, but it also suggests that ethnic divisions don’t necessarily go away because you declare yourself multiethnic.

    • #30
    • July 29, 2015, at 4:49 AM PST
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