“A Pontification on the Middle East”
I was watching the news from the safe house, then the power went out. They’re killing Palestinians in Jerusalem again for the third day straight over metal detectors near the Dome of the Rock. Syria is completely on fire; the Russians are making slow, and decimating progress. Iran is fighting Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Iraq is on fire, the Americans are directing the Coalition of crusaders, and Mosul has almost fallen. Libya is on fire; they say life was normal just five years ago. There are rumblings about a major American troop increase in Afghanistan. The entire region is one powder keg after another. One group of after another ready to kill each other so the big powers get their oil.
The temperature reached 112 degrees today, the power goes out several times a day in this city. I’m on the roof of a housing complex to the South of the 60-meter road in Erbil. A referendum for independence is coming in two months. It’s a two-hour drive in any direction to an atrocity, but I’m bored. I’m drained, and I’m bored, and I’m wondering what my place in this is. There are things I can tell a person, and they think I’ve read a lot or traveled a lot, but mostly there are things I tell people that they can’t see and they can’t hear, so they shut down. They can’t believe the conclusions I’ve come to since they condemn me, they condemn where I’m from; they are uncomfortable conclusions about why this war is happening. Why it has always been happening. Who and what are to blame.
I have about 48 hours before the car picks me. These Kurdish gangsters with sympathies toward the resistance are going to put me and four duffle bags of supplies in a car and bring me to another city, to wait for a truck and then I’ll be moving on the road to where I’m supposed to be. Where I’ve been invited to work. I have many detractors. But I also have unfathomable love for the game.
Erbil is stunning in its dull mediocrity. It’s wasted potential and its sprawl. I’m seated in the fading dusk and dead lights; I’m about to make my last broadcast before I go over the border and then really, who knows. The city is shaped like a melted clock, a 7,000-year-old time piece with a citadel at its center. I’m on the roof of the New Ishkan apartment complex; I’m about to try and explain what’s happening here. For anyone who cares. Probably a couple of officers in the underground, only my mother and maybe Daria watch the whole broadcast. No, I’m lying to myself, probably I’m only talking to myself on the roof.
The trouble with seeing things no one else sees is that they call you insane. But, I’m not crazy. The world is crazy, the world is fucking insane. I don’t have a broad audience, and I have a small, devoted following from my previous works. I wonder what to say this time at the fire station; the rebel radio I send back to Brooklyn and places outside this wasteland.
Is there a message from all the things I’ve learned? Is there anything anyone needs to hear? Isn’t there anyone left to tell a story too? I don’t think so. Everyone knows what I’m doing here and how it will end. For I am not writing a novel, I am diffusing a series of dreams into a manuscript in English for a tiny chapter of the book of life that was manifested a year ago.
I smoke a cigarette. I comb my hair. I imagine she’s watching me. I look out over the city that never was and probably won’t be ‘the next Dubai.’ I pick up my notes and turn on the camera. I try and explain to the resistance and those who love me, the context of massive events that brought my unit here to Kurdistan.
I read and record segments one minute apart. As if anyone actually follows my posts on social media or has anything vital to contribute.
When you open your paper, turn on your TV, or boot up your smart phone and attempt to understand what is happening; you are already tuned into people paid well to validate a view you already had. One such view is that there is a war going on between Islam and the mainly Christian Eastern & Western Bloc that affects China too. Both Russia and the United States have been poorly managing Wahhabi-Salafist terror in their countries since long before the Cold War supposedly ended in 1991. The United States by funding it and Russia by committing war crimes against whoever deploys it against them or their interests. China has been battling Islamic separatists that wish to section off 1/5 of its country to the Northwest in Xinjiang province. Perhaps what you tune into tells you it’s all some massive clash of civilizations. This ridiculous idea was popularized by Samuel Huntington in 1992. Other writers and pundits declare the events all part of a long running proxy war extending past when Francis Fukuyama ended history after the Cold War. If you’re are deeply religious, and much of the human race is, you might periodically wonder if this is the end of times. As humans have wondered many, many times before. Neither the media nor the thought leaders nor your religious intuitions are paid by telling the truth. They are paid because you like how they interpret horrifying, unpredictable events for you. You subscribe to their interpretations because they assist you in rationalizing, wholly irrational human behavior, predatory government malfeasance and social policies that enable an endless war.
From your house of worship or via your TV screen you might try to rationalize what’s happening here in the killing fields of the Middle East through the prism of your respective prophet’s scriptures or favorite pundit’s words. The news is a nasty circular addiction. A part of religion is a repetitive act of denial. You almost have always to deny that vast portions of the rest of your species are even loved or protected by God. Which allows a dynamic whereby you systematically begin to not care as much about whole blocks of other humans, based on something you must have faith is real, but cannot be proved by science or reason. So in many regards, any group of religious practitioners that equate a Godly protection to a set of scriptures always provably re-written and re-translated by fallible man. It is implicit to accept the belief that your hands are washed of much of humanities manifest suffering. But the wretched of the earth are statistically Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu in relatively equal proportions. But let’s look at the flood of violence from this phase of this longest war today. Let’s try and be dispassionate, objective and ration without losing our solidarity or our souls.
I could only assure you on the political science and international development level it is wholly rational what is happening in the world today. Outside of wars for diminishing resources, prophetic revelations and clashing civilizations. It is the product of high-level planning and an absence of low-level care. We might extend that to the human tragedy generally and the Middle East Highly specifically.
The steak is just as tender in New York, London, Berlin, Beijing, Shanghai, St. Petersburg and Moscow. The politicians in these places and those who manage them live in the similar style of homes. People that own energy companies, big financial firms, manage banks, own the arms or information tech companies; their mansions and yachts have similar styles and elite luxury amenities. The suits that their businessmen wear are of similar styles and fine materials. The sports cars their kid’s drive are all around the same speeds, and costs since luxury items are all price fixed. The women for sale in all three power blocks have the same price tags and services for sale.
Thank God the “Cold War” is supposedly over because, for a cold war, a kind of hot series of medium scale wars, civil wars, and highly bloody armed events occurred in almost every single country on earth between 1945 and 1991. Although most respective national histories are total propaganda by omission, it has been agreed in the West that Communism was soundly disproven and defeated and of course the West “won.”
We are supposedly all very democratic in the West. We have Republican or Parliamentary governments with generally only two major opposing parties and free-market economies. The Russians supposedly are that thing called Democracy as well. After all the looting that happened in the gangland 90’s under the Shock Doctrines. Nigeria will tell you it’s a democracy and so will a lot of other people. It’s hard to find a Kurdish political party without the word Democracy in it. The absolute most war town, brutal, depraved place on earth is called the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In reality, we all have highly Managed-Democracies. Scripted even. They are managed differently in Russia than in the West. Also generally with two parties of angry, loud ambitious lawyers, technocrats and oligarchs trying their hands in populism. In European social democracies, after looting the entire earth, they raised taxes and funded social services. Well certainly in Russia with only one relevant party Yedinaya Rossiya (United Russia), democracy is slightly easier to implement. In Russia, the Communist Party is still the second biggest party. Anyone effectively opposing United Russia or even writing about in a negative way is promptly killed. Its corruption is referred to as the “party of crooks and thieves.” But most Russians agree that Vladimir Putin has restored security and dignity to Russia. So America is a two party state and Russia is also two party state. Designer consumer goods are readily available in both places. Russians as the losers of the Cold War are demographically poorer than Americans, but Russians have higher rates of university graduation and literacy. Both have pretty enormous domestic reserves of fossil fuels. Which is why their ferocious Middle Eastern proxy war can’t be just about oil at all.
China has a one party state, and it is run by the Communist Party. Its impressive economic growth since embracing of State Capitalism in 1986 has propelled it to be a clear contester to the Western Hegemony. China is disinterested in both military interventions and experiments in the Middle East. All three powers have increasing energy needs which American and Russia can meet in their borders and China cannot, who therefore has elected to colonize every country in Africa. However, energy resources; oil and natural gas are the engines of both war and development.
America in 2017 has willing proxies in Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. Its base for all Central Command, Military operations is in Qatar. The USA invaded Iraq in 2003. It mostly withdrew in 2011 but has returned to contain ISIS in 2014. Saudi Arabia and all the Gulf States are Western oil clients, but all of them have intrinsic ties to the propagation of radical Islam.
Russia has a long term client relationship with Syria and it’s only Mediterranean Naval base there. Along with Crimea which it annexed in 2014 on the black sea, this is one of only two warm water ports. They key Russian regional ally is Iran. Iran as a result of the American invasion of Iraq controls everything in Iraq that is not Iraqi Kurdistan, the Sunni Triangle and the remains of the ISIS held areas (Ar Raqqah, Anbar, Al-Hawijab, Deir-Ez-Zur). Most people here call them Daesh, the ac
For over 2/3rds of the human race the very events critical to their respective, overlapping and at times contradictory faiths took place in Egypt, the Levant and Mesopotamia. For followers of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha’i, and numerous sub-sects of each this is where their very prophets were all born, raised and communicated with the source.
From the very moment, according to their own religious texts, that the Israelites arrived out of Egypt there has never, accept for several long authoritarian periods of Islamic Caliphate rule been one even year of continuous peace. The Crusades were a several hundred year attempt to establish a genocidal, white supremacist Catholic foot hold in an area only slightly larger than modern Israel. When not seeking to expand Islam into ¼ of the earth or repulsing Christian incursions; the Abbasids, the Umayyads and the Ottomans were fighting constant wars with Mongol hordes, each other or the long running Sunni v. Shi’a wars.
There is nothing that can be written academically or rhetorically, presented on any medium to give the West or the East a new conscience. It is now a simple matter of public record that the developed world has accepted that the only obligations it has to the maldeveloped world is periodic mitigation. Famines, wars, floods and disease epidemics are to be poorly managed by direct aid. Multilateral efforts though the United Nations are to be the extent of collaboration. NGOs will proliferate as donor trends determine. Regular military intervention will remove or shore up state systems intrinsically hostile to any of the three centers of global power; named Washington, Moscow and Beijing.
The World Wars and Cold Wars brought humanity closest it has come to total self-destruction. But, there was nothing particularly stable about the Pax-American from 1991 to 2001. The Russian and Chinese embrace of free market capitalism has not altered in the slightest way how they maneuver as states toward their citizens and world. Albeit with fewer disasters periods of social engineering. There is nothing particularly comforting about the Chinese hegemony when it fully arrives.
Consistent for nearly 100 years has been the Middle Eastern theater of a war which changes locations, ideologies, factions and names; but is in fact a singular ongoing war.
If we accept the validity of real politics being intrinsically hostile an equity in the international order; if we excuse every type of growing human rights violation as explained in national interest; the center cannot hold. The earth has only so much capacity economic pillage. The weapons of war are exponentially more destructive. The exodus towards the West is overwhelming. We cannot prove broad conspiracy nor do we have to. We cannot confirm or deny something in the human nature is self-interested, violent and cruel.
But, we can truly verify a coherent, consistent willingness for wealthy nations to prey on the developing ones and keep them deliberately dependent and maldeveloped.
The Middle East has been in flames since 1919 and it is irresponsible to pretend that has something to do with civilization, religion, or cultural clashes. It fundamentally has to do with two forces pushing from the East and the West toward an energy resource. But that is in itself simplistic since both the United States and Russia have some of the largest proven reserves under their own territory. A Middle Eastern market for the weapons needed for constant warfare a vital aspect. Both the Western and Eastern Blocs are seeking to control the oil in the ground and sell the dozens of Middle Eastern players’ advanced and simple tools for defense but mostly more killing. The various holy sites for the innumerous religious believers who convolutes the basic thesis, but is the third pillar to the equation. Were there no oil, there would be no willingness to arm so many opposing players. Observe Somalia where Muslims in a desert and absolutely no Western powers really care until high profile piracy occurs.
Were there no arms racing there could only be small wars. Without political actors in Moscow as well as Washington, London and Berlin there couldn’t be such a cauldron of bloodshed. There have been countless stated rationales for intervention, proxy arming and invasion. It is nearly impossible to convince the democracies they ever did anything to escalate this. The war with the Islamic State has become a focal point, almost an obsession for everyone, but it is the latest manifestation of a long running problem.
Before there was ever such a thing as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; the usual pundits and politicians screamed Cold War. Then East and West heavily armed everyone. Israel then tripled its land mass, Syria became the Russian proxy, and Egypt changed opportunistically sides. Next, they screamed contain the Iranian Revolution than the West armed Saddam Hussain. A gruesome eight-year war later Iraq genocided the Kurds. During this period to give the USSR their own Vietnam, the Saudis, Pakistanis, and American created Al-Qaeda and turned then Communist Afghanistan into the ungovernable Islamist warzone it is today. Then Saddam annexed Kuwait, and the West invaded. Several atrocities against Shi’a and Kurds later he remained in power. The pundits screamed loudest after September 11th, 2001 and the Global War on Terror began. Russian atrocities in Chechnya in 1990’s where 1 in 7 Chechens was killed were replied to with the 2002 Beslan and 2004 Ord Nost Hostage crises. Hundreds of innocent Russian hostages died in both events. An estimated 240,000 people had died in Chechnya in two wars which leveled the separatist state. Most regimes including Israel saw waves of protest in 2011 over domestic grievances and inequality during the Arab Spring. Virtually all regimes besides Tunisia quelled the uprisings. Civil War broke out in Libya and Syria. By 2014 Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Syria were all in total unrest, ashes, and anarchy. The corrupt military dictatorship of Egypt had been overthrown, then restored with U.S. intervention. Saudi Arabia and Iran were fighting proxy wars all over the region.
Turkey has clearly logistically enabled the creation of a Sunni oriented, Wahhabi Salafist ultra-fundamentalist Jihadist entity which took the world by complete surprise. Saudi Arabia has long provided it with a hateful Sunni version of Islam. Qatari actors gave its sophisticated propaganda and branding. Pakistan coordinated it as they had in Yemen and Afghanistan.
Then Islamic State took dozens of Syrian and Iraqi cities including Mosul, had come dangerously close to taking Baghdad, before turned back by Iranian coordinated militias and Kurdish Democratic Confederalists. The Peshmerga and the Iraqi military had fled in varying ways exposing civilians to atrocity.
It is actually not important to indict who thought up the Islamic State, who planned it. Some say Gulf States, some say Iran, Israel and the West. The evidence though is clear that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar all fueled its development and Pakistan has the only intelligence service capable of working out the variables. It is child like to believe it was created by Islamists and Ba’athist officers in U.S. custody.
I take a little break to watch the last lights of the sun dip below the low range to the West of the city. The whole roof is lit up in white neon lights. I continue the broadcast.
It can be difficult to figure out what’s happening out here in the Middle East. It can become an abstraction of alien cultures, conflicts and ethnic configurations that are easily blurred to an uncaring or untrained eye. It is hard to get your head around how the alleged cradle of human civilization became such an everlasting intractable bloodbath. Perhaps it is only the responsibility of the Western audience to know what is happening because the collateral of the carnage is spilling over into their European and American cities. No one will perhaps admit that, but yes. And it is also important to render the Middle East more human because the weapons distributed here are from the West or Russia. The oil being pumped is being bought and sold by Western or Russian firms. Most people living in the West don’t actually know what Kurdistan is, but that doesn’t say so much as most people in the West don’t know where a lot of things are. I would go so far as to say the majority don’t care.
Most probably won’t admit that they didn’t know that the Kurdish ethnic group existed until 2014. It was not until various pundits made it clear “the Kurds” were actively fighting the Islamic State did anyone ever hear about things like the Peshmerga, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) or about Kurds in general. The perversity and violence of ISIS kept it in the headlines for the past three years and the Kurdish issue has increasingly been at the forefront of understating geopolitics in the region. Particularly because Iraqi Kurdistan, administered by the Kurdish Regional Government as an autonomous area since 2003 is set to hold it next referendum vote for independence on September 27th, 2017. And it is sitting on top of the fifth largest proven crude oil reserve on earth. No one should totally wash their hands of what happens in the Middle East because its conflicts are fought with Western and Russian weapons, paid for by American and Russian tax dollars. The companies pumping out the oil are largely Western or Russian based firms.
There are in fact a lot of players, but all of them fall into four big tents; Western Allies led by the United States Military and Coalition forces. Russian Allies most prominently Syria and Iran. Gulf Sunni Client States that claim they are Western Allies but can call be linked to the Islamic State through one or two acts of deductive reasoning. And the 40 million Kurds spread across Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. The Kurds, who are world’s largest stateless people are seeking some viable means to safe guard their long abused community and of course, get rich off the oil under their Iraqi territory.
I plan to be very repetitive with names and places that matter. Or places that have more than one name so the reader can try and learn them. There are a lot of overlapping players, a lot of acronyms, national interests, international interests and underlying religious and ethnic antagonisms that go back thousands of years. There is a very long history of desert prophesy. This is certainly the land of Zoroaster, Abraham, Bab & Bahaullah (Iran); Moses (Egypt), Jesus (Israel/Palestine) and Muhammed (Saudi Arabia). Well documented and repetitive ethnic killing is reality of life here for over 4,000 years punctuated by foreign occupations, colonies and Islamic empires. Devastating foreign invasions on behalf of Mongolia and Europe altered the entire composition of the region; culturally, politically and genetically. There is deep rooted tribalism which has to be understood as a means of both loyalty and social organization. There are monarchy’s created by Europeans to crown their favored Bedouins as oil clients. There was the re-birth of the Jewish State for the third time in three thousand years. There was the re-birth of the revolutionary Shi’a State in Iran which carries a similar sense of Messianic optimism and zealous indoctrination to preserve for Shi’a what the Jewish one does for Jews. There is absolutely a more recent history since 1947 of several large and also small wars and protracted atrocities. Such as those experienced by the Palestinians at the hands of almost everyone in the region. You could rightfully say with a straight face that since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1919; there has been a constant war playing out inside every single country of the region.
The Western Media’s linguistic and cultural detachment from these antagonistic protagonists’ borders on being a crude Orientalism. An anti-Islamism mixed with a thirst for covering and sensationalizing bloodshed. The fact that suicide bombs are regularly going off in Western cities has made everything more immediate, more visceral. But it is undeniable now that some of the biggest beneficiaries of being Western petro-colony clients (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman) can be linked to funding and supporting Wahhabi Salafist doctrines when not being caught outright funding the Islamic State.
And frankly the enduring miserable heat doesn’t help anything. While obsessing, that is the word I would use; obsessing about the about the regions 5 million Jews and 7 million Palestinians of Greater Israel, West Bank and Gaza takes up a lot of printed word on the subject. The enduring issue, the issue that everyone needs to become more fluent in is the question of Kurdistan.
Beyond the wars, the ceaseless violence and the conservative, mostly intolerant, male dominated nature of Middle Eastern society in general; and Arab, Kurdish and Persian society in particular. All anthropological and political variants are made worse by what I would call a claustrophobia. A feeling of being trapped in small spaces disguised as holy lands with nowhere to really go. Or fear of impending genocide, which affects all the players out here, and there are many. As I did not write this article for academics, let me paint with broad brushstrokes a paragraph on demographics.
There are 35-40 million Kurds mostly spread across Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. They are mostly Sunni Muslims., There are two primary types of Muslims; Sunni and Shi’a which differ on a range of practices and beliefs, but are mostly divided over who was the rightful successor of the Prophet Muhamad. Shi’a declare it was Muhammad’s cousin and son in law Ali and have been historically persecuted by the Sunni caliphates and rulers. Sunni Islam, which is the majority sectarian faction of global Islam (say 70-90%) Shi’ism is the smaller (say 10-20%) faction of the Ummah, or Global Muslim community which is about 1/3 of the human race.
Kurds are also the world’s largest stateless people. Linguistically, culturally, spiritually and often militarily Kurds are great deal like Persians.
The nation of Iran which is a Revolutionary Shiite Islamic State since 1979, is about 65% Persian or say 50 of its 80 million people. There are also 9-10 million Kurds living there. While they are certainly not free from Iranian Shar’iah law; they are generally better treated than everywhere else in their historic lands of settlement. In Iraq a genocide called Anfal happened in 1988 which brutally killed 180,000 Kurds. In Turkey Kurds and Turks have been in an open civil war since 1984. In Syria, Arabization campaigns and forced resettlement made them third class citizens. Iran had an anti-Western, anti-Shah revolution in 1979. The United States promptly armed U.S. client Saddam Hussain to the teeth. Then sold guns secretly to Iran in the Iran-Contra Affair. While North Korea, Libya and Israel all sold arms and also secretly advised the Iranians. An 8 year war occurred fought in the style of World War I with trenches and poison gas where over a million people were killed. In the last days of the war Saddam Hussain ordered Al-Anfal or the systematic killing of 180,000 Kurdish Iraqis.
The nation that used to be Iraq was ruled by Saddam Hussain and the Ba’ath Party until 2003 when the US successfully “liberated” the nation. Only the Kurds would call it liberation as both the Shi’a and Sunni Iraqi Arabs both for the most part hate the United States. The Ba’ath party which was nominally Arab-Socialism but really a one man dictatorship is also found in Syria. It is the political party of President Bashar al-Assad, who is an Alawite, but we will come back to that.
It is certainly neither irrational nor poorly documented that historically everyone out here has at one point tried to annihilate each other. As most of the groups out here have at one point, or are actively today trying to obliterate each other. None of this is helped by the obvious fact that biggest Western powers & Russia cannot and will not allow control of natural resources under Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to go unspoken for. Or be nationalized. Or be made inaccessible by virtually endless conflict.
Hewler (which again is Erbil in Arabic) is a city of 2-3 million, the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city. It has a tall mound fortification in the very center. The Citadel which has been the fortress defending Erbil (Hewler s all Kurds call it) for nearly 5,000 years. Like Moscow, Hewler is a series of ring roads; the 30 meter, the 60 meter, the 100 meter and the 120 meter which are punctuated nearly every other block by a 5 Star Hotel. In 2011-2014 a building boom erupted and everyone was making money.
By the time I arrived in Iraq, or Kurdistan (as it is called by most of the Kurds living in this KRG zone); ISIS was fully driven back into Iraq proper by Peshmerga forces. Mosul was completely besieged by the Iraqi Military with nightly airstrikes hitting the positions in the Old City and Medical City.
The city of Hewler was once dubbed “the next Dubai”, but that’s a very dubious claim. For one thing, Hewler or Erbil isn’t any fun. For another, however you define that word fun, Erbil is not either pretty or architecturally impressive. That is because it is estimated that under the region of North Iraq; called the Kurdish Regional Government, autonomous since 2003 and home to 5 million Kurds and various minorities such as Turkmen (former Turkish administrative class of the Ottoman empire), Assyrian Christians (Syriacs & Chaldeans), Yazidis (recently genocided by ISIS), whatever is left of Iraq’s Baha’i community and a growing community of Western expats; the KRG sits on top of what might the fifth largest proven oil reserve.
But, in 2014 ISIS got about half an hour west of Erbil and was stopped by Coalition airstrikes in Makhmar. Everyone panicked and had begun evacuating their family’s hours before. ISIS had taken Mosul, then a city of over 2 million and Iraq’s second biggest with under 400 fighters. ISIS had invaded Sinjar (Shengal), the historic home of the Yazidis, murdered over 5,000 men; carried an unknown number of women into sexual slavery and trapped most of the remaining Yazidis up in the mountains. The Peshmerga, the military forces of KRG’s two main parties; KDP (Democratic Party of Kurdistan which controls Erbil) and PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan which controls Sulymanyia, which is also called Slemani) had basically retreated from both Sinjar and their positions in Makhmar and were incapable of repulsing the 2014 ISIS offensive. What is now a matter of historical records; the US air force hammered ISIS positions in Makhmar and stopped the advance there and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) proxies; YPG Militia (People’s Protection Units) and the PKK armed wing People’s Defense Forces invaded Sinjar, cracked open a corridor for safety and by all accounts saved the majority of the remaining trapped civilians there.
Speaking on the subject of claustrophobia. There are an estimated 35-40 million Kurds; 14.3-20 million in south east Turkey, 8.2-12 million in Iran, 5.6-8.5 million in the Kurdistan autonomous region in North Iraq and 2-3.6 million in Northern Syria (Rojava). Armenia, Azerbaijan & Georgia all have populations which total under 50,000. 2 million Kurds live in the diaspora; particularly concentrated in Germany, France, Sweden and Netherlands. As well as in Russian Federation, Belgium, United Kingdom, Kazakhstan, Switzerland, Denmark, Jordan, Austria, Greece, USA, Kyrgyzstan, Canada, Finland and Australia (highest to lowest concentrations).
As you can see from the spreads of these numbers; no on actually knows how many Kurds there are. Politically speaking these numbers are very problematic, since Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran in their own various ways and strategies would all prefer the Kurds not to even exist.
As stated in 1988, towards the end brutal eight year of the Iraq-Iran War, in Chamchamal Iraq, the Baath Party under Saddam Hussein began a genocide against the Iraqi Kurds. 180,000 Iraqi Kurds were loaded onto trucks, placed in concentration camps, driven to the south of the country, ordered to dig a ditch then shot and buried. Poison gas was used in the city it Halabja. Tens of thousands of villages around Chumchumal were emptied. The majority of the Kurdish population in that region fled to Iran. Only the US invasion of 1991 slowed the genocide. The invasion in 2003 basically allowed the PUK and KDP to seize northern Iraq and make it autonomous. In 2014 the KRG was fiscally cut off from Baghdad and began selling oil directly to Turkish, Russian, American and Israeli companies.
There are only Iraqi flag in Erbil inside 5 Star Hotels and most government buildings. But the red, white, green emblazoned with a yellow multipronged star is virtually everywhere else.
The Kurds a saying, “Our only friend in the mountains,” which related their historic persecution at the hands of an unending series of foreign occupiers’ particularly but limited to Arabs and Turks. Whenever invaded, without fail in thousands of recorded engagements Kurds fall back to the mountains which make up the majority of their imagined, and historic territory; and promptly begin guerrilla wars.
In Turkey, the Turkish government has long banned Kurdish language and culture for years. It has been described as “highly effective cultural genocide” For decades the Kurds were assimilated, repressed and told they were “Mountain Turks”. In 1914 the Ottoman Empire conscripted the Kurds to help carry out the Armenian genocide. Because of official apology, long running dialogues for reconciliation and a common enemy; Turkey, Armenia is one of the biggest supporters of the PKK’s (Kurdish Workers Party) war against the Turkish state. In 1984 the PKK began it’s insurgency against the Turkish state. More than 50,000 Turkish citizens, mostly of Kurdish descent were killed in this still running war. In 1999 PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was arrested, tortured and placed in solitary confinement on an island prison near Istanbul. Reading the works of Murray Bookchan; Ocalan renounced Marxist-Leninism in favor of his own non-state, pro-democratic, gender co-equal, ecologist vision called “Democratic Confederalism” which is now the official PKK ideology. After several failed rounds of ceasefire and peace talks, after the arrest of all Kurdish parliamentarians after the 2017 Coup in Turkey and after repeated bombardment of PKK positions in Iraq, Turkey and Syria as well as great complacency if not active support of the Turkish state to allow ISIS fighters to come and go over its territory; the PKK has been physically pushed back to mountain bunkers in the Qandil Mountains of Northern Iraq and positions in Sinjar, but enjoys enduring popular support amongst Turkish and Syrian Kurds. Its political parties repeatedly are elected to Turkish Parliament, subsequently banned and their leaders jailed.
In 2004 the PKK Syrian affiliate PYD (Democratic Union Party) began rapidly organizing a militia and administrative structures which later protected, then effectively occupied Kurdish areas in Syria during the atrocities of the Syrian Civil War (which has led to the deaths of over 550,000 people largely civilians and displaced over 13 million internally or into neighboring countries in vast miserable series of camps.
In 2014 the PYD (Democratic Union Party) and its militia force the YPG/YPJ (YPG is People’s Protection Units [male] and YPJ is Women’s Protection Units [female]; now numbering around 45,000 light infantry fighters) defeated ISIS in the Siege of Kobani with Peshmerga, PKK and coalition air support. In the past three years the PYD, through its civil society organ the Tev Dem (Movement for Democratic Society); is for the most part governing a 4 million person non-recognized parallel state; three cantons in Northern Syria called the Democratic Federation of Rojava- Northern Syria.
Afrin Canton (to the West of Rojava, but still land locked) is isolated by a Turkish supported incursion toward Aleppo, Syria. Kobani the central canton is connected by land to Jazira Canton which borders the Kurdish Regional Governorate (KRG). Because the KDP (Democratic Party of Kurdistan), majority KRG party based in Hewler/Erbil is incredibly dependent on Turkey for exporting oil and development assistance, actually most of the 5 Star Hotels, apartment towers, and consumer goods in Iraqi Kurdistan are a product of that economic relationship; Rojava is quarantined on all sides. The only people getting in are well resources journalists, NGO workers and people getting smuggled mostly over the Iraq-Syria border through a combination of bribes or Kurdish family loyalties.
The Turkish border to the north is completely sealed. The Free Syrian Army/ Turkish forces occupy a land strip from the Turkish border to the city of al-Bab, which cuts Rojava’s Afrin canton from the Kobani & Jazira Cantons. Jazira borders Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Sinjar Mountains are partly under YPG/PKK/PYD control and partly under Peshmerga/KDP control. All flights to Qamishly go through Damascus. Most of the Syrian territory south of Raqqa is in the hands of ISIS or the Nusra Front (another Al-Qaeda rebrand). The Assad government and its military control of the Qamishly airport make it possible to have supplies airlifted in and about 20 NGOs, can go over the Syrian/Iraqi border.
The YPG/YPJ making up the majority of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) has pushed ISIS back to Raqqa (which is now completely surrounded by Syrian Democratic Forces). The YPG/YPJ has been politically dressed up as the SDF incorporating varying smaller militia forced from ethnic minorities and various rebranded Syrian Free Army groups. This pluralism for US Government and military intelligence foreign donors has occurred because of two reasons:
1) Virtually every Western nation has declared the PKK a terrorist group, so overtly supporting the PYD militia YPG/YPJ is outrageous and offensive to Turkey, a critical regional ally. Who spends way more time bombing the Kurds in PKK and YPG rather than do anything constructive to oppose ISIS. So SDF is a thinly veiled way for the United States to say it isn’t directly funding a group it called a terrorist group to fight another terrorist group, but that is exactly what is happening. Turkey has bombed Iraq and invaded Syria by proxy forces cutting off the Western most Rojava canton Afrin from its two eastern cantons Kobani & Jazira.
2) The YPG/YPJ is along with the Iran controlled Iraqi Shiite PMU (Popular Mobilization Forces, also called Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi the only credible ground forces in consistently rolling back ISIS. Without the PMU, ISIS might have taken Baghdad in 2014. Without YPG, Rojava would have been over run. The PMU is regularly accused of atrocities and is controlled via Shi’a clerics loyal to Iran. The YPG/YPJ should be viewed as a military asset of the PKK militarily expedient to the U.S. led Coalition “Enduring Resolve” Operational needs.
3) When ISIS is defeated, the PMU will be used against Peshmerga in Kirkuk. Turkey, the Baathist Military and NUSRA front will be attacking Rojava in different configurations. SDF is an effort on the PYD part to make the militia forces more multiethnic.
Mosul fell to the Iraqi military around July 9th, 2017 after nine months of fierce urban warfare. Raqqa is expected to fall by the end of the summer. ISIS redoubts in Tel Afar, Iraq (a historic Turkman city) were predicted to fall by September, but mysteriously the city was found to be empty after just eight days of fighting by the end of August. Hawijja, Iraq historically a Kurdish city long emptied and Arabized by the genocide is widely believed to be one of the most pro-Wahhabi Salafist centers as far as the population’s sympathies. Its population supported Al Qaeda, currently supports ISIS and regularly launches terror attacks in neighboring Kirkuk. There is desolate barren zone in the Anbar a province (outside Kurdish zone) which also needs to be pacified.
All of this leads analysts to conclude ISIS will be militarily defeated in all major remaining Iraqi and Syrian cities by January 2019. Importantly Raqqa, it’s only remaining official headquarters could be over by November. The mop up operations in and around Deir Azure will pale in comparison to the possibility of war between the Pesh Merga against the Hashid al Shabi and Iraqi Army in Kirkuk.
We have to get the unit into Syria and remain on the ground for around two years without being captured by the revolution or the enemy. There’s eight of us scheduled to go in, I recruited all the others one by one over three years. This entire context will not be affected by the tiny move, a maneuver of smuggling in foreigners into the Rojava Federation; there are many much bigger plots afoot. The commitment on the part of the resistance being minimal, this is a campaign of medical force multiplication. Surely any faction is worthy of the training and the system; this one is most in line with the fundamental analysis I have presented.
And that’s all I have to broadcast tonight. Probably not anything most analysts didn’t come to in varying degrees. If Daria saw it she’s bored. If Polina Mazaeva, my Russian lover and confidant saw it she’s annoyed, or worried or both. Daria is my old partner back in Brooklyn. Polina is my editor and my lover in theory. She lives in the City of Nizhny Novgorod in Russia. In reality Polina only has a little bit of emotional skin in this game.
I had my tongue between the legs of a foreign correspondent at a party a few weeks ago and she told about a room she found in Mosul filled with Turkish visa stamps, it was just the latest piece of conspicuous circumstantial evidence.
Everybody thought Talafar would be a battle not a ghost town.
The forces assembled in Rojava are democratic, feminist, ecological and non-aligned. They are multi ethnic, they are armed for defense. They are on good terms with the US and Russia alike. There isn’t any room here for mistakes. I will leave in two days with my companions are we will begin implementation of the training program as soon it is possible. My time in Iraq has been a series of disappointing nightmares, but that is not all fair. For I have seen some very heroic things amid all the catastrophes. But I will first the stories of many of the heroes and villains I met along the roads here as I awaited by passage to a place that inspires so much hope and fear. For everything out here is a circus of death, but it is not as though this is unusual for the region or the world. Life continues here amid all this. For both the foreigners, the colonists and locals all have human intentions. Human lives that the media and carnage obstructs the story of.
There are things I could teach you about politics and religion, that are lost on the great mass of self-interested and self-serving antagonistic protagonists described here. But those things are the back drop for our tale.
This story will attempt to provide a glimpse of the people that lived in or were drawn toward the fires of the killing fields when one world ended and new world began.