By Memed Aksoy
The Qamishli massacre perpetrated by the Islamic State today, in which at least 44 people have been killed and more than 150 injured, has once again brought to light the division among Kurds.
Some quarters have immediately claimed that if the KDP-S (Kurdistan Democratic Party – Syria), which is the Rojava/Syria branch of the KDP in KRG (N.Iraq), had been allowed to operate in Rojava, this attack wouldn’t have happened.
Others have reacted by insinuating or outright saying that Turkey and by extension the KDP could be behind this terrible attack to further push the PYD into a corner. I myself have been targeted by an overzealous tweeter for being critical of any possible use of the attack to make political or military gains. The arguments ensue and the blame game that is limited to 140 characters makes no headway for rapprochement between Kurds supporting different political parties, especially the KDP and PKK.
What I find devastating about all this is that Kurds are still willing to fight among themselves when even the blood of the people killed is yet to dry. I have to constantly remind myself that it is inevitable that Kurds who do not comprehend the ‘Kurdish trap’ do this.
It is not easy to identify and define the ‘Kurdish trap’, because it is a historical concept that has embedded in it, a complex web of relations between the different parts of Kurdistan and the regional and international system that has colonised it.
Essentially the ‘Kurdish trap’ was created with the division of the Middle East to snag the Kurds and prevent their freedom by playing them off against the states they live under and also against one another. So in extension as well as being an intra-Kurdish trap the ‘Kurdish trap’ is also a Turkish, Arab, Persian and even Armenian ‘trap’ too. However, because these nations have recognised states, they are unaware they are victims of the trap and as dominant-nations, do not feel the oppression of the trap as Kurds do.
What most don’t realise though, is that without the Kurds’ freedom, there will be perpetual war, which weakens both the state in question and also Kurdish society. Being at war constantly leaves the majority of citizens in the country poor but serves the ruling elites of these states, who are always in cahoots with their counterparts in the international arena and use the Kurds as scapegoats to justify their corruption and despotism against their own people. Nationalist rhetoric is always at hand to make Kurds targets for Turks, Arabs and Persians. The only complaints then are that Kurds are dividing or destabilising their countries, that Kurds are the tools of Imperialist powers or that Kurds are inferior and don’t deserve to be free.
Giving an example from Northern Kurdistan (SE Turkey) will make the point above clearer. The Kurdish Freedom Movement (KFM), which includes the PKK, is struggling for autonomy within Turkey and what it calls a Confederal Kurdistan that joins the four parts but does not erect new borders. It is seen by Turkish nationalists as a terrorist, separatist organisation in the service of imperialist powers; the religious see the KFM as a godless, heathen movement which is a secular danger to their Sunni Kurdish ‘brothers’ and the tool of Christians (US) and Jews (Israel); some socialists and communists have declared it nationalist and therefore primitive and not revolutionary along class lines; some Alawites see it as a Sunni movement that is a danger to their already threatened existence; liberals see it as a radical group that is a threat to neoliberal capitalism; and some Kurdish nationalists see it as a non-Kurdistani movement that has sold out the dream of an independent Kurdish state. Meanwhile the Turkish state, employing many guises, uses all these groups against the KFM when it sees fit.
Add to this the fact that Turkey is a NATO state and a geostrategic ally of even Russia and Israel, and that this leaves no room for the KFM to develop strategic relations with any other state entity -because the PKK is on the ominous terror list- and you have a tight spot that is called the ‘Kurdish trap’. The KFM tries to elide this trap by developing strategic ties and solidarity with progressive non-state actors and entities, including revolutionary and democratic groups around the world, but it does not suffice in a world system that is based on states.
The above example plays out similarly in the other parts of Kurdistan and in relation to other parties. Kurds’ demands for autonomy, federation or statehood are labeled as being either treacherous, not feasible or dangerous to the status quo. Even the KRG, which is supposedly a strategic ally of the US and Israel and enjoys good ties with Turkey, cannot get support for independence. Because independence in one part they fear, will bring about independence in another, upsetting the balance of power and allies in the region. This is why Turkey, which has tried to confine Kurdish aspirations to within the borders of the KRG, has such strong enmity towards Rojava. It is also why the KRG -specifically the KDP- which is demanding independence, is treading a fine line between being successful and burying the aspirations of Kurds in other parts, primarily Northern Kurdistan (SE Turkey).
This is also where the contradictions and conflicts between the KFM and the KDP are rooted. While the KFM’s political alliance axis in relation to states is tactical (short-term), the KDP’s is strategic and it politicks on this axis. Furthermore and due in some part to this, they are diametrically opposed in ideological and organisational terms. Although the KDP’s alliances mean that they can secure certain international support for the KRG or for the Kurdish cause, it also means a weakness and limitation to act in other cases. Conversely, whereas the KFM is freer in its actions, it is less well connected and can be isolated by international powers. This of course is another element of the ‘Kurdish trap.’
And so let’s return to the beginning, to Rojava, where Kurds are trying not to fall into this trap, but also struggling because of all the historical and current forces stacked up against them. They are attempting to build a system that doesn’t fall into the multiple traps that make up the ‘Kurdish trap’: nationalism, religionism, statism, imperialism, capitalism and sexism. Despite this they are not receiving the support they deserve, not just from international organisations and public opinion but also from Kurds, their own brethren. Many people don’t realise it but Rojava’s success is not just a victory for Kurds and Kurdistan but all of the Middle East: its peoples, cultures, religions and civilisations.
It is imperative that Kurds comprehend the trap that has been set for them and their neighbours, and tread carefully in the Middle East. We don’t have to agree on every point, policy or action by political parties and organisations. We all have limitations and so do the parties and organisations we are engaged with or support. But we do have to respect each other, discuss with nuance and develop solidarity with the people fighting for justice and equality. The alternative is to continue fighting with each other and those we deem our enemies, but who are our neighbours and the people we will continue living side-by-side with whether we like it or not, (not including IS and proxy jihadists). In a sense we all have one foot in the ‘Kurdish trap’ and unless we are very careful it will continue snagging us and we will continue reproducing it until our country, resources and people are depleted.
Note: Other groups, such as the Assyrians and Turkmen are also victims of the ‘Kurdish trap’.
Note: the map used above is not important in determining the future of Kurdistan and doesn’t reflect the ‘borders’ of Kurdistan. If possible Kurdistan should have no borders. The map represents the division of Kurdistan.