By Bhavya Kumar:
We hear of Kurds today in the larger, indirectly-involved international community in the context of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and even then, their plight isn’t very well known because of many reasons, such as lack of coverage by a certain kind of media, and also that only the immediate neighbours are concerned with them, as they confront them or ally with them and so on.
I can imagine the reader twitching an eyebrow ever so gently and grumbling a little as they start to wonder how this is an issue of importance at all. I would say that communities with a strong traditional of struggle, spread across a region with brokered, fragile peace among countries writhing with unrests of all sorts and embroiled in long-drawn battles with a hope that they too at some point of time will be able to set up their own nation, either get crushed brutally at some point of time, or fight long enough to crush all those who brutalized them. They then become an issue of importance, an importance that they rightfully deserved throughout.
The participation of the community slithers through the larger gears that work in the whole scheme. To make matters more interesting, the Kurds themselves are divided into four kinds, and each have to bear the burden of their own struggle. These subdivisions are due to the country they are present in, which are Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. They themselves unite with one another on rare occasions and this unity has a temporary character to it.
Syria is a country currently engaged in a civil war for approximately three years now, where the Al-Assad government is trying to hold on to this country they are increasingly losing to the other side. This ‘other side’ is composed of many organizations, for example, it was initiated by Free Syrian Army and now, it’s in the hands of the Islamic front. The Islamic State Of Iraq, now called the ISIS, was more of a stakeholder in the intricate workings of the Islamist militia, that is, the Islamic Front, which is much diversified within itself, considering the fact that numerous organizations can be put under this category. And now, the Islamic State of Iraq has finally added the ‘S’ to their acronym and through the north-west of Iraq, they march off into Syria.
In this very territory, which borders Turkey, we have the Kurds fighting for their own independence as the war rages on. The clashes between them and the Syrian government started in 2012, which is quite a delayed entry into the civil war. At the same time, these Kurds were fighting off the Islamic Front as well, because their aim seems to be nothing lesser than independence itself. One can observe how the idea of a nation is more important than the religious solidarity with other groups, and this makes quite a lot of sense in itself. This is aided by the fact that Turkey is more or less a player engaged in the current events in many indirect and direct ways, supporting the Syrian Kurds against the Syrian government earlier, and the expanding ISIS influence more recently.
Syrian Kurdish refugees are filtering into Turkey in massive numbers as the rest fight the ISIS fiercely in the north-east of Syria. Very recently, a stand-off between Syrian Kurds and ISIS in the northern town of Kobani triggered massive influx into Turkey. Itself engaged in a bitter conflict with Turkish Kurds, the Turkish governance can’t afford to let the matters fan Kurdish nationalism in the south-east of the country, since the armed groups leading the Syrian Kurds, such as the People’s Protection Group (YPG), are allied with the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), their counterparts on the other side of the border. Fellow community members often cross the border, into the south, to help in the battles against ISIS every now and then. At the same time, Turkey now holds a position where it is expected to provide support to the Syrian refugees, that are about 1.5 million, including Kurds and other minority groups who had to flee the wrath of ISIS. In the face of the intensifying complexities on the ground, Turkey has declared that it shall fight against the ISIS.
The Kurds are relatively smaller participants here, but if their engagements stretch on, we shall be seeing a strong reaction by Kurds from Turkey and Syria, and it shall be accompanied by displacement of a whole community. Kurdish participation isn’t isolated, and their actions will keep affecting how larger parties move, for instance, ISIS has been stalled near Kobani because of the Syrian Kurd fighters, who are determined to defend themselves. ISIS is evidently reconstructing its maneuver to establish its hold in north Syria. Added, you have the Iraqi Kurdish community as well, then, who are tying to fight for their own land within Iraq, and there’s a possibility that they will ally with their Syrian brethren for a solid defense.
The Kurdish people stand where two interrelated conflicts with different trajectories meet. They are people who are fighting multiple enemies, the bigger players are trying to either subjugate them into alliance or eliminate them completely, if not immediately, then maybe in future. The Kurdish communities in Syria and Iraq are important but still, pawns at the hands of greater powers who exercise real, but not nominal power over the area that these people are bleeding over. It’s clear that they grasp the whole problem very clearly. Their victory against ISIS will mean their submission to those powers who helped them in winning (Iraqi Kurdistan received help from German military and there’s more on its way). Their fight for independence is somehow, in my opinion, going to be extremely difficult, and increasingly bitter, and relations shall have to be altered to deal with a new fledgling into this dangerous game.