Tag: Kurds

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.

ISIS: Our Non-Strategy and Our Too-Calm Republican Candidates

 

screenshot 2015-03-17 12.38.59I was flabbergasted to read this morning that we are “embracing a new approach” in the battle against ISIS:

In a major shift of focus in the battle against the Islamic State, the Obama administration is planning to establish a new military base in Anbar Province and send 400 American military trainers to help Iraqi forces retake the city of Ramadi.

Point 1: With all respect to our highly accomplished and experienced men and women in uniform, at this point a force of 400 military trainers in Anbar Province should properly be described as “next month’s hostages.” How could anyone of even cursory familiarity with this region — or the history of warfare, for that matter — fail to think of that immediately?

The Kurdish Question

 

KurdsI knew nothing about the Kurds prior to last summer. But — as whole Iraqi divisions fled in panic in the face of the ISIS onslaught, ditching their uniforms and weapons as they fled — there was an overlooked people who didn’t disgrace themselves: the Kurds.

The most startling images that came out of Iraqi Kurdistan were of beautiful, young women in fatigues, smiling with AKs on their backs and going into battle alongside men as equals. In fact, there are whole Kurdish militia units of women. These militias have been integral in repelling ISIS from Kobane, where a genocide would surely occur if it fell.

The Kurds, while majority Muslim, bear little resemblance to their demoralized Iraqi neighbors. Nor do they share in the misogyny, fundamentalism, or cruelty of their jihadist foes. On the contrary, there is a level of liberty, enlightened equality of sexes, and pluralism absent everywhere around them save for Israel.

My Time in Iraqi Kurdistan

 

KalarFrom mid-May to mid-June I worked on an archaeological survey centered on an area surrounding the Diyala River (called the Sirwan River in Kurdish) near the city of Kalar. We flew into Erbil, drove to Sulaymaniyah to take care of some Iraqi Antiquities Department paperwork, and then moved on to Kalar to set up our residence and begin survey work.

If you look up Kalar on Google Maps and zoom out a bit, you’ll see its proximity to the Iranian border and its position as one of the southernmost Kurdish-held cities in Iraq. Here are a few anecdotal remarks about my experiences there:

  • Negotiating where it is safe and where it is not safe to go is tricky business. On our drive from Erbil to Sulaymaniyah, we avoided the main highway that would have taken us through Kirkuk, and instead took some gravel and unfinished roads (the Kurds are building a highway that remains within Kurdish-held territory) between the two cities. Note: The Kurds later took control of parts of Kirkuk when the Iraqi regular army fled the advance of ISIS. This happened after I had returned to the U.S.
  • The survey area technically extends south of Kalar, but it wasn’t particularly safe for us to travel down that direction. We focused our efforts in searching for ancient sites on areas north and west of Kalar.
  • Armed checkpoints are frequent on major roads, river crossings, and near borders. The Kurdish Security Police look more like army soldiers than policemen (who are called Traffic Police) and are dressed and equipped like soldiers. They were serious, and yet friendly and respectful.
  • Our accommodations, a rented house in Kalar, was comfortable and air-conditioned, but there were regular daily power outages as the power grid and other utility infrastructure still needs major updating and upgrading.
  • Evidence of Saddam’s genocide against the Kurds in the ’80s was still visible. In visiting different tells (mounded ancient sites) in the area, many of them had the decaying remains of Kurdish villages either abandoned when their residents fled or were executed by Saddam’s troops. Locations of mass graves were known by Antiquities Department officials we spoke to.
  • We also found evidence of barracks, foxholes, and pieces of exploded ordinance from the Iran–Iraq War. Note: We were careful to confine our survey to currently farmed and traversed areas and spoke to officials about areas to avoid that still have landmines.
  • At the end of our survey, we stayed in Erbil’s Christian quarter the last couple days before our flight left. This area is called Ankawa and is located close to the airport. Since the Iraq War in 2003, this area has grown rapidly with Christian refugees fleeing other areas of Iraq no longer safe for Christians. It was already crowded when I was there in June, and it must be overflowing following the ISIS capture of Mosul and surrounding areas (I flew back to the States the day ISIS began attacking Mosul).

These are just a few brief observations from my recent archaeological work in Kurdistan. As I was going through the security checkpoint in the airport on the way out, one of the security officials asked if I was an American, and upon my answer in the affirmative, he told me how much he liked Americans and thanked me. I thanked him in return for the warm hospitality I had received in his country and how much I enjoyed my time in Kurdistan.