Oct 22 (2/9): “The Kurds”

tl;dr: Calling them “the Kurds” comes about in the mental gymnastics, which may be unintentional, to attempt to avoid taking any political position that adhere to names that have political implications for political recognition.

What’s been interesting is how much our government officials have been increasingly using the nomenclature of SDF, etc., but not Rojava, which remains unrecognized by any other state in the world and now, perhaps, will remain unrealized.[/spoiler]

Big day for Syria and the assorted cast of players in the Syrian Civil War: Erdogan meets with Putin in Sochi and the not-a-cease fire agreement ends at 19:00 GMT (22:00 local time, 3 pm EST).

To understand what we hear coming out of this, it becomes critical to understand who “the Kurds” are. Actually, that’s easy. What is more important and orders of magnitude more complicated is:

What is meant by the media and/or government officials when they refer to “the Kurds”?

which is not the same thing. And the reason it’s complicated is because of politics. (Shocker, I know.)

I’ll try to explain by explaining the “players” in terms of how they developed over time.


The Kurds are an ethnic population in the Middle East with roots in antiquity. Whatever. Media are really fixated on the name without a lot of background. We’ll try to learn a bit more.


There is no state of Kurdistan. Kurdistan refers to a region in the Middle East where there is a concentrated population of Kurds. It’s very specifically NOT a state in that the population is spread across four different countries (southeast Turkey, northeast Syria, northern Iraq, and northwest Iran) in a de facto kind of post-colonial gerrymandering that drew the new nation state lines right across where they lived.


So instead of getting their own home state, they end up being an ethnic minority in four other states which have high levels of religio-ethnic nationalism. So the Kurds get fucked. A lot. (The careful observer will note the choice rocky terrain they’d been driven to even before the modern nation state system; many of them the same areas populations of other persecuted minorities ended up in, such as the Armenians and the Assyrians.)

This is a good time to mention this:

Google erases Kurdistan from maps in compliance with Turkish gov.

From the stranger-things dept.

schwit1 shares a report:

Google has removed a map outlining the geographical extent of the Greater Kurdistan after the Turkish state asked it to do so, a simple inquiry on the Internet giant’s search engine from Wednesday on can show. “Unavailable. This map is no longer available due to a violation of our Terms of Service and/or policies,” a note on the page that the map was previously on read. Google did not provide further details on how the Kurdistan map violated its rules.

The map in question, available for years, used to be on Google’s My Maps service, a feature of Google Maps that enables users to create custom maps for personal use or sharing through search. Maps drawn by ancient Greeks, Islamic historians, Ottomans, and Westerners showing Kurdistan with alternative names such as “Corduene” or “Karduchi” have existed since antiquity. The use of the name “Kurdistan” was banned by the administration of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the immediate aftermath of the crushed Sheikh Said uprising for Kurdish statehood in 1925.

Further reading: Local media report. “Turkish officials outraged by Google map showing the unofficial border of Kurdistan. Turkey demands the removal of the map. There are around 40 million Kurds divided between 4 main countries,” Jiyar Gol, a BBC correspondent tweeted.

Posted by msmash December 28th, 2018 9:01AM [Archived]

PKK/HPG: Kurdish Politics in Turkey

The PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) is a Kurdish militant opposition political party in Turkey that is designated a terrorist group by Turkey and NATO; the HPG (People’s Defense Forces) is their military wing. The PKK was led by Abdullah Öcalan and developed out of student groups in 1978-1979 in response to ethnic oppression/cultural cleansing by the Turkish government including practices such as banning the Kurdish language, Kurdish place names, Kurdish style of dress, etc. These practices intensified with the military coup in Turkey in 1980.

The PKK is (or was back then; I’m not as up on their contemporary operations) your standard left wing Marxist revolutionary party (yawn.) dedicated to independence from Turkey (ok…) to form its own ethno-nationalist state (ew.). They skirmished with the Turkish government from the beginning, but became a full scale insurgency in 1984.

Due to this insurgency, they are designated as a terrorist group by Turkey and therefore NATO. The PKK claims that the terrorist designation ought not apply to them because they attack government and military targets and not civil ones with the intent of sowing fear as do terrorists. Without trying to resolve the important philosophical distinction, in today’s world, if you are a non-state actor and you attack a NATO state, you’re going to be designated a terrorist. (And, I mean, Timothy McVeigh attacked a federal government building, right?)

So the key here is that the PKK, in the eyes of Turkey (and probably not without some truth), is a Kurdish terrorist organization bent on the overthrow of the Turkish government and/or an independent state for the Kurds carved out of Turkey, and the HPG is its military.

Öcalan: Where shit gets interesting.

So Öcalan a.k.a. “Apo” (“uncle” in Kurdish) is the one time leader and still spiritual leader of the PKK, and also the PYD/Rojava of northeast Syria which came later (See below.). Öcalan rapidly became Turkey’s public enemy number one. He led the PKK from exile in Syria until shit got bad with Turkey in the late ‘90s. Syria didn’t hand him over, but they kicked him out and he was nabbed in Kenya in ‘99.

In a truly profound plot twist, Turkey couldn’t black bag him because he was too famous, and they couldn’t kill him because Turkey had abolished the death penalty as a condition of their application to the EU. So what do they do? I’ll tell you what they do.

What they do was is him in his very own fuck off Cobra Commander island prison where he was the sole occupant guarded by a garrison of 1,000 soldiers. No shit. I think they eventually moved him; the whole thing was very silly.

But here’s the thing: Because of said human rights stuff that Turkey has to abide by if they want a shot at the EU, they had to give him access to lawyers, books, papers and writing tools. At this point, he began reading fucking everything. This becomes important to understanding today’s conflict as it’s molded by this education Öcalan undertook. He read beyond the older revolutionary literature on which he had made his bones and read deeply into 20th century political science and political philosophy. And he wrote.

And in this process he had a kind of Nelson Mandela turn. He came to reject his older philosophical views and politics in favor of a VERY progressive vision that he termed, “democratic confederalism.” Its fairly termed things like radical libertarian cosmopolitan eco-feminist democracy, or something equally pretentious and complicated.

But it’s cool. Basically, he rapidly came to reject ethno-separatist/nationalist states because they suck. Moreover, he realized that the experiences of the Kurdish people, in getting fucked by this system on the regular, present a powerful vehicle for understanding how and why they suck. And, he hoped, for many of the same reasons, that the Kurds could become both lens for understanding, and the incubator for, a new kind of state, one founded on the tenets of democratic confederalism.

Democratic confederalism, to oversimplify, has both a philosophical and an institutional approach:

  • Institutionally, democratic confederalism is predicated on keeping political power decentralized and as close to the people as possible to avoid the alienation, democratic unresponsiveness, and general predations attendant strong central governments.
  • Philosophically, democratic confederalism is not only dedicated to human rights, but also to feminism and environmental justice. It’s key to note, though, that these are not pursued only as goods in themselves. Rather, they are also used as a lens to evaluate a society or civilization based on the notion that, to best understand how free and just a people is, you look to how it treats its women and the world around it.

Now, he didn’t invent all these ideas, but he did expound upon them and put them together in novel ways. And they were published. He also had significant political influence with the Kurdish people which makes these writings more than just a philosophical treatise, but an actual blueprint for a government.

This project was attempted in Rojava.

Rojava: PYD/YPG/YPJ/SDF/&tc

Rojava was, until a few days ago, the name for an autonomous region in north east Syria organized by Öcalan’s Kurdish followers in Syria; the PYD (Democratic Union Party) is its dominant political party, and the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces [Note, for later, that this acronym indicates it’s in English.]) is it’s self-defense force. This proto-state began around 2013 and joined the different whatevers into confederation in 2015, during the chaos and weakened power of Assad’s government attendant the Syrian Civil War, itself an outgrowth of 2011’s Arab Spring.

Here’s a map from before the Turkish incursions beginning Oct. 9 when Assad learned the US was withdrawing, and as described in previous posts:


It was (I may fuck up my tenses in this, so please, bear with me; things are moving fast these days.) a cosmopolitan internationalist state open to anyone who was willing and able to volunteer for the work of building what they intended to be a new state carved out of Syria. And to protect it. Although the population was majority Kurd, it was not a Kurdish state.

Now things get squirrelly. In the beginning, the military wing of the project was called the YPG (People’s Protection Units) and YPJ (Women’s Protection Units, all women units who fight).

They are now internationally known as total bad asses.

YPG-The Kurds

Google them. They rock.

All of this was, of course, associated with Öcalan and therefore also the PKK; Turkey still considers all these parties to be terrorists. And they’ve been fighting with PKK in Turkey this whole time too.

The squirrelly part comes in 2015 when the US decides to support the Kurds in the fight against ISIS. The self-defense Forces were, at this time, fighting against Assad’s forces, the occasional alleged Turkish backed militia (TFSA) that may or may not exist you can’t prove anything, and fighting ISIS forces that had poured into eastern Syria to take advantage of the civil war and the cracks that creates in the nation state system to set up shop and bring about Armageddon and the Apocalypse, including the Islamic equivalent of the Christian anti-Christ who comes from the east, probably from around Iran or Turkmenistan. And Jesus. And someone named “Gog from Magog.”

(In fairness, the Kurds were doing the same thing in the eastern part of Syria. [The proto-state stuff, not the ending the world stuff.] It’s not an accident that both Rojava and ISIS arose in Syria at the same time. Same reason terrorist organizations operated out of Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen, etc. i.e. the weakness of the state makes it possible.

The problem was that their acronym salad contained all organizations that Turkey had designated as terrorist. Now, the US decided to back the Kurds in their fight against ISIS because they are really, really fucking good at it, and also because they were the group on the ground in Syria that both fought ISIS and shared our western values; SDF supported by US Special Forces and limited air strikes rapidly became dollar for dollar, pound for pound, perhaps the best fighters of ISIS we’ve seen yet except for the US Special Forces themselves… and an instructive tale, as @Gunfighter 09 and others periodically remind us, of how much shit a dedicated opposition can fuck up with just small arms and what that means for the validity of the theory of Defense from Government 2A justifications, but I digress.

Now here’s the thing: The US could only support them when they fight against ISIS units, and when they fight other Syrian oppositon units (some backed by Turkey, some not). They could not support them in fighting Turkey itself, because they are a NATO ally. And they couldn’t be a designated terrorist group. So US Army General Raymond Thomas, head of Special Operations Command, told them they had to rebrand, and so they came back the next day with “Syrian Democratic Forces”; Gen. Thomas mentioned in public remarks how cool he thought it was that they threw “Democratic” in there.


ReutersU.S. general told Syria’s YPG: ‘You have got to change your brand’

I told you it was squirrelly

And those comments really, really pissed Turkish supporters off, Gen. Thomas’s fine use of humor notwithstanding.

In fact, Turkish supporters use the comments and video as evidence that SDF/Rojava is bullshit, really, proving that SDF=YPG=PKK=terrorist as part of their “Kurds are terrorists” syllogism. This is the government’s justification for invading Syrian territory (whatever that means in a civil war) and setting up the “safe zone” buffer to protect themselves.

So that lays out all the players today and the politics around their formation, orientations, and how they are situated toward each other. Where things stand is that Rojava (This is the easiest term to denote all the militia units, political parties, etc.) and it’s SDF (which is an umbrella group of not just Kurdish units, but also international units, Assyrian Christian units, etc.), once the US started to pull out, had to cut a deal with Assad and Russia, and now SAA (Assad’s Syrian Arab Army) are deployed along the Turkish border arm in arm with the Kurds in defense against Turkish encroachment. In this way, “the Kurds” have established a military relationship with Assad, but whatever political solution will occur between them has not yet been agreed to and will be the subject of future negotiation… once they find out what Turkey is going to do subsequent to the meeting with Putin and the end of the cease-fire-not-cease-fire.

And that’s why the nomenclature in America is so fucked up when dealing with this. The problem is that the US wanted to back the Kurds in fighting ISIS, but they had to distance themselves from the PKK to do so because of the NATO alliance with Turkey. (European countries, despite some statements, are especially wary of rebuking or otherwise pissing Turkey off because Turkey holds over their heads the prospect of releasing 3 million refugees into Europe, which they sincerely do not want.) To this day, Turkish supporters refer to Rojava as PKK and SDF as YPG to emphasize the alleged terrorist roots of the whole project due to its shared genealogy through Öcalan. Rojava supporters use the Rojavan terms like SDF.

So, in a kind of lame-ass effort to wash their hands of all this, the media just throws their arms up in the air and calls them “the Kurds,” even though it should now be clear that’s quite a misnomer.

But at least then they don’t have to pick sides.

Note: I welcome correction on this. If, for example, I actually got all the acronyms right it’ll be a minor miracle.

tl;dr: Calling them “the Kurds” comes about in the mental gymnastics, which may be unintentional, to attempt to avoid taking any political position that adhere to names that have political implications for political recognition.

What’s been interesting is how much our government officials have been increasingly using the nomenclature of SDF, etc., but not Rojava, which remains unrecognized by any other state in the world and now, perhaps, will remain unrealized.

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