Malcolm Harris in the New Republic focuses on the great anomaly of the conflict in Syria and Iraq: the United States’ continued designation of some Kurdish political movements as “terrorists” despite their less-than-terrorising ways and the greater threat posed by the region’s real terror – the Islamic State:
“In Syria, the American-led coalition has provided air support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Forces (YPG) as they march into the Raqqa Governate and liberate the strategically important ISIS city of Tal Abyad. So far the YPG have proved much more effective than the U.S.-created Iraqi Army which, despite their superior weapons, has been unable to mount much resistance. But America has kept its distance from the YPG, ignoring their requests for weapons to counter the U.S.-made ones ISIS is using, preferring to gloss over the Iraqi Army’s defeats and treat the “Kurdish militias” as minor actors in the conflict. This is because the American government still thinks the YPG are terrorists.
For most intents and purposes, the YPG is an important ally. So what makes them terrorists?
The YPG themselves aren’t on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, but the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is. The PKK was founded as a Marxist Kurdish national liberation organization, and fought a decades-long on-again off-again insurgency against the Turkish state. Because Kurdistan stretches across four countries (Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria), the PKK has various affiliated organizations outside Turkey. The YPG is the military wing of the Syrian group, which administers a band of territory across northern Syria; a number of PKK cadres have crossed the border to join in the fight against ISIS. If the PKK are terrorists, then the YPG are too.
But are the PKK terrorists? In the 1980s and 1990s, the PKK engaged in a Maoist strategy of “People’s War” and direct confrontation with state authorities, including bombings that killed civilians. Like other national liberation movements of the time, such as the Irish Republican Army and South Africa’s African National Congress, violence was one front in the PKK’s liberation struggle. But where the IRA and ANC were successful and eventually integrated into the political process, Kurds remain the world’s largest stateless ethnic group. Turkey has continued negotiating, however, and in March 2013 the PKK declared a ceasefire.
Now, according to the PKK’s imprisoned founder/leader Abdullah Ocalan, the organization no longer fights for a Kurdish state. Instead, they’ve adopted the ideology of “democratic confederalism,” which holds that the state is an oppressive, masculinist construct. They’re fighting ISIS in the name of pluralism, feminism, and, of all things, the environment.”
Of course the State Department’s infamous Foreign Terrorist Organizations List is simply a diplomatic tool of US foreign policy, championing self-interest over morality. You don’t get onto the list for bombing civilians; you get onto the list for bombing the wrong civilians. This means that the current classification of the PKK, mainly enacted to appease current and former friends (Turkey, Syria and Iraq), can be changed where and when expedient to do so. As it is, elements of the United States’ intelligence services and armed forces are engaged in some old school Contragate-style chicanery to ensure that the Kurds – including the “bad ones” – keep fighting in the territories America wants them to keep fighting in.
Meanwhile the War Nerd has an overview of some recent Kurdish engagements on the Syrian-Turkish border, which sends him into an almost celebratory mode. Enjoy.