Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Unrest in Tunceli, after a demonstration by Kurdish protesters over the visit of a Turkish far-right nationalist leader to the city.

Turkey-Kurdish Conflict: Every Regional Power Has Betrayed the Kurds So Turkish Bombing Is No Surprise

You would have thought that, by now, the Kurds might have learnt their lesson

Robert Fisk

 by The Independent

The Kurds were born to be betrayed. Almost every would-be Middle East statelet was promised freedom after the First World War, and the Kurds even sent a delegation to Versailles to ask for a nation and safe borders.

But under the Treaty of Sèvres, in 1920, they got a little nation in what had been Turkey. Then along came the Turkish nationalist Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who took back the land that the Kurdish nation might have gained. So the victors of the Great War met in Lausanne in 1922-23 and abandoned the Kurds (as well as the Armenians), who were now split between the new Turkish state, French Syria and Iran and British Iraq. That has been their tragedy ever since – and almost every regional power participated in it. The most brutal were the Turks and the Iraqi Arabs, the most cynical the British and the Americans. No wonder the Turks have gone back to bombing the Kurds.

When they rebelled against Saddam Hussein in Iraq in the early 1970s, the Americans supported them, along with the Shah of Iran. Then the US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger engineered an agreement between Iran and Iraq: the Shah would receive a territorial claim and, in return, abandon the Kurds. The Americans closed off their arms supplies. Saddam slaughtered perhaps 182,000 of them. “Foreign policy,” remarked Mr Kissinger, “should not be confused with missionary work.”

You would have thought the Kurds might have learnt their lesson. But at the start of the first Gulf war to liberate Kuwait, they were urged by the Americans – or rather, a covert CIA radio station operating from Saudi Arabia – to rise against Saddam. And they did. The Americans let them die in their thousands again, only shamed weeks later into creating a “safe” zone in northern Iraq after tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians trekked under fire in a biblical exodus to the safety of Turkey. America’s “safe” zone eventually proved illusory.

Even when the US planned to invade Saddam’s Iraq through Kurdistan in 2003, the Kurds found that the Turks planned to send 40,000 troops with them. The Turks wanted to stop the Kurds grabbing the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Kirkuk; Ankara feared that a self-governing Kurdish pseudo-state would creep across the border to Turkey.

And when the Iraqi Kurds fought Isis last year – the Americans deciding again that the Kurds had their uses – Turkey watched impotently as Kurdistan became the vanguard of the West’s battle. Kobani was a mini Stalingrad, and its defence by Kurds of Marxist orientation made Turkey’s humiliation more painful. The pro-PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) fighters along the northern strip of Syria and Iraq were seen as heroes.

This could not be permitted. Thus when Isis struck Turkish Kurds seeking help for the reconstruction of Kobani with a devastating suicide bombing in Suruc – followed by PKK claiming responsibility for the murder of two Turkish policemen – Turkey decided to strike at the PKK under cover of an anti-Isis bombardment. The Americans were to be kept sweet by the reopening of Incirlik air base – in Turkish Kurdistan – and the world would forget that Islamist fighters have received free passage across the Turkish-Syrian border.

With its latest air campaign, the Turks are following Pakistan’s path to total corruption, when it became an arms and guerrilla conduit to Afghanistan – with American encouragement – in the 1980s. The Pakistanis variously supported the mujahedin, the Taliban and other Islamist groups.

As for the Kurds – have  they come across the words of Arthur Harris, the RAF squadron leader who helped crush the 1920 Iraqi uprising? “The Arab and Kurd now know,” he said, “what real bombing means in casualties and damage. Within 45 minutes a full-size village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured.” The Turks clearly feel the same.


© 2016 The Independent
Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk (1946-2020) was a writer and journalist who held British and Irish citizenship and was Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper. He was the author of many books on the region, including "The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East" (2007) and "Robert Fisk on Afghanistan: Osama Bin Laden: 9/11 to Death in Pakistan" (2016).

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Bloodbath': At Least 6 Dead, Dozens Wounded in Mass Shooting at Illinois July 4th Parade

"What freedom do we have if we fear being gunned down at a parade?" asked one progressive politician horrified by the reported carnage.

Brett Wilkins ·


On This July 4th, Abortion Rights Movement Says 'We're Not in the Mood for Fireworks'

"If we don’t have the ability to make decisions about if, when, and how to grow our families—we don't have freedom."

Brett Wilkins ·


Deadly Glacier Collapse in Italy 'Linked Directly to Climate Change'

At least seven people were killed when a glacier slid down a mountainside near a popular climbing route in the Alps on Sunday.

Julia Conley ·


'Organized Whitewash': US Claims Israeli Military's Murder of Journalist Not Intentional

"The odds that those responsible for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh will be held to account are all but nonexistent," said the human rights group B'Tselem in response to findings of U.S. State Department.

Brett Wilkins ·


Hundreds March in Akron Enraged by Police Killing of Jayland Walker

"The police can do whatever they want," said one local resident through tears. "They can take our children's lives and think it's okay."

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo