The Kurdish People vs. The Islamic State: An Encounter of Cultures

14 Mar 2015

In Kobani, a multifarious group of young Kurdish volunteers, congregate and interlink-hands for a traditional, exuberant Kurdish dance, known as the ‘Hilperke.’ Although their movements appear to be flamboyant and enthusiastic, there is a dispirited undertone to their animated ensemble; presumably, the casualties of the battle, and their fallen-comrades, are still vivid in their minds. The emblematic significance of Kobani was therefore accentuated. The Islamic-State’s capture of the town would present significant recruitment opportunities that would inevitably accompany a voluble propaganda campaign, of how the triumphant, victorious “caliphate” prevailed over the collaborative endeavours of the “crusaders” and “apostates.”


Various Kurdish participants, such as the PKK (eponymously the “Kurdistan Workers’ Party”), YPG (“Peoples’ Protection Units”), and volunteers from the peshmerga paramilitary (literal-translation: “death-facers”; a general Sorani colloquialism for “military”), all cooperated to form a consolidated resistance to protect Kobane from the forces of personified evil. Their previous experience in engaging the Turkish authorities over the years was presumably instrumental in securing victory, as the militants attacking the settlement were comprehensively vanquished by a coordinated Kurdish defence force, who – despite deficiencies in number and armaments – were able to ultimately overcome ISIL with the assistance of local residents.  


Subsequently, the Kurdish cause has been somewhat romanticised among elements of Western media. Their militants, comprising both males and females, were able to demonstrate their profound bravery in combat by skilfully eliminating a redoubtable foe. Conversely, the casualties of the Islamic-State were so devastating that they allegedly changed their adopted name for the town from “Ayn-al-Islam” (“Spring-of-Islam”) to “Ayn-al-Shahida” (“Spring-of-Martyrs”). Since the outbreak of violence in Syria, the YPG organisation, an affiliate of the PKK, has capitalised, consolidating territory in north-eastern Syria and establishing a de-facto, autonomous province in the process. Syrian-Kurdistan, which mirrors it’s Iraqi counterpart, threatens any participant involved in the Syrian Civil War with complete and utter destruction should they intentionally encroach into Kurdish territory and endanger the lives of Kurdish civilians.


Kobani, however, became increasingly ugly as the situation unfolded and ISIL were able to deepen their incursion into the settlement. Nevertheless, a battle situated in the immediate vicinity of Turkish territory would always precipitate diplomatic controversy. The undoubtedly cold relationship between Erdogan and Syria noticeably deteriorated when Turkey issued a stark warning to Syria not to bomb in locations close to the Turkish border. In a contentious announcement, Turkey announced that it would regard any aerial bombardments in Kobane - by the adversarial Assad regime - as an act of aggression and the commencement of hostilities between the two nations.


Furthermore, the overall demeanour of the Turkish authorities to arguably what represents a humanitarian crisis has been controversial, to say the least. There is a pervasive suspicion among the Kurdish community that the Turks have clandestinely supported ISIL’s activities in order to undermine the Kurdish insurrection in south-western Turkey. Moreover, there were accusations of systematic impediments designed to restrict volunteer-fighters from accessing the town through the Turkish border, and preventing refugees from escaping the conflict. Consequently, spontaneous riots and civil-unrest erupted in Kurdish neighbourhoods throughout Turkey’s major cities, who accused the government of discreetly facilitating ISIL’s indiscriminate massacre of Kurdish civilians. Despite repelling ISIL approximately a month ago, local civilians are apprehensive, however, that the ignominious nature of the Islamic-State’s defeat will provoke another attempt at recapturing Kobani - their sole impediment towards unencumbered access to a significant stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border.


Meanwhile, the official Kurdish representatives staunchly reject these aforementioned contentions, and have a far more simplistic analysis with regards to the Islamic State: that they are the embodiment of unadulterated evil, and a terrorist organisation that has been incidentally accommodated by Erdogan’s apparent indifference with regards to the Kurdish question. “[ISIL] do not represent Muslims,” an anonymous representative of the peshmerga asserted on Twitter. “They have no genuine religious or political motivation. They are only power-hungry and bloodthirsty. Kurds have been resisting oppression, injustice and tyranny for thousands of years. Why should things be any different now, even if Erdogan wants us dead?”


The Kurds have been relentlessly struggling for secessionist self-determination, ever since the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. Ayatollah Khomeini was staunchly opposed to the Kurdish secessionism, as he was concerned that the establishment of an independent Kurdistan would accompany the fragmentation of Iran, home to a significant Kurdish population who are predominantly situated in the north-western and north-eastern provinces of the country. Saddam Hussein was probably the most notorious and aggressive antagonist towards the Kurdish people, as the ideological convictions of the Ba’athist party incorporated notions of Arab supremacy and sovereignty over Kurdish territory, indiscriminately massacring the Kurdish demographics them with chemical weapons. Ba’athist Iraq and theocratic Iran capitalised on Kurdish secessionism during the Iran-Iraq war. Both nations clandestinely supported Kurdish insurgencies in the bordering country, whilst simultaneously suppressing uprisings within their own jurisdiction, in brutal fashion.


Conversely, Turkey witnessed the emergence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, now a proscribed political party, a designated terrorist-organisation by NATO, and the most prominent of the Kurdish fighting movements. The PKK are a separatist paramilitary force who operate predominantly in the wastelands of south-western Anatolia. Throughout the decades, they have persevered in employing guerrilla warfare, by recruiting young, alienated and disaffected Kurdish volunteers, from both genders. Which brings me onto another component of the Kurdish conundrum: women.


Although insufferable practices like female circumcision still exists, women are comparatively empowered and represent a formidable, determined and highly disciplined fighting force. The prospect of an independent Kurdish republic is something that is therefore considered to have progressive potential among international observers. The traditional Kurdish social arrangements and still primarily patriarchal, but they are well on their way to emancipation and equality - an ideal which has been given greater emphasis in light of their engagements against ISIL. The fact that Kurdish women are given the opportunity to demonstrate their ability on the battlefield - fighting alongside their male counterparts - is an incontestably positive development, yet something of an anomaly among the male-dominated, complementarian cultures of the Middle-East.


Moreover, speculation circulated online that Islamic State militants were positively terrified regarding the prospect of engaging female-participants in combat. According to these rumours, ISIL regard being slain by a woman as an immovable impediment to accessing jannah (paradise). The veracity of this claim is disputed; however, a response to ISIL’s sophisticated and elaborate propaganda-campaign can only ever be welcomed.


Nevertheless, ideological discrepancies do exist among the various Kurdish movements and organisations. Most of them, however, remain uncompromisingly dedicated to democratic and relatively secular ideologies. Incidentally, the PKK is an intransigently socialist organisation with prominent communist persuasions and far-left, revolutionary sympathies. This, and coupled with the fact that the Obama-Administration have always supported a unified Iraqi sovereign, explains the President’s continual reticence regarding the prospect of Kurdish autonomy.


It is unquestionable that the Kurds are a fiercely-independent people with a unique cultural history. After being attacked with chemical weapons by the British colonialists in Mesopotamia, and respectively being persecuted by the authoritarian supremacists of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist Party, one thing is abundantly clear about Kurdish people: they will never surrender; and would rather die, than give up without a fight. The Kurds are becoming exasperated with being manipulated by successive empires and oppressive governments. They want their own country, and they deserve it.

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