Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Kurds are the Key to a more Peaceful Middle East

by Fran Fawcett Peterson

My Kurdish friends tell me the situation right now is grim along the Turkish border.  The Kurdish fighters have escorted their families across the border from Kobani and are being prevented from returning to continue the fight against ISIS.  If Kobani falls, ISIS will be handed a huge swath of territory right on the Turkish border.  They say the US air strikes are not helping the Kurds and that ISIS right now has them outgunned and out manned.  I have spent a great deal of the past 18 months amongst the Kurds in Turkey.

As a learned gentleman from a Washington think tank specializing in the Mideast peered over his wine glass at the White House Hanukkah party in December he pronounced, “The Kurds are the key to peace in the Middle East.”

It would have seemed radical to others but to my collaborator friend in a project about the Kurds over the past year and to me, it made perfect sense.  It was a concept that had been forming in our brains, but we just couldn’t seem to get it into the fontal lobes.  Our Congressman friend said, “That’s what you two have been saying for weeks now.”   We just hadn’t put it in such blunt terms.

Fran Fawcett Peterson, Congressman Steve Cohen, Pamela Baker

The Kurds are the key to peace in the Mid East because they know what they want.  And what they want is not severed heads but educated Kurdish heads.  They do not want other’s lands they just want their own stolen from them after the first World War and in the ensuing years through governments‘ oppression and societal opportunism.  The Kurds want peace, self-determination and democracy.  I know this from knowing so many of them.

The late honorary Kurd, Christopher Hitchens, pointed out in a June 2007 article  that in the Kurdistan region of Iraq,
“The local leadership has done almost everything that could have been asked of it by the United Nations or the United States. It maintains its own security, does not require foreign troops, has put an end to sectarian warfare among Kurds, fights against al-Qaida with some success, maintains a high regional standard for pluralism and democracy, and has enough left over to contribute soldiers to the policing of Baghdad and Fallujah.”
Today it is the Kurds who are the main fighters against ISIS, The Islamic State in the Levant, also known as ISIS here in the West.  ISIS is chopping off heads, raping, burning and forcing their fanatical brand of sectarian totalitarianism on unwilling populations

Had I not had the opportunity to help my friend Pamela Baker over the past year on a project about the Kurds, I would have not gotten to know these indigenous peoples of the Middle East.

Kurdish child. February 2013

I traveled with them, stayed in their homes, rich and poor, dined at their tables, played with their children, discussed politics, bee keeping, cow milking, crops, architecture and life throughout the Kurdish territories of Southeast Turkey.  We journeyed with the Kurds throughout the border regions of Iraq and Syria and in years past I was also in Syria.

We were with University professors as they cheered Iraq’s Kurdistan Province President Massoud Barzani as he joined Turkish President Erdogan in Diyarbakir.  We listened to the professors’ history lessons from ancient times to today.  We heard their aspirations and fears. 

The happiest woman I ever met is a Kurdish woman. She and her extended family were at their summer homes in the mountains of Southeast Turkey, a collection of half a dozen cinderblock houses.  The shower/bath was in the river.  The bathroom was decidedly Eastern with clogs at the door so you wouldn’t get your feet wet.  It wasn’t elegant, but we were well cared for and fed the best, freshest food one can find on planet earth.   

Kurdish woman August 2014

She presided over the household, farm, the mother-in-law, the children, including an orphan she’d taken in, and even the pre-wedding dance going on at a near-by cousin’s home.  She sent the men to retrieve fresh honey from the hives, and went herself, with me in tow, through the mud with the happiest, most joy filled attitude, to put the cows up for the night. She supervised the non-stop feast of hummus, yoghurt, fresh nuts and other delicious foods.  Her gentle smile and contentment with her life, family and home were an honor to witness.

Elsewhere, in the border regions we met a young man with the political wing of the PKK, the Kurdish Worker’s Party, an organization, which is labeled terrorist by both the Turkish and US governments.  The PKK are among the staunchest fighters against ISIS.  It’s complicated….

Kurdish Politician October 2014

Only within the past decade has the Kurdish language been allowed to be spoken in a court of law in Turkey.  Kurdish speakers were denied justice because they could not have translators in the courtroom.  Certain letters of the alphabet were not allowed to be used in the naming of children because they were the letters used for Kurdish names.  The Kurdish language was forbidden in schools. 

The PKK took to guerilla tactics to force change.  When the PKK began it was a Marxist organization, not really a Kurdish independence party.  But, as Marxists will, the PKK attached itself to a grievance.  The Kurds had and have a legitimate grievance.  And while most Kurds detest the PKK terrorist tactics, they recognize that those tactics got the government’s attention and today they can get an interpreter in court, name their kids what they choose, and even watch Kurdish language television.

But the war over the past 30 years is usurped by a greater threat and that is ISIS.  It is now the common enemy of both the Turks and the Kurds.  The Turkish and US governments need to recognize that the PKK are the front line in the war against ISIS.  But, the two powers are refusing to allow the Kurds to cross over into Syria from Turkey to fight ISIS.  The powers are refusing to provide Kurdish fighters with the armaments they need. 

Kurdish friends report seeing trains with tanks and black clad ISIS soldiers going from Turkey to Syria.  It is my sincere hope that their eyes were mistaken.  If mistaken, it is still evidence of the level of distrust the Kurds feel in this latest turn of events.  The war is now against ISIS.  The Kurds, men and women alike, the legendary fighters of the Mideast, are ready, willing, and able to fight. Plus, they are fighting for their ancestral homes, for the protection of their families.  The US, Turkey, and the rest of the world should do all it can to help them. They are the key to peace.

Fran Fawcett Peterson


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