TURKEY: The Kurds have no friends but the mountains… and sometimes America

Suruç, Turkey – The women, and a few men, gathered around a large fire. The night was cold and dark, the long streets between acres of farm land remain unlit near the Turkish-Syrian border. This part of Turkey is largely inhabited by Kurds, many of them refugees from the besieged town of Kobani, Syria; many homeless, living in camps, or renting storage units and using them as make shift homes.

On this empty plain, they gather so that people on the other side of the border, the sons and daughters, the fathers and mothers fighting the Daesh (AKA. ISIS/ISIL) scourge know that they are supported. Along the border, there are always Kurds who stand vigilant, watching their town so that when their warriors, the Kurdish lions and lionesses at the front line, look past the fence topped by concertina wire they will see their people – their reason for fighting.

We heard the whistle-bang of a mortar, and the temporary light that flashed the outline of the rolling Kobani hills lined with flat roofed homes. Then there was another. Mothers clutched their chests, hoping that the rumble of explosions – another home leveled to the ground, another neighborhood reduced to ash – did not mean another son or daughter killed, another Kurd killed in this new genocide by Daesh.

Around the fire, a woman sang a song about Kobani and Kurdistan – the Kurdish people, and the country that has long been denied them.

Women wept quietly into napkins and scarves. Others stand glassy-eyed, mesmerized and sad over the homes that they have left, and those left behind, fighting to free Kobani from Daesh’s grasp. They sing this song as though Kobani itself were a far off lover, even though we can see it just beyond the fence.

A man asked me, “Japan-eez? Shin-eez?” to find out where I came from.

“Amerikia,” I responded.

“America! America, good! Obama! Obama!” He made a motion with his hand to indicate a plane over head, then said “boom!” to indicate the air strikes of US Forces in support of the Kurds. He saluted, and said “Obama” again, and then threw up what the Americans would consider a peace sign. But this is not the addle-minded sign of some empty-headed hippie. It dates back to WWII, when the ‘V’ of the middle and index fingers mimicked the formation of airplanes and the first letter of the word Victory.

When a Kurd discovers that I am American, their first instinct is to thank Obama and the American people.

“My house [was] destroyed by Obama planes,” one woman told me. Now she lives in a small compound, as a refugee in Turkey, huddled in among dozens of her relatives. They are unable to secure work because they are foreigners. Likewise, they are unable to go home. When the bombs fall on her hometown, her windows and doors would vibrate on in their frames, sometimes cracking under the pressure.

“I am sorry,” I said, taking on the apology for my military, my country and myself.

“No!” She said, and explained that the loss of her house and the loss of her home was a small price to pay to fight Daesh. She did not believe that peace was the answer against such a fundamentalist sickness like the one rampant in the Islamic State. She would rather lose her home to the bombs than be wiped out by Daesh. That is the price of the survival of one’s people.

In the end, the air strikes defend the town from Daesh… and many refugees said that they would live in a tent on top of the rubble of their old homes, as long as the murderous fundamentalists are gone.

Their gratitude to the American people, and to President Barack Obama himself, is one that rivals even the most ardent Democrats. A refugee even named their child Obama, in gratitude for airstrikes in Kobani.

It was America that imposed a no-fly zone over the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq in 1991, until 2003. This created a refuge for the Kurds against Saddam Hussein’s attempts to reoccupy the area – often annihilating entire villages with chemical weapons and lining the roads with unmarked mass graves.

America recognizes the Kurds as an ally in the fight against Daesh. Many Middle Eastern experts and soldiers and servicemen that have worked with these Kurdish soldiers in Iraq, also known as the peshmerga, are protective of these Kurdish warriors and warrioresses and speak only with the greatest admiration.And in these dire moments, the Kurds turn to America for help again – because no one else seems interested.

It was the Sykes-Picot agreement that divided Kurdistan to it’s current occupiers. Even America has been a fickle friend in the past, withdrawing support for Kurdish independence from Iraq in 1975.

For all the faith the Kurds have in America, I fear they may again be disappointed. Some Americans still hear the word “Kurd” and think that it is some root vegetable. Others lump them in with other Middle Eastern stereotypes, never noting how different they are. When they are no longer useful in the fight against Daesh, and are once again left alone in the world, there will once again be truth to the old adage, “The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.”

5 Comments

  1. Tabitha says:

    I wonder if many of the countries had more insight into the depth of the situation, if they would be willing to step up and take a stand for them.

    1. Kat Argo says:

      Probably not, unfortunately. It’s such a tense political situation, with Kurds wanting to ultimately have their own country. It would be a bad position to tell surrounding countries – Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria – to parcel over a bit of their border for them. Even the semi-autonomous region region in North Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government, is a sensitive topic to defend for any country… thankfully, the KRG has not been making a push for independence, but instead seeks to make the current situation with Baghdad work.
      However, that is the best situation for the Kurds at the moment. Kurds in Iran, Syria and Turkey are less palatable – with the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party only signing a peace agreement (they have been clashing, killing several Turkish Soldiers and Kurdish ‘insurgents’ since 1984) last year. And no one I have spoken to believes that it will be a lasting ceasefire.

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