31 January 2019

In Kurdistan, today does not look like yesterday. But tomorrow looks, for hundreds of years, like today

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

Image source: Mediafax

A history full of bitterness, hopes and treasons ● What did the Kurdish do wrong in Syria? ● Even Trump’s, US president, messages on Twitter are not what they used to be ● The US contingent from Syria-between strategic interests and electoral estimations ● The Kurds go back to Plan B, the reconciliation with Damascus ● Finally, two Kurdish sayings.

A history full of bitterness, hopes and treasons

In the Middle East, no one betrays for the first time, no one even betrayed only once and no one is innocent. What is happening these days with the Kurdish in the region, especially to those from Syria, should not be something new for anyone interested in region’s evolutions, or those affected by these evolutions.

The days following the fatal independency referendum in the Iraqi Kurdistan, in October 2017, US’s diplomatic representatives have launched a series of warnings for the president of Kurdistan Region in Iraq, Massoud Barzani, regarding the bad moment for organizing popular consultations. These were not as direct as it should have been. US was the only actor who could have stopped this, making those in Irbil believe that they are not totally opposed, keeping the same ambiguous relation with Bagdad, seen by the Iraqi leadership as a clean bill of go-ahead for the post-referendum intervention of the Iraqi army. This is exactly what happened, immediately after announcing the results, which were extremely favorable for the independency.

The Iraqi troops have surrounded Kirkuk, the bone of contention between the Iraqi and the Kurdish, and the American ambassador called the Kurdish leader and said: “Today is not like yesterday - you need to adjust your policies”. In the meantime, according to Barzani’s statements, the Kurdish forces started to produce loses to the Iraqi troops and, after two days of fights, the Kurdish president has called the American ambassador and said in return: “Yesterday is not like today or tomorrow”.

Of course, there were similar more bad days for the Iraqi Kurdish, as such the situation worsen for them, but not that much for the politicians who bet on the referendum and who chose to continue to lead, after an autocritical intermezzo, the destinies of the six million of Iraqi Kurdish. Including president Barzani.

Hence, the lessons of this appeal to events which have happened quite recently is somehow blocked between the hopes the Kurdish have often, regarding their community superior statute and the reality which bring them back to a history full of revolts against states’ authorities, with treasons from the periodic allies they choose or are in need of their services.

On the other hand, there is a permanent change of their own loyalty, according to the historical period, the leaders’ elections, some great, other probably bad elections, some of them running for decades the destinies of this community. And there is also an internal division, in all four Kurdish areas, unequally, yet consistent distributed, in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, which lead to the self-annihilation of their efforts, to get more for the autonomy, for the rights of such a large ethnical community, but which does not enjoy state’s status.

What did the Kurdish do wrong in Syria?

Sometimes, dreaming more than it is possible to achieve, hoping for a historical moment can be a mistake, maybe a fatal one. The popular enthusiasm, which involves sacrifices also, is not enough. It needs leaders to know how to create bridges, to eliminate fears. Leaders who do not just offer illusions, but ask and impose detainment from their people. Otherwise, it takes just some days to lose the results of a fight for decades.

This is exactly what happened with the Kurdish from Syria:

  • the Arab Spring from 2011 offered them the opportunity to stand up for something;
  • the civil war in Syria offered them the opportunity to extend their autonomy, to create their own military, political and administrative structures;
  • the shortcomings of Damascus’ regime allowed them to take the control over some enclaves with Arab people;


  • the military support offered by the US to fight against terrorism was used also for connecting the territories which are mostly inhabited by Kurdish, in a continous space at the border with Turkey. But…
  • upkeeping a symbolistic similar to PKK helped Ankara to consider them a terrorist group;
  • refusing the dialogue with Damascus has guaranteed Moscow an advantage for not opposing the Turkish operation in Afrin;
  • the will to control the oil fields from East of Euphrates, even those away from the Kurdish territories, resulted in the continuation of the anti-ISIS operations, by blocking the operations initiated with the same goal, on the same territories, by Damascus’ regulary forces.

The consistency of their military effort against terrorism, but also in building the bases of their own statehood, was appreciated by Washington, Israel, some European capitals, but it also raised irritation from Damascus and Moscow, total rejection from Ankara, disbelief at Teheran, disobedience from their people in Iraqi Kurdistan, who supported another political Kurdish group in the region.

Hence, Donald Trump’s decision, from 19th of December 2018, to withdraw the US forces from Syria, found the Kurdish at odds with the other regional and local actors.

Even Trump’s, US president, messages on Twitter  are not what they used to be ●The US contingent from Syria - between strategic interests and electoral estimations

President Donald Trump’s announcement made on Twitter, regarding the pullout of the American forces from the areas controlled by the Kurds (around 2000 militaries, contractors and diplomats) has raised resignations at the Pentagon and the State Department and amazement on a local plan. Not just because the decision does not have consistency, because the presence of the American militaries in Syria was anyhow contested in the region, as well as in Washington. But it was at odds with Trump’s Administration previous decisions, which promoted the US presence in Syria, for clear reasons: the fights against terrorism/ISIS until its complete end, blocking the land connections between Iran and the Damascus regime, conditioning the re-dislocation according to the Iranian presence in Syria.

It was just a bad sign about the US behavior in the region, having negative effects especially for the Kurdish, according to which US’s administration policies are contested and changed by the next administration at the White House. State’s actors are getting easily used to these plot twists. The non-state entities, as well as Kurdish’s autonomous structures, who are putting all their efforts and hopes in what US is offering, are, again, the losers.

After this decision, US’s political and military establishment, involved for decades in Middle East’s evolutions, has initiated a complex transformation of president’s unilateral decision in an operation to adjust the US presence in Syria, by withdrawing the forces, yet intensifying some military and political connections by which to upkeep Washington’s influence:

  • the 30 days pullout days initially announced, have been extended to four months;
  • guarantees for the Kurd that they will be protected against a possible Turkey military operation;
  • guarantees for Ankara that there will be a bilateral coordination for this pullout.

White House’s envoys, the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and president Trump’s counsellor for national security problems, John Bolton, went in diplomatic tours in the region to explain the presidential decision and present some alternatives. Bolton’s tour has ended, however, in Turkish president’s waiting room office. It was a Tuesday, at worst hours. Two days before, while he was in Israel, Bolton had the bad idea to condition the pullout from Syria on Turkey’s promise to not attack the Kurdish. Big mistake/ Büyük hata.

For now, there are two different plans of US’s military presence in Syria, hard to be balanced, a year away from the elections:

  • president’s promise, made when he was just running for presidency, to bring home the American militaries from the Theatres of Operations, seen as non-basics and funds-consuming;
  • the strategic necessities which come from US’s objectives in the Middle East, a region wherein it still has strategic partnerships with a series of states, military cooperation with others, deep disputes with Teheran and Damascus, a contradictory relation with Ankara and a competitive one with Moscow.

Stakes are different and the electoral chemise seems closer to Trump than the complicated political-military and diplomatic coating which keeps him committed to Syria.

As such, the Kurds go back to Plan B, the reconciliation with Damascus

In an article published by the New York Times, are being analyzed Kurdish option to upkeep at least a part of the political, military, administrative and, possibly, territorial winnings, gained with the sacrifice of 4.000 deaths and 10.000 wounded people, starting with 2014, when they were attacked by ISIS. Even the American magazine is stating that one of the solutions is an agreement with the three powers which are currently controlling the largest part of Syria: Damascus’ regime, Iran and Russia.

In times when the US State Department, as well as the international coalition are feeling the resignations of the ex-Secretary of Defence, Jim Mattis, respectively the ex-US representative for operations against ISIS, Brett McGurk, the Syrian Kurds no longer have, but at the Pentagon, some strategists supporting their cause. After the emergence of the US forces pullout extraction from the region, this is not sufficient.

Only a few days after president Trump’s announcement, a Syrian Liberation Forces delegation, majoritarian Kurdish, went to Moscow, trying to get:

  • a Russian mediation in the discussions with Damask;
  • a dislocation of the Syrian and Russian regulary forces at the border with Turkey;
  • support for the process of creation of the new Syrian constitution, to have provisions regarding a fair distribution of resources between the central Syrian administration and the local Kurdish communities;
  • the incorporation of the current Kurdish administration in the decentralized administrative system, but unitary, of Syria.

Reviewing this list, it comes out that the leaders of the Kurdish community have anticipated such a negative scenario from the American allies and that they are ready to cede their political and territorial accomplishments, gained in fours years of fights.

There will be, probably, a race against time, where the Kurdish territories will become political rhetoric, diplomatic actions and maybe even military operations targets:

  • for the Syrian government that will want to extend its authority over the area controlled by the Kurds;
  • for Russia, which will speculate the differences between both NATO allies presents in the region – Turkey and US;
  • for Tukey, that will want to enlarge its authority at the Southern border with Syria, starting with a 30 kilometers wide security area;
  • for Iran, which, in order to strengthen Damascus’ regime through new territorial winnings, will lose some of the reasons which were allowing the military counsellors and Shiite volunteers’ dislocation;
  • for the US, which will try to upkeep, in a different way (air interdiction operation, special forces, the continuation of the military help for the Kurds, threats with economic consequences for Turkey), the support for the Kurds and the pressure over Ankara.

For the Kurds, it is quite obvious that under the Damascus regime will lose many of the gained liberties (it is essential not to go back to where they were before 2011), as long as they have fought together with the Americans, as Moscow will not forget that they were Washington’s allies for four years. The main concerns in East of Euphrates is, though, the prevention of an attack coming from Turkey. President Erdogan already announced the operation, and he insisted he will not reconsider it.

In the end, two Kurdish sayings

...describe, in few words, the situation of this community, which have received so many statehood promises with the Sevres Treaty, after the World War I, which had only one unrecognized state, 1946-1947, on Iran’s territory, which, periodically, is raising up in protest and asks for rights and, also periodically, must leave in exile.

The first is: “Our only friends are the mountains”. Of course, it is related to the geographical space wherein most of the Kurdish live. For the Syrian Kurds not even this saying can be applied, as the hilly and desert area from Eastern part of Syria can hardly be associated with the Mountains from Eastern Turkey, Northern Iraq and Western Iran.

The second is: “The Kurds are losing in few hours what they have gained on the battlefields in years”.

The fights are over and already had winners. Negotiations have started, but not ended.


3) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/11/opinion/john-bolton-syria-trump.html
5) https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/syrian-kurds-reject-turkey-controlled-security-zone-190116081756141.html
6)  https://monitorulapararii.ro/alerta-a-treia-operatiune-militara-a-turciei-in-siria-va-incepe-in-cateva-zile-1-7781