There had already been several attacks on Kurds in the past: Iran incited Shi’ite militias against the Kurds in Iraq in revenge for attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities. As a result, Iraqi Kurdistan lost nearly a third of its territory to the Iraqi army and Shi’ite militias in 2017. Iran accuses the Kurds in Iraq of supporting “anti-Iranian Zionist-American aggression” while at the same time Iran blames Israel for sabotaging its nuclear facilities – so the Kurds must be punished.
The Syrian Kurds, on the other hand, are being punished by Russia for cooperating with the United States. Russia, the protecting power in Syria, allows Turkey to use Syrian airspace to attack the Kurdish people from the air. The Kurds have no chance against the Turkish Air Force. In Syria, Russia and Iran are cooperating very closely with Turkey, fighting against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, among others.
Thus, the Kurdish people in Iraq and Syria are being punished for cooperating with the United States and for defending “Western” values such as democracy, minority rights, women’s rights and freedom of belief. And what does the US do? It allows Iran to attack Iraqi Kurds and other minorities. Turkey can do whatever it wants with the minorities in Syria. They are expelled or – as in the case of Afrin – slaughtered.
In this context, we should also take a look at what is happening in Afghanistan right now: The people of Afghanistan, especially the women, are currently being abandoned to Taliban tyranny. Apparently, there are strategists in NATO who think it would be possible, with the help of Turkey, to send the Taliban and all Sunni Islamists against Russia and China. Thus, the Sunni Islamists are geopolitically important, but Kurds and women are not.
Whether Turkey, as a Sunni Islamist regional power, will risk turning against Russia and China remains to be seen. Today’s Sunni Islamists have changed since the times of the Cold War, and China is now under a different leadership, too: the country is ruled by turbo-capitalist communists, with Confucius as an idol instead of Karl Marx.
IN RUSSIA, the situation has changed a lot as well. There, political power is no longer based on Marx or Lenin, but on Russian Orthodoxy. Moreover, Russia has the best relations with Israel, and it will not be easy to position Muslims, in this case Sunnis, against Russia and China. During the Cold War, there were no widely available social networks. Back then, it was easier to tell the Muslims that the Russians and Chinese were “infidel atheists” and that “all communists work for Israel”, because Marx was Jewish. This narrative was widespread in the Arab-Islamic world, and I heard it a lot myself as a young man in Aleppo in the early 1970s.
Even in the case of Iran, the self-declared protective power of all Shi’ites, it will not be easy to mobilize the Sunni Islamists against the hated Shi’ite mullahs. Turkey, which in turn sees itself as a protecting power of the Sunnis, has always had many common interests with Iran and, above all, a common enemy: the Kurds. Therefore, it will be almost impossible for the US and the West to turn Turkey and the Sunni Islamists against Iran in the long run. Iran also has good relations, not only with Hamas, but with various other Sunni groups.
Therefore, any NATO strategy aimed at winning over the radical Sunni Islamists led by Turkey will fail, probably with disastrous consequences. Turkey would become much more aligned with Russia and China, and would also cooperate very closely with Iran. The fears of the undemocratic systems in Moscow and Beijing are understandable and justified. However, the dangers for world peace and for the people in Western cities come primarily from the Islamic world – from a radical political Islam of Sunni and Shi’ite character, whose control centers are located primarily in Istanbul and Tehran. Today, the main sources of anti-Western ideas, antisemitism and misogyny are not to be found primarily in Moscow or Shanghai, but in Istanbul, Tehran or Islamabad.
Turkey can only be used as a bulwark against China or Russia if it ends its ongoing enmity with the Kurds – and not just with one Kurdish group, but with all Kurds, including the PKK. Turkey can only be a consistent global player if it is neither vulnerable nor susceptible to blackmail. A Turkey that is tied up at all corners by “Kurdish problems” will hardly succeed in becoming a factor of stability. Therefore, Turkey will continue its zigzag course between Russia, China, and Iran on the one hand and the West on the other. When push comes to shove, however, Turkey will not go to war alongside the West.
Dr. Kamal Sido was born in the Kurdish region of Afrin and has been in exile for more than 40 years. He works for the German human rights organization Society for Threatened Peoples as a Middle East expert and advisor on ethnic, religious, linguistic minorities and nationalities.