Now it must be made clear that the Kurds, just like any other group of people, have a wide variety of political views. It is known that there are many Kurds who have joined ISIS and other Islamist groups that are fighting against their own brethren. But there are also the widely praised secular and/or left-wing Kurdish forces. There is the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, the Peshmerga in Iraq, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from Turkey but also operating in Iraq and Syria.
The US has supported Kurdish forces as there is a perception that they are the most secular rebel group fighting against extremism in Syria and Iraq, as well as Assad’s forces. From the American right-wing warmongering Senator John McCain, to anarchists and communists, all have praised the secularism, multiculturalism and efficiency of Kurdish forces.
The right-wing have pushed for the arming of Kurdish forces, whilst the left-wing impressed with Kurdish female fighters and militants holding Che Guevara flags, have rallied to support their cause.
On 21 October 2014, the YPG launched the Lions of Rojava Facebook page as a recruitment centre for foreign volunteers. Hundreds of ex-army servicemen and left-wing idealists flocked to Kurdish areas to take up their struggle.
The world became inspired by Kurdish defiance during the Kobani siege, the liberation of Tal Abyad and their symbolic recapture of Sinjar. All these victories were against ISIS forces.
However, how true is this perception of secularism and tolerance to minority groups that the Kurds supposedly champion?
Iskandar Dayan, an Assyrian farmer from south-east Turkey, was attacked and severely beaten by 12 Kurds on 16 November 2015. He was told to never cultivate his land. The gang was arrested, but were quickly set free without charge. Although a minor incident, it must be remembered this occurred in a PKK dominated area, and is dwarfed by the level of sectarianism and ethnic targetting occurring over the border in Iraq and Syria.
The Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, in which the Peshmerga are the security forces for, has undertaken a campaign of Kurdification in which Assyrian identity has been attacked religiously, linguistically and at a cultural level.
Journalist Mardean Isaac argued in 2011 that the reason the Kurdistan Regional Government refers to Assyrians as just merely Christian is to “delegitimise them ethnically and therefore politically.” He continues that “if Christianity is all that is at stake, we can worship freely in the West. An Iraqi Christian can easily become a Kurdish Christian or a French Christian. Our living history, and all that comprises it, is irreplaceable. Our link to the past and the future of our people is our land and our language.”
In June 2013, it was reported by The Assyrian Universal Alliance that in Rabatki in Northern Iraq, an ethnic Assyrian village that has never had a Kurdish population, was attacked by seven car loads of Kurdish men armed with guns. They attacked the village and were told that if anyone attempted to produce a crop, their farms and houses would be burned to the ground.
The Assyrian Universal Alliance held the Kurdish Regional Government accountable as its security services continually ignore the plight of Assyrians. They have never prosecuted those responsible in that attack or similar others.
Although relations on the outside seem good with Assyrian militias joining the Peshmerga in fighting ISIS, this is just a matter of convenience. The immediate threat of genocide by ISIS overshadows the slow Kurdification process being undertaken on the Assyrian minority.
Meanwhile, the YPG with its innumerable amounts of photos and statements demonstrating its supposed left-wing secular ideology does not act upon what it preaches. The situation remains the same where Assyrian militias have combined fighting forces with the YPG against the immediate threat of ISIS.
However, as recently as less than two weeks, six Assyrian organisations issued a joint statement on human right violations by the YPG in North-East Syria. It states that its main cause of concern is the illegal seizure of properties, forced enlistment into the YPG, and threats, pressure and targeted killings of Assyrians by the YPG. The YPG are the military wing of the Partiya Yekitiya Demokrat (PYD).
The statement claims that the PYD ensured representation by religious and ethnic minorities, the same democratic principles that justified Kurdish domination in Hasakah. The PYD did not fulfil these promises.
More disturbingly however is Amnesty International’s claim that the YPG have committed war crimes. Amnesty International highlights how the YPG are the key US ally in Syria.
Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International, Lama Fakih, states: “By deliberately demolishing civilian homes, in some cases razing and burning entire villages, displacing their inhabitants with no justifiable military grounds, the Autonomous Administration is abusing its authority and brazenly flouting international humanitarian law, in attacks that amount to war crimes.”
“In its fight against IS, the Autonomous Administration appears to be trampling all over the rights of civilians who are caught in the middle. We saw extensive displacement and destruction that did not occur as a result of fighting. This report uncovers clear evidence of a deliberate, co-ordinated campaign of collective punishment of civilians in villages previously captured by IS, or where a small minority were suspected of supporting the group.”
The reasoning given is that the Arab and Turkmen civilians were supposedly supporters of ISIS. It is said they were threatened with bombings from US airstrikes if they did not leave their homes and towns.
Satellite images obtained by Amnesty International show that between June 2014 and June 2015, a staggering 93.8% of Husseiniya village was destroyed by YPG forces who had taken control of it in February 2015.
Amnesty International also claims that “although the majority of residents affected by these unlawful practices are Arabs and Turkmen, in some cases, for example in the mixed town of Suluk, Kurdish residents have also been barred by the YPG and Asayish, the Autonomous Administration’s police force, from returning to their homes. Elsewhere, for example in Abdi Koy village, a small number of Kurdish residents have also been forcibly displaced by the YPG.”
These methods mirror the Kurdish participation in the Ottoman genocides against Assyrian and Armenian minorities. Kurdish tribes assisted in driving out Assyrian and Armenian populations from their millennia old homelands and settled into their homes, shops and towns. These are now the areas that the Kurds are fighting for an independent homeland. This is despite being recent settlers to the land, whilst the Assyrians remain stateless and the Armenians have enormous diaspora populations outside of their historic homelands, mostly in the USA, Russia, France, Lebanon and Syria.
It can only be questioned whether the Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq are as secular and multicultural as they claim to be, or whether they are perpetrating an ethnic and religious cleanse to create a homogeneous Kurdish state free of Arabs, Turkmen and Assyrians. It take’s a lot more than posing with a few flags for photos to be truly secular and democratic.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Al-Masdar News.
P. Antonopoulos is currently a Candidate for an MA Degree, writing his dissertation on the Saudi-Iranian Geopolitical Rivalry in the Syrian War.
You can follow him on twitter: https://twitter.com/oulosP