Kobane Kurds: Sacrificed for political expediency?

Syrian Kurds feel betrayed by ‘fair-weather friends’ and regional forces bent on quashing their auto

Kobane's Kurds have no intention of fading away from the scene, writes Xulam [Getty]
Kobane's Kurds have no intention of fading away from the scene, writes Xulam [Getty]

“Let everyone know that we will resist to our last drop of blood together with the Kurdish youth who have come [to us] from the four sides of Kurdistan. If necessary, we will repeat the [example] of Stalingrad … in Kobane.”

These were the words of Polat Can, spokesperson for the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) and a commander in the ongoing battle against ISIL fighters in the northern Syrian town of Kobane.

As these lines are written, the Kurdish resistance is still holding on, and with a little bit of help from Turkey, the Kurdish-majority town might be able to repeat the heroic example of the Russian city in World War II.

So far, however, Turkish help has been sporadic and half-hearted.

US President Barack Obama solemnly promised to “degrade and destroy” ISIL. Instead, he has allowed the extremist group to “degrade and destroy” Kurdish self-rule in Kobane.

The promised US assistance has been too little too late – pinprick bombings instead of pulverising missions to halt ISIL’s advance. If anything, it has stirred up a hornet’s nest rather than destroy the group.

Kurds in Kobane feel betrayed. They’ve fought valiantly to help the US destroy ISIL. Did they not rush in from the mountains of Kandil in August, as ISIL fighters tried to conquer the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital, Erbil? The result: ISIL fighters retreated and abandoned the districts of Makhmur and Gwer, as well as the strategic Mosul Dam.

Now, when embattled Kurds need help, having been pounded for weeks in Kobane and with ISIL’s black flag dominating the skyline on Mistenur hill, a stone’s throw from the city, they haven’t received it.

Political correctness

Indeed, political correctness appears to salute ISIL’s black flag. US-led coalition forces refuse to coordinate their attacks with the Kurds, despite repeated requests, lest they rattle the regional bigots who masquerade as practitioners of realpolitik.

Kurds warn Turkey over inaction in Kobane

These fair-weather friends appear to want to see ISIL fighters crush the Kurdish resistance as a favour to Ankara. With friends like these, freedom needs no enemies.

Kurds must mournfully ask: Is this indecisiveness now the official policy of coalition forces as well?

The international community has tolerated the atrocities of Middle Eastern dictators for years under the pretext of respecting the sovereignty of states – nevermind that these tyrants were ruthlessly raining bullets or poisonous gas on innocent civilians, as Saddam Hussein did on the Kurds of Halabja in 1988 and Assad senior did to protesters in Hama in 1982.

Today, these states have become the incubator of ISIL, whose tentacles stretch far beyond the region. And Kurds, as always, are tragically trapped in the middle.

Syrian Kurds tried to help the forces of freedom during the “Arab Spring” by declaring autonomy from Damascus over three northern Syrian regions with Kurdish majority populations. They drafted a constitution and held free and fair elections. This experiment in self-rule naturally caused consternation in Ankara, which has tried to undermine it ever since.

In Turkey, where nearly half of the world’s Kurdish population lives, the Kurds took to the streets and demanded an immediate halt to what they claim are Ankara’s deceitful dealings with ISIL. Turkish police responded with brutal violence – killing 31 protesters and declaring martial law in six cities.

This is what Bashar al-Assad did in Syria and Hosni Mubarak did in Egypt. Yet Turkey still shamelessly peddles the same old lie that it is a country of laws and Kurds have as much rights as Turks do.

Are the Kurds – the most dependable fighters against ISIL – to now be sacrificed upon the altar of political expediency?

Despite little or no help from the outside world, Kobane’s Kurds have no intention of fading away from the scene. Their cause has galvanised Kurds throughout the region and beyond.

The same old lie

Unfortunately, many in the West buy the nonsense peddled by Turkey now.

Across the Syrian border in NATO-ally Turkey, one high-ranking Turkish civil servant recently told Turkish journalist Ahu Ozyurt: “[ISIL] are like us, fighting against seven great powers, [as we did] in [our] war of Independence.” 

Another one peevishly added, “Rather than the PKK, I would rather have ISIL as a neighbour.”

If Kobane falls, the unnamed Turkish civil servants will have their ISIL next door – and I am afraid something even worse than their “seven great powers” – that’s how Turkish nationalists describe the allied powers of World War I.

The fight to the “last drop of blood” that Polat vowed to wage, rages on. The Prime Minister of Kobane, Anwar Moslem, asked for international help on October 8: “I want everyone to know that the fall of Kobane would be the fall of humanity. I therefore appeal to everyone to stand up for Kobane and stand with us in these very difficult days.”

That clarion call has yet to reach its intended target. Let’s hope it will do so soon, and Kobane will be remembered as a modern-day Stalingrad.

Kani Xulam is director of the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN) in Washington, DC, and a commentator on Kurdish affairs.

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