Solutions, for the zealots of the Bush administration, are not achieved by negotiation: they are to be imposed. So the Kurds will continue to suffer, like everyone else in Iraq.
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Ten years ago, when I lived in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, my evening walk took me past the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which has since been relocated far from the residential section of town. The move was made so that the office could be more easily guarded from would-be petitioners such as Kurdish refugees, some of whom at that time had erected a neat and tidy tent hamlet on the opposite side of the road. As I walked briskly past of an evening, one of them, a particularly villainous-seeming fellow, greeted me with a charming smile. His flinty blue eyes softened as he bade me Hello, and after a few days of mutual greeting we began to chat.
The story of his group was of unrelieved persecution and privation. Having fled the savage reprisals of Saddam Hussein, following the encouragement by Bush senior for Kurds and Shias to rise against their oppressor (after which Bush did exactly nothing to help either of them), they made their way from Iraq across Iran to Pakistan’s province of Balochistan, and then north to Islamabad, a trek of about two thousand miles. There, they hoped, the UNHCR would look kindly upon them and relocate them to a land of milk and honey, or at least to a country in which they could live like human beings, which to them, as to the countless millions of despairing displaced persons round the world, would be Paradise enough.
The UNHCR is a particularly saintly, harassed and unforgivably underfunded organisation. Its entire 2004 budget is USD 1.8 billion (almost the cost of a B-2 bomber, at 2.2 bn), of which the US contribution is 130 million. Little wonder its dedicated officials are at their wits’ end about what to do with the millions of refugees who beg their assistance.
Where on earth could they go, these Kurdish orphans of Desert Storm? Who would take them? Answer came there none, except from the benevolent administration of the then prime minister of Pakistan, a corrupt and oily knave called Nawaz Sharif, whose solution was to gather up the Kurds in dead of night and transport the lot of them back to the deserts of Balochistan, hundreds of miles away. In fact, not quite all of them ; for left behind in one of the tents was a tiny baby, discovered at dawn by the scavengers who quickly gathered to see what the Kurds, the poorest of the poor, might have left behind after they were once again hounded from one hell to another. Horrified local Pakistanis and some of us foreign do-gooding busybodies inquired about the fate of the child. But in spite of our efforts we came up against the usual brick wall of bureaucratic nonchalance. “There is no problem” we were told. No ; of course not. For the baby was only one of millions of anonymous and helpless mites born into a world grown only too accustomed to hideous inhumanity.
It’s all boring. So flick to Channel 101 : it’s got the Simpsons. Or look at NASCAR’s Long Pond Pennsylvania qualifying race for Sunday’s 500. Or what’s happening to Kobe . . . Anything’s better than uncomfortable pictures of dirty raghead refugees.
But what if they had been Jews?
This band of despairing, hopeless, helpless, hounded Kurds was but a microcosm of the Kurdish problem as a whole. There are over 20 million Kurds in the Middle East, which is an enormous ethnic group to lack a country. (Imagine what would have happened if they had had the good fortune to be born as Jews.) Kurdish Human Rights Watch, which tries to publicize the Kurdish cause, states “The international community has never effectively addressed the Kurdish issue in Iran, Iraq and Turkey to account for their crimes against the Kurds.”
That is so. But I go further : the rich countries of the world have done nothing atall to try to find a solution to the appalling plight of the Kurds. They are truly the world’s forgotten people, and we should be ashamed of our total lack of concern about their plight. (Switch to the Simpsons, willya?)
Ironically, the 1970 Constitution of Iraq specified that their region in the north should be officially recognized as Iraqi Kurdistan, but Saddam Hussein’s evil “”resettlement program’, which was a simple Israeli-style ethnic purging of Kurds from their ancestral lands, made nonsense of this. They were persecuted, and their lands taken by Arabs who were moved there by the Iraqi regime, just as Arabs in Palestine have been booted-out and their land stolen by Israelis. But the 1970 Constitution was terminated by the Bush administration’s foolish and disastrous representative in Baghdad, and the Kurds have no specific rights under the new Iraqi regime.
The treatment of Kurds has been horrific. As noted by Reggie Rivers in the Denver Post of September 6, 2001:
“There’s no doubt the Kurds lead a tough life. They’ve basically been told to assimilate or die. They don’t have political rights, freedom of speech or even the right to speak their own language. Nearly 2,000 Kurdish villages have been destroyed, forcing more than 2 million Kurds to flee into the mountains. Even there they are not safe, because the army pursues them for miles and miles and weeks at a time. The Kurds have been shot, bombed, gassed, raped, tortured, burned and dismembered, and tens of thousands have been killed.
And that’s just what Turkey has done during the past decade.”
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The US/UK bilaterally and illegally imposed a “”No-fly Zone’ in northern Iraq in 1991 which was supposedly to protect Kurds, but this was at best a secondary motive. The vast areas of north and south Iraq (more than two thirds of the country) were declared “”No-Fly’ by Washington and London because they intended to destroy Iraq’s military capabilities before invading the country. US and British strike aircraft flew thousands of yippee patrols over Iraq, during most of which they indulged in rocket and bombing attacks that increased in number and ferocity in the seven months before the Bush/Blair war on Iraq in 2003. (There was no threat of effective ground fire or aerial interception. On occasions, Iraqi radars tracked the incursions, many of which went well over the US/UK-imposed boundaries of the “”No-Fly’ zones. The radar sites were promptly bombed and rocketed without a single US/UK aircraft being in the slightest danger throughout the best free-fire training area in the world.)
It was coincidental that the psychotic and genocidal Saddam Hussein was thus unable to get at the Kurds, but the allegedly protected area in the north was violated countless times by Turkish air and ground strikes against Turkish (and Iraqi) Kurds within Iraq. There was never a word of protest from Washington or London to Ankara concerning these atrocities, about which the American and British governments were well aware from their own pilots’ reports.
During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s the United States supported Iraq against Iran, which was was obvious from Rumsfeld’s cordial handshake with Saddam Hussain in the course of that conflict, as shown many times on Fox News. (It hasn’t been? Well, goodness me ; I am so surprised.) But in these years various Kurdish factions misjudged the political and military situation and made the error of helping Iran against Iraq and also Iraq against Iran. Consequently, all Kurds in both countries paid a heavy price, with Iraq’s 4 million being as foully treated as their brethren across the eastern border.
In Iran there are said to be 5 million Kurds. (There are probably many more, but Iranian census figures are as credible as a Tom Ridge media briefing.) Because they are Sunni Muslims, and relaxed Muslims at that, with civilized ideas about women’s rights and education, just as espoused by the Prophet Mohammad and recommended in the Qu’ran (Koran), they are deeply distrusted by Iran’s bigoted Shia bossmen and persecuted accordingly. They are subject to organised state oppression involving disgusting brutality, including extra-judicial killings and prison conditions even worse than those in US-run hellholes in Iraq and elsewhere. (Although, to be fair, there are no recorded incidents, even by the most critical observers, of Iranian cigarette-drooping, rubber-gloved, leash-wielding, grinning female guards prodding the genitals of helpless Kurdish captives ; that sort of thing is left to the military representatives of Christian Bush, the God-appointed super-Fuhrer of the world.)
Syria has some 1.5 million Kurds who are treated in similar fashion to other unfortunate citizens of that unpleasant land. The worst-off are in the north: a community of about 200,000 Kurds who were declared “alien infiltrators” over forty years ago. They have no rights whatever, and cannot marry a Syrian citizen; they cannot even be admitted to a public hospital. The west has lifted not a finger to help them.
Do you think there will be “”No-fly Zones’ to protect Kurds in Iran and Syria from their dictatorial governments, just as there were imposed by Washington and London on Iraq? Or might there be US/UK-dictated No-fly Zones in Turkey’s border regions to protect Kurds from the atrocities of the Ankara government’s brutal military? In our dreams.
Turkey’s 12 million Kurds have suffered as grievously as those elsewhere, with their villages being destroyed on the orders of Turkey’s generals who are determined to eradicate the Kurdish “”problem’. Language is a powerful determinant of nationalism, so until 1991 the Kurdish language was forbidden by Turkey in a failed attempt at what might be called linguicide. This failed, so, recently, permission was given for government-controlled radio broadcasts to be made in some dialects of Kurdish in order to gain favor with the European Union which Turkey hopes to join.
(Unfortunately for Turkey its aspirations were dealt the kiss of death a month ago when Bush arrogantly told the countries of the European Union that they should permit Turkey to join their number. If there was one thing guaranteed to set back Turkey’s application for EU membership it was a demand by Bush that it be favorably regarded. Bush cannot understand that quiet discussion and courteous negotiation work better than belligerent confrontation when dealing with other nations. He and his zealots imagine that solutions to the world’s complexities are achievable only through their hubristic imposition of non-negotiable terms.)
In other efforts by Turkey to persuade the EU that there is nobody in Ankara but human-rights-loving pussy cats, there have been other gestures towards the persecuted Kurdish minority that constitutes a fifth of Turkey’s population. It is doubtful these are genuine, although, as the Kurdish writer Abdullah Kiran noted, “The Turkish government is putting on a show, but for us this marks the start of a new process, a new return for the Kurdish people to the Kurdish language, to Kurdish traditions and to Kurdish culture. We will have to make an effort to broaden the scope of this process.”
The Kurdish search for justice in Turkey was frustrated by the European Union’s ban on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, just at the time when the EU was insisting that the Ankara government enter into dialogue with Kurdish groups. One can always count on the EU to move any complex problem closer to impossibility of solution, but the most vigorous blow against Kurdish aspirations was struck by the Bush administration. The US-sponsored UN Security Council resolution passed in June that provided for post-war planning in Iraq made not a mention of Kurdish rights in the new “”democratic’ Iraq. The matter was too difficult for a decision to be made, so Bush ignored the whole subject and thus gave a signal to religious thugs in Iraq and elsewhere that the Kurds don’t matter. Nobody knows what the policy of the present US-imposed Iraqi regime will be concerning the Kurds ; and if democratic elections are ever permitted in Iraq the Shias will win and promptly continue marginalization of Kurds on the lines of Turkey, Syria and Iran. It might be just like Old Times for Iraq’s Kurds, and it would be strange were they not to take up arms to counter persecution, just like Palestinians.
There are many experts on the Kurdish question in the US State Department, but their erudition and sage advice was ignored and continues to be so by those who are immensely less qualified to make recommendations and decisions about the region. The State Department had prepared a post-conflict set of options that would have been at least a starting-point of negotiation for all concerned, following Bush’s war on Iraq. But US foreign policy is directed by Cheney and the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz Pentagon, so the counsel of State Department professionals was contemptuously ignored.
Solutions, for the zealots of the Bush administration, cannot be achieved by negotiation : they must be imposed. When they are too difficult to decide upon, as dictated by domestic considerations (switch to the Simpsons, I keep tellin’ ya) , the problem is ignored ; and in few cases is this potentially more devastating than in the plight of the Kurdish nation.
So : who would be a Kurd? Persecuted by all, supported by none, their lot is vile. If Bush and Blair of the US and Britain devoted some of their energy and seemingly limitless war-making cash to bringing pressure to bear on Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran to create an autonomous “”Kurdistan’ from areas of these countries that actually belong to Kurds, the world would be a better place.
But there’s no chance of that. Neither glamour nor domestic votes can be obtained by solving terrible international humanitarian problems.
It’s much more exciting to go to war.
BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website www.briancloughley.com