Last weekend Turkey launched a new battle in its invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan – another front in their war against the Kurds and for the realisation of their neo-Ottoman imperial ambitions. On the day that the US finally gave official recognition to the Armenian Genocide, on the commemoration of its 106th anniversary, their NATO ally, Turkey, took a further brutal step in their campaign to end the Kurdish struggle for recognition and freedom and to destroy Kurdish hopes of a better world. The second largest army in NATO has launched air and ground attacks in the mountains of northern Iraq/south Kurdistan. Turkey’s refusal to recognise Kurdishness, their government’s ruthless policies of forced assimilation and migration, their violent suppression of every form of resistance, and their military assault on places of Kurdish freedom even beyond their borders, are all part of an ongoing Turkish genocide against the Kurds.
The timing of this current campaign is no coincidence. Turkey likes to carry out attacks on significant anniversaries. The day before, US President Biden had made his first phone call to Turkish President Erdoğan. Biden informed Erdoğan that the US was going to recognise the genocide. Did they also discuss the impending attack? Certainly, the US has always been ready to support Turkey’s attacks on the PKK guerrilla bases, as have European countries, including the UK. It is enough that Turkey classifies the PKK guerrillas as ‘terrorists’. But these are men and women who are fighting in defence of fundamental freedoms. They have been based in the Kurdistan mountains for forty years – from well before other freedom fighters, who western nations chose to support, won control of the rest of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Over the years, Turkey has occupied more and more areas in Iraqi Kurdistan and established more and more military bases. They have made it clear that they won’t stop until they have taken control of the whole border region. Their attacks destroy the lives and livelihoods of all the villagers who live in the area, and defy international law by attacking Iraqi sovereignty. And they are targeted at driving a wedge into Kurdish hopes everywhere.
The Kurdish guerrillas call this area the Medya Defence Zone because it provides a strategic base for them to defend Kurdish existence in the whole region. At the same time as Turkish troops are attacking Iraq, their proxy militias are continuing to defy the ceasefires they agreed and to attack the Kurds in northern Syria, and the population of the Kurdish region of Turkey faces constant harassment. Today Turkey is demonstrating the impossibility of achieving any sort of rights through parliamentary means as they embark on a show trial that could see 108 leading members of the pro-Kurdish leftest HDP, the third biggest party in the Turkish parliament, imprisoned for life. As the Belgium courts ruled, the PKK should not be classified as terrorists, but as non-state actors engaged in a war. It is a war of defence that they do not want to have to fight; but the Turkish government is determined to reject all attempts at a peaceful solution that would enable the Kurds to live a dignified existence. Turkey wants to close down every democratic avenue and crush the inevitable resistance with military force.
If Turkey gains control of the South Kurdistan mountains, they will not stop there. They will put even more pressure on the Kurdistan Regional Government, where they already have deals with the dominant Kurdistan Democratic Party that have enabled their complicity in these attacks. Turkey’s neo-ottoman ambitions extend to control of Mosul and threaten the fragile stability in Iraq. And control of the mountains would place them ready to attack Rojava from the east, destroying its carefully nurtured autonomy and the radical democracy and vision of coexistence that has inspired hope for everyone who believes a better world is possible.
While western governments run scared of upsetting Turkey and so risking their own commercial and strategic interests, and other imperial powers, such as Russia, also pursue their own games, it again rests on ordinary people everywhere to show solidarity with the Kurdish freedom struggle, including the little discussed but crucial struggle in the mountains.