Well over a hundred years ago, Karl May wrote a bestseller, Through Wild Kurdistan, about the adventures of a German hero, Kara Ben Nemsi. This immensely popular book established the perception of Kurdistan in central Europe: a place of brutal tribal warfare, naïve honesty and sense of honour, but also superstition, betrayal, and permanent cruel warfare. It was almost a caricature of the barbaric Other in European civilization.
If we look at today’s Kurds, we cannot but be surprised by the contrast to this cliché – in Turkey, where I know the situation relatively well, I have noticed that the Kurdish minority is the most modern and secular part of society, at a distance from every religious fundamentalism, with developed feminism, etc. (Let me just mention a detail that I learned in Istanbul: restaurants owned by Kurds have no tolerance for any sign of superstition…)
The stable genius (Trump’s self-designation) justified his recent betrayal of Kurds (he effectively condoned the Turkish attack on the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria) by noting that “Kurds are no angels”. Of course, since, for him, the only angels in that region are Israel (especially on the West Bank) and Saudi Arabia (especially in Yemen). However, in some senses, the Kurds ARE the only angels in that part of the world.
The fate of the Kurds makes them the exemplary victim of the geopolitical colonial games: spread along the borderline of four neighboring states (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran), their (more than deserved) full autonomy was in nobody’s interest, and they paid the full price for it.
Do we still remember Saddam’s mass bombing and gas-poisoning of Kurds in the north of Iraq in the late 1980s? More recently, for years, Turkey has played a well-planned military-political game, officially fighting Isis but effectively bombing Kurds who are really fighting Isis.
In the last decades, the ability of the Kurds to organize their communal life was tested in almost ideal experimental conditions: the moment they were given a space to breathe freely outside the conflicts of the states around them, they surprised the world.
After Saddam’s fall the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq develop into the only safe part of Iraq with well-functioning institutions and even regular flights to Europe. In northern Syria, the Kurdish enclave centered in Rojava was a unique place in today’s geopolitical mess: when Kurds were given a respite from their big neighbors who otherwise threatened them all the time, they quickly built a society that one cannot but designate as an actually-existing and well-functioning utopia.
From my own professional interest, I noticed the thriving intellectual community in Rojava where they repeatedly invited me to give lectures – these plans were brutally interrupted by military tensions in the area.
But what especially saddened me was the reaction of some of my “Leftist” colleagues who were bothered by the fact that Kurds also had to rely on the US military protection.
What should they have done, caught in the tensions between Turkey, Syrian civil war, the Iraqi mess and Iran? Did they have any other choice? Should they sacrifice themselves on the altar of anti-imperialist solidarity?
This “Leftist” critical distance was no less disgusting than the same distance towards Macedonia. A couple of months ago, the discussion was around how to resolve the problem of the name “Macedonia”.
The solution proposed was to change the name to “North Macedonia,” but this was instantly attacked by radicals in both countries. Greek opponents insisted that “Macedonia” is an old Greek name, and Macedonian opponents felt humiliated by being reduced to a “Northern” province since they are the only people who call themselves “Macedonians.”
Imperfect as it was, this solution offered a glimpse of an end to a long and meaningless struggle with a reasonable compromise. But it was caught in another “contradiction”: the struggle between big powers (the US and EU on the one side, Russia on the other).
The West put pressure on both sides to accept the compromise so that Macedonia could quickly join the EU and NATO, while, for exactly the same reason (seeing in it the danger of its loss of influence in the Balkans), Russia opposed it, supporting rabid conservative nationalist forces in both countries.
So which side should we take here? I think we should decidedly take the side of the compromise, for the simple reason that it is the only realist solution to the problem – Russia opposed it simply because of its geopolitical interests, without offering another solution, so supporting Russia here would have meant sacrificing the reasonable solution of the singular problem of Macedonian and Greek relations to international geopolitical interests. (Now that France has vetoed the fast-track inclusion of North Macedonia into the EU, will they be responsible for an unpredictable catastrophe in that part of Balkans?) Will the Kurds be dealt the same blow from our anti-imperialist “Leftists”?
That’s why it is our duty to fully support the resistance of the Kurds to the Turkish invasion, and to rigorously denounce the dirty games Western powers play with them.
While the sovereign states around them are gradually sinking into a new barbarism, Kurds are the only glimmer of hope. And it’s not only about Kurds that this struggle is fought, it’s about ourselves, it’s about what kind of global new order is emerging.
If Kurds will be abandoned, it will be a new order in which there will be no place for the most precious part of the European legacy of emancipation. If Europe turns its eyes away from the Kurds, it will betray itself. The Europe which betrays Kurds will be the true Europastan!