As historians used to say, Erst die Tatsachen, “First the facts.” There are about 25 million people who identify themselves as Kurds (this includes the Zaza, who speak a different but related language, and the Yazidis, adherents of their own particular religion).

Many Kurds believe their nation to be descended from ancient Media: the Medes destroyed the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, in 612 BCE and enjoy a good press in Jewish writings. The apocryphal Tobit and his family settled in Ecbatana, now Hamadan in northwestern Iran. The Ten Lost Tribes were exiled there. The Medes spoke a language of the northwestern branch of the Iranian languages, fairly close to Old Persian, the ancestor of modern Farsi. Kurdish, of which there are several distinct dialects (Kurmanji, spoken mainly in Turkey, is the largest, followed by Suleimani, in Iraq), is correspondingly northwestern Iranian too. Unlike Persian it has grammatical gender, and case endings, and an ergative verb. The common ending of place names –stan is Iranian and means “place where”: Kurds live mainly in the modern states of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria, with smaller numbers in the Transcaucasian republics of the former USSR: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Kurdistan is the place where Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria meet where Kurds are most numerous.

There was a Kurdish khanate at Bitlis in western Armenia in the 17th century: the epic romance of Mam u Zine, was set down in writing by Ehmed Khani then. But Kurdish social organization remains tribal, as is the case for other Iranian peoples such as the Balochis, relatives of the Kurds who now live to the east of the present-day borders of Iran. Till very recently there was no Kurdish national state, though the Soviets attempted to establish one at Mahabad in Iran after World War II. (The US and Britain forced them to abandon the idea.) Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims, but pre-Muslim practices and beliefs related to the ancient faith of the Iranians, Zoroastrianism, survive in the practices of the fascinating Yaresan and Ahl-i Haqq religious orders or brotherhoods. These also display the strong influence of the Sufi mystical teachings and organization, and some of their rites come from the same sources as ancient Roman Mithraism. Kurds have a rich heritage of music and folklore as well. Kurds have played an important role in the larger history of the Muslim world: the great Saladin, who liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders, was an ethnic Kurd.

During the Genocide of 1915 the Ottoman Turkish authorities, most of whom were atheist nihilists, were assisted by their German allies to propagandize to Kurds and other Muslims in eastern Anatolia the annihilation of the Christian Armenians and Assyrians as a jihad, a holy war. Many Kurds took part in the state-directed mass murder of their Christian neighbors. After World War I, the Ottoman officer Mustafa Kemal “Atatürk” repudiated Turkish responsibility for the genocide, himself carried out the burning and mass killings of Greek and Armenian Christians at Smyrna (Izmir) in 1922, and violently suppressed Kurdish expressions of self-identity: the Kurds were now designated “mountain Turks”, and their very language was declared illegal. A Kurdish rebellion began in the ravaged, desolate lands of western Armenia, occupied by Turkey, and never ended. In recent decades, the Partiya Kergaren Kurdistan, or Kurdish Workers’ Party, a Marxist-Leninist organization, led the armed struggle on Turkish-held territory. In Iraq, the late and unlamented Saddam Hussein killed tens of thousands of Kurdish men, women, and children with poison gas. The PKK’s methods were violent, but other Kurdish civil and military organizations are much less so and disavow terrorism of any kind.

In 1997 I was in the ancient Armenian city of Van, on Turkish-controlled territory. My friend, Armen Aroyan, was filming my lecture-documentary on the Church of the Holy Cross on Aght’amar island. The church, a precious and unique monument of the 10th century, had been severely vandalized since my last visit, three years earlier, clearly with official complicity. Several well-dressed, polite college students approached me and asked in perfect English if I might meet them later to tell them a bit about Christianity and Armenian history, of which they were taught nothing in Turkish schools. They came that evening to the restaurant where our group were dining. They were Kurds, of course. Some months later I received a letter in an envelope whose printed return address was that of a bank in Van. After we met you, the handwritten letter read, we were arrested and tortured by MIT, the Turkish secret police (not, alas, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), for having spoken about Armenians. But we don’t regret it, and thank you for meeting us. We hope this letter reaches you.

The world does not help targets of genocide: nothing was done to save the Armenians, and the United States and Israel, among others, still do not recognize officially that their genocide, the precursor and model of the Holocaust, happened at all or should even be called “genocide”. (It was Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish lawyer, who coined that term, with specific reference to the Armenians.)

The perpetrators of the Holocaust enjoyed active local collaboration in most of Europe, the Allies treated the horror with inaction and indifference, and anti-Semitism is every bit as virulent today as it was on the eve of the Second World War. Since then, there have been more genocides: Biafra, Cambodia, Rwanda. No one has done anything except to lament afterwards— while the Rwandan slaughter was going on, Clinton ordered the reports kept from his desk so he could claim plausible deniability, as these bureaucrats of the devil put it. Afterwards he said he was sorry. China does what it wants with Tibetans and Uighurs— but then in its proud seventy years the “People’s Republic” has with its Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, and so on decimated the Han Chinese people, too. It’s equal opportunity genocide, like in Stalin’s day.

After the American invasion of Iraq, the Kurds set up a semi-autonomous republic in the north of the country. They officially acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. They promote Syriac, the Aramaic dialect used by Assyrian Christians, as a twin official language. They forged friendship with Israel and opened their arms to the huge, vital Kurdish Jewish diaspora. They and their compatriots in Syria bore the brunt of the fighting and dying to defeat the hideous cancer of ISIS/Daesh. Iraqi Kurdistan is a prosperous, democratic, decent society where women don’t have to be veiled if they so choose. It has good colleges. It is what a healthy, happy Middle East can and should be.

And now the mercurial, erratic Mr. Trump, with all the care and forethought of a tweet (it’s not for nothing that English has the idiom “bird brain”), has withdrawn US forces from the border areas of Syria and abandoned America’s decent, democratic, pluralistic, secular ally to the tender mercies of the Islamic Brotherhood’s tin pot tyrant in Turkey, Erdogan. Yesterday the Turkish air force attacked Kurdish cities and towns across Syria, bombing civilians. Today, as I write, tens of thousands of Kurdish families are fleeing as their homes burn. Various world leaders sit on their hands and express polite distress, and the US administration is as usual in confused disarray as America lets down an ally once again. The Iran and the US supported the Iraqi Kurds once upon a time, when the two powers were allies— but the Shah and Kissinger let them down. So it’s nothing new. Betrayal is as old as the Crucifixion.

Kurdistan, abandoned again, faces genocide at the hands of a murderous, practised, unrestrained enemy. If I were a younger man I’d go and fight alongside them. My Dad, who is 92, had the honor to serve in the United States Navy in the Second World War. I’ve not had the chance to bear arms against fascism. And no, the pen is not mightier than the sword — this will be buried among the many other verbose blogs of the Times of Israel’s armchair jeremiahs. But the Turkish invasion of Kurdistan did happen on a particular day, Yom Kippur, when the Master of the Universe renders judgment upon His creation. If nobody else listens, He will. Ana Adonai hoshi’a na! Please, O Lord, please save us. And as Americans used to say, Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. God bless the defenders of free Kurdistan.

Syrian Kurdistan is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster which will have negative long term effects on all the Middle East. These including the increased risk of a resurgent ISIS and a strengthening of Iran’s position in the region. Though I no longer focus on the Kurds professionally, having spent several years doing so, I feel it is important to know these 10 things. These will help anyone looking to see through the significant fake news being spread lately, particularly by Erdogan.

  1. Syrian Kurdistan (known by the Kurds as Rojava) is an area covering around a quarter of Northern Syria. There are somewhere between 2-4 million people living there – a mixture of Kurds, Arabs and other minorities.
  2. Though Rojava is practically isolated, its abundant agriculture and some oil allow it to provide many services independently. It also retained some ties and trade to Syrian government controlled areas.
  3. The Syrian-Turkish border was agreed (in the 1920s) to run along an old train line, as both countries wanted access to the line. Therefore, much of the Kurdish population in the area was divided between the two countries, with sister towns growing around train stops on both sides of the border. This is why there are many links between Syrian and Turkish Kurds (more than with Iraqi Kurds).
  4. Another result of this is that a majority of the Kurdish population is right on the Turkish border, including the larger cities such as Qamishli, Amuda, Kobani, Derik. This means that when Erdogan talks of creating a 30km “safe zone“, he means to drive the Kurds from their cities and homes.
  5. Generally speaking, there are two political camps in Kurdish politics: the PKK – leftist, centered in Turkey – and the KDP, a more traditional and right-wing party, which is in power in Iraqi Kurdistan.
  6. The leading political party in Rojava is the PYD, which has strong links to the Turkish PKK. Whether the PYD was elected democratically is disputed. They outmaneuvered their rivals – those aligned with the KDP, and took power around 2012. Many KDP supporters crossed into Iraq following this.
  7. Though the US and some other western countries define the PKK as a terrorist organization, most European countries (and Israel) – do not. You can go visit their offices in Athens today if you want to.
  8. Even if the PKK had targeted civilians in the past, the Syrian PYD and its military wing the YPG do not: they are a US ally, fighting and dying to give America its victory over ISIS.
  9. Rojava is not expecting to be recognized as a state, though they function better than many. They call for a decentralized Syrian state which allows greater autonomy for minorities.
  10. Rojava is a safe, well-organized semi-state, which protects minority and women’s rights by active empowerment – something we can definitely learn from.

Trump’s decision is a failure in leadership and shows complete strategic ignorance. He is losing the support of a people who saw America as their greatest hope. The US-Kurdish alliance which defeated ISIS is broken, and when Turkey is done with the YPG, nothing will be there to stop ISIS from resurging. Without the US, the Kurds will have to turn to the only alliance which might give them some protection from Turkey – the Syrian-Iranian axis.

Reading the news coming from Rojava and the White House is depressing. Instead of a strong US position inspiring its allies and supporters, we see the incoherent mumbling of a President who makes strategic decisions based on his latest phone call.

Woe to those who trusted in Trump. May we all survive him.

US urges Iraqi Kurdistan to call off independence vote | The Times of …

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16 Sep 2017  “The United States has repeatedly emphasized to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts …Special Report: Amid Syria’s violence, Kurds carve out autonomy …

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22 Jan 2014  Locals no longer call this region northeastern Syria, but “Rojava” – Western Kurdistan. In Qamishli, a Syrian town close to the border with Turkey …Turkish nationalists protest creation of ‘second Israel’ in Kurdistan …

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17 Sep 2017  Turkish nationalists protest creation of ‘second Israel’ in Kurdistan. Israeli embassy in Ankara evacuated as demonstrators seek to portray …Foreigners leave Iraqi Kurdistan before flight ban | The Times of Israel

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29 Sep 2017  ARBIL, Iraq — Foreigners scrambled to leave Iraqi Kurdistan Friday hours before the start of a flight ban imposed by Baghdad in retaliation for …Parti Azadi Kurdistan – Kurdistan Freedom Party | Michael Arizanti …

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6 Apr 2020  Parti Azadi Kurdistan, known as PAK was established by a group of Kurdish freedom fighters under the leadership of Mr.Saied Yazdanpana on …Iraqi Kurdistan | The Times of Israel

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