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Vol. 81/No. 16      April 24 2017


Kurds’ national struggle looms over Mideast wars

The fight of the Kurdish people — 30 million strong, divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria — for a homeland is an unresolved national question that reaches into the class struggle and deeply impacts the unfolding wars in the Middle East.

In Iraq, establishing the Kurdish Regional Government was an unintended consequence of U.S. imperialism’s invasion, overthrow of the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein and occupation. The KRG’s decision to hold an independence referendum this year has been met with anger from Ankara and Baghdad.

Six years into the multifaceted wars in Syria, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and their allies hold 20,000 square miles along the Turkish border.

A cease-fire between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Turkish government ended in July 2015. In the assaults by the Turkish army that followed, some 2,000 people were killed and up to half a million displaced in the mainly Kurdish southeast. Nevertheless tens of thousands gathered in Diyarbakir to celebrate Newroz (New Year) March 21.

From the seventh century on Kurds have resisted all efforts to subjugate them or wipe out their language and culture. Denied a homeland in the post-World War I imperialist carve-up of the region by the British and French rulers, they have subsequently faced efforts to suppress their Kurdish national identity.

Kurds living in Iraq joined the mass popular revolt that overthrew the British-backed monarchy in 1958, but faced hostility and assault from Saddam’s regime that emerged. An estimated 5,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed between 1975 and 1980. In the late 1970s, Baghdad carried out an Arabization policy, resettling Arabs in the oil region around Kirkuk and forcibly relocating the Kurds.

Backed by Washington, Saddam launched a war against Iran, seeking to punish the Iranian people for workers and farmers overthrowing the shah in 1979. Seeking help against repression, Iraqi Kurds supported Iran.

The regime launched the genocidal Anfal campaign — the methodical murder of tens of thousands of Kurds. Its high point was March 16, 1988, when Iraqi warplanes dropped nerve gas on Halabja, killing over 5,000 people.

In Syria, the Kurds fought systematic discrimination under the Baathist Party regime of Bashar al-Assad and his father before him. Hundreds of thousands were denied citizenship in the 1960s. Public use of Kurdish was banned. Damascus confiscated land from Kurds to redistribute to Arabs.

Successive regimes in Turkey have denied autonomy to the 15 million Kurds living there and prohibited teaching or speaking the Kurdish language in public. In 1984 the PKK, a party with Stalinist roots, opened armed struggle against the Turkish government. Ankara unleashed a reign of terror in southeastern Turkey that killed 40,000.

During the 1991 Gulf War and its aftermath the Kurdish people came to “center stage in world politics as never before, not primarily as victims, but as courageous and determined fighters for national rights,” Socialist Workers Party National Secretary Jack Barnes wrote in The Opening Guns of World War III in New International no. 7.

This has continued through the Kurds’ battle for autonomy in Syria. As Assad’s brutal efforts to suppress the 2011 uprising in Syria met sustained resistance, the Kurds organized to defend their territory.

Washington’s wars provoked and prolonged ongoing combat across the region, fracturing nations and creating the vacuum that led to the rise of the reactionary Islamic State. The IS offensive that swept across Iraq and Syria in 2014 was met by determined resistance from Kurdish fighters, capturing the admiration of Kurds and others throughout the region. They stopped IS at Kobani in a bloody battle and pushed them back.

In Iraq, Kurdish peshmerga forces refused to yield, taking control of Kirkuk when the Iraqi army fled as Islamic State fighters swept into the country. Kurdish fighters fought and stopped the IS massacre of the Yazidi at Mount Sinjar. The Kurdish region has become home to 1.9 million refugees from both Iraq and Syria.

None of the Kurdish leaderships have a revolutionary perspective to put workers and farmers in power. Nevertheless, the fight of the Kurdish people for sovereignty and self-determination is despised and feared by Washington and all the capitalist regimes in the region.

The determined resistance of the Kurds remains an inspiration to fighters against oppression worldwide.
Related articles:
Socialist Workers Party: Get US out of Syria, Iraq!
Stop Washington’s bombs! All US troops out now!
US uses horror at Assad gas attack to step up Syria war
Trump garners bipartisan backing for escalation of war in Syria, Iraq
UK action protests brutal attack on Kurdish refugee

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