The parallels are stark and increasingly depressing. The Kurdish struggle for statehood is all too similar to the Jewish one in the early 20th century. If we stay quiet, we discard our history and the principles on which Zionism was founded. The old saying goes that, “Kurds have no friends but the mountains.” It’s time we change that.
When US President Donald Trump withdrew peacekeeping troops from Northern Syria last month, he executed the latest in a string of historic betrayals by the West towards the Kurdish people. They are the largest stateless people in the world and despite the promises made in the past, that isn’t changing today.
On the contrary, in a divisive world, it seems it’s the one thing that can unify the US, Russia and China. This, despite the fact they have spent the last decade fighting against ISIS – giving their lives to fight the group who have terrorized so many – on our behalf. Entering the vacuum, Turkey has invaded Northern Syria and done so for one sole purpose. It seeks to suppress this longing for Kurdish sovereignty in their homeland, and to crush a secular democratic experiment that spits in the face of religious theocracies.
NATO ally or not, Erdogan displays more than a few character traits of a tyrant. His resurgence of Turkish nationalism proves he is an enemy to all those who seek a more tolerant Turkey or Middle East. His equating of the admittedly dire situation in Gaza with the Holocaust and his denial of the Armenian genocide demonstrate clearly why we should all view him with complete contempt.
For any Jew who calls themselves a Zionist, or even one who recognizes Israel’s existence in the world as a positive, it is imperative that we realize the resemblance of their struggle with ours and stand in solidarity without hesitation. The Kurds have been the victims of persecution, gassing and systematic oppression for generations. Yet, they cling to similar values that we hold dear in our community: a desire for self-determination, for liberal values of equality and tolerance; a rising feminist movement which is a shining light for women in such an oppressive part of the world.
Specifically in the Kurdish-majority region of Rojava, Northern Syria, they attempted to engage in democracy and feminism in a region largely void of those values, and were successful; all this out of the ashes of one of the bloodiest wars in modern history.
THESE SEEDS for a better Syria and Middle East were crushed at the hands of Turkish soldiers, using weapons that were sold to them by our UK government. Astonishingly, despite a billion pounds worth of arms being sold from the UK to Turkey since 2014, we seem to have no influence over their flagrant expansionism. So, while it’s good to hear Dominic Raab say we will stop sponsoring this ethnic cleansing for the time being, the damage is done. The blood will stain our nation’s hands for a long time, but it doesn’t mean our community should stay quiet.
In the UK we’ve been so preoccupied with Brexit and Labour’s antisemitism crisis; we’ve avoided discussing what we actually stand for. We’re a diverse community with a spectrum of opinion that can sometimes make us forget about the foundations we all share.
The vast majority of us want to see a more peaceful, democratic and liberal region surrounding Israel. The majority of Kurds support a separation of ‘mosque and state’ and most have sought their state through peaceful means, including voting for independence in Iraqi Kurdistan 93-7% in their 2017 referendum.
For any Zionists who smear the Kurdish struggle by focusing on the PKK, (a recognized terrorist organization), better not mind sounding like hypocrites. The Irgun were also terrorists, the founding of the state of Israel was also bloody, these are truths we can’t and should never run from.
While solving this issue will never be simple, it can only happen peacefully by forming a new coalition of democratic nations worldwide who stand for secularism and tolerance. There is a Christmas General Election around the corner here in the UK, which means your representatives and their opponents have to come to you to gain your vote. As a community, lets make sure we tell them to protect and support the Kurds in any way they can. Whoever heads the next Israeli government must be sent the same message. American Jews, follow suit. Do that, and we keep the spirit of Zionism alive.