The Kurds, Secular Democracy and Trump’s Heinous Betrayal

The Kurds, Secular Democracy and Trump’s Heinous Betrayal October 10, 2019

Trump has long made me angry. I am now more angry with him – disappointed, annoyed, fed up, confused yet unsurprised – than I thought I could be. And I always say this, but I simply cannot understand how his supporters can still muster the cognitive dissonance to remain faithful to him.

This is not a political blog, though it often ends up there (after all, politics is a subset of morality), but an atheistic, philosophical one. Okay, the link here is the Kurds. They have long been a beacon of secular democracy in a region blighted by religious dogma. In 2017, The New Humanist wrote a brilliant article, “The Rojava Experiment” (an online preview version can be read here).

The sort of autonomous, progressive state that they strive for (autonomous democracy, ecology and female equality) can be summed up as follows:

This self-governing region, with a multi-ethnic population of anything between 3.5 and five million people (accurate figures are not available due to the displacement caused by war), is experimenting with a bottom-up “stateless” structure, facilitated by the multi-party organisation Tev-Dem, the Movement for a Democratic Society, in which the PYD (Democratic Union Party), which has links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) of Turkey, plays a leading role. Neighbourhoods form communes and elect their representatives to the next level on the co-presidentship principle of one man and one woman sharing power. The same principle applies all the way up to city and national levels, including the running of co-operatives, schools, the army, the police force – in fact, any institution you care to name.

Kongreya Star, the women’s umbrella organisation, runs a women-only, autonomous structure parallel to Tev-Dem to ensure that a feminist perspective is brought to bear on all issues identified as important to the community. “The historic imbalance of power cannot simply be corrected by introducing quotas for women or the principle of co-presidentship,” says Delal Afrin, head of the Women’s Economic Unit. “The confidence that men and women bring to the job will be different unless the confidence of women is built up through the self-reliance, knowledge building and training they acquire in the setting up of co-operatives. A society that is able to organise an economy where women are given productive roles is the sign of a mature and reflective society.” Tilting the balance in favour of women settles the age-old argument about whether you need to go the extra mile to create a level playing field. You do.

There are committees to deal with health, education, economics, utilities and conflict resolution, which includes domestic violence. If they are unable to resolve the matter, the case is referred to the women-only asayiş, or police officers, who deal with issues of domestic and sexual violence. If the courts rule that the perpetrator must be imprisoned, he is taken away, given gender equality training and returned to the home only if the woman wants him back and he appears to have reformed. The situation is then monitored by the conflict resolution committee.

Kongreya Star was set up in 2012 and already they say they have succeeded in abolishing child marriage, forced marriage, FGM and polygamy. Honour killings, violence and discrimination against women have been criminalised. Steps have been taken to prevent any attempt to stop a woman marrying of her own free will. Women, regardless of their marital status, have been given the right to custody of their children until the age of 15. A woman’s testimony has been declared equal to a man’s. Women now have the right to equal inheritance. Marriage contracts will be issued in civil courts. Sharia courts, Assad’s favoured means of dealing with domestic disputes, have been disbanded in this part of Syria. Mona Abdsalam of SARA, an organisation based in the city of Qamişlo that supports women escaping domestic abuse, believes that the incidence of violence has halved since the passing of the laws.

The Rojava revolution owes much to the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan, founder of the PKK, which has historically campaigned for an independent Kurdish nation-state in the region. In prison in Turkey since 1999, because of the ongoing conflict between his organisation and the Turkish state, he is denounced as a terrorist; indeed, the PKK is a proscribed organisation in many countries including the UK. His thinking evolved partly as a result of discussions with women in the party, particularly Sakine Cansiz, co-founder of the PKK, who was assassinated in Paris in 2013. In his pamphlet Liberating Life Öcalan argues that no society can be free until its women are free. He is perhaps the first such leader to put women at the centre of his revolution. He states that “no race, class or nation is subjected to such systematic slavery as housewife-isation” and believes that religion severely inhibits women’s equality.

It is no wonder that the US forces, and the UN etc., have sought (after considering all the alternatives over time) to ally themselves with the Kurds in the form of the SDF:

The long-planned Turkish offensive began after President Donald Trump withdrew US troops from the area, which has been held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF have been key US allies in the battle against the Islamic State (IS) group but Turkey regards their dominant Kurdish militias as terrorists.

The SDF currently number about 40,000 fighters, with tens of thousands of others in parallel Kurdish security services, Kurdish sources say.

The US joint task force on operations against IS in Iraq and Syria describes them as “tenacious fighters with a degree of basic military training to function as infantrymen”.

But they are deficient in heavy weaponry that could be used against tanks or aircraft, though some units may have anti-tank missiles.

In operations against IS, they relied on close coalition air support but in the flat, open country of Syria’s northern border they will be vulnerable to air and artillery attack.

Turkey considers the Kurdish YPG militia – the dominant force in the SDF – an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for three decades.

Trump, after a gruelling civil war and the rising threat of ISIS (amongst others in the area) that involved the deaths of tens of thousands of Kurdish allies fighting on our behalf (as well as for their own existential objectives), has walked away fro the Kurds, stabbing them disgustingly in the back.

You know something must be wrong when Republicans, as well as the rest of the world, almost uniformly and robustly criticise Trump in no uncertain terms. “Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump administration. This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the president’s most ardent defenders in recent times, tweeted on Wednesday.

Erdogan, Turkey’s dictator in all but name, had a phone call with Trump (who is supposed to be good at deals, right?), who then acquiesced with nary a blink, and walked the US forces out of Syria, leaving his allies to certain death and destruction. As if they hadn’t suffered enough already. It makes you wonder what Erdogan said to Trump to so easily convince him? Some kind of stroking of his inflated ego?

The problem appears to be, yet again, that Trump has absolutely no understanding of the geopolitical situation almost anywhere in the world. He parrots dubious sources as if they are tremendously informing pieces:

Trump downplayed the alliance with the Kurds, 11,000 of whom died fighting to help the US mission against ISIS. “They didn’t help us in the second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy for example,” Trump said. “They’re there to help us with their land, and that’s a different thing.” Normandy is an area of France, not the US. [source]

Trump said he learned that the Kurds didn’t help in Normandy from a “very, very powerful article”. Which was? Well, he seemed to be referencing a column by conservative opinion writer Kurt Schlichter:

Sweet bejesus. He hasn’t got a clue. He hasn’t got a clue about anything. He is utterly and hopelessly clueless.

This is heartbreaking stuff. Erdogan, convincing Trump to act as according to his desires, lost no time in launching a massive military offensive. Already airstrikes and shelling, causing the mass displacement of some 60,000 people, has overshot the 30km safe zone that the Turkish leader promised.

This makes me feel sick because it is so morally wrong. Is this how we thank our allies? Is this how we thank the people who fight and die for causes that are aligned with our own? What is to make anyone think they should ally themselves with the United States in the future if this is how they treat their allies?

Trump has tried to downplay his actions: “Alliances are easy,” he said, adding: “With all of that being said, we like the Kurds.”

I’m so in embittered by this and yet I can only imagine what the Kurds themselves must be thinking – and their lives are in imminent danger… And now, as Turkey attacks Kurds in Syria, Trump says any ISIS escapees are Europe’s problem. There are some 10,000 ISIS prisoners that the Kurds are looking after, with 2,500 of them being highly dangerous. Whilst the Kurds are fighting for survival and their lives, what will come of these people? Will Turkey look over these prisons and prisoners? Erdogan is already blackmailing Europe into not supporting the Kurds – threatening to send waves of refugees across the border and into Europe.

A recent audio recording has had ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calling on ISIS to do all they could to free detainees in jails and camps across northern Syria. This is serious stuff.

In fact, the prisoner scenario has shown again how Trump just doesn’t understand what the heck is going on:

On Wednesday, Mr. Trump cited European nations’ reluctance to take back their nationals from Syria, but he appeared to suggest the prisoners were in U.S. custody rather than held by America’s now-distracted Kurdish allies.

“Europe didn’t want them from us,” the president said. “We could have given it to them, they could have trials, they could have done whatever they wanted. But as usual, it’s not reciprocal.”

He doesn’t understand that it is the Kurds who have been holding the prisoners, not the Americans, and then proceeds to lecture Europe on something that is incorrect. People who support this man should be embarrassed. You should be embarrassed.

This is, as if it needed it, a massive causal factor in further destabilisation of the whole region.

And for secular people like myself, the Kurds are about the only people in the whole region that we should be celebrating and championing. Instead, Trump stabs them in the back in s show of incompetence, ignorance and callous stupidity.

Trump’s thoughtless decision, seemingly made on a whim and a phone call, will be the death of many thousands of people. Allies. Secular champions. Humans.

Shame on you.

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