It’s quite a balancing act that Turkey is carrying out now, not being in the position to antagonise Putin too much but also wanting to support Ukraine. His current choices may be welcomed in the NATO and pull Turkey back into the alliance, but it would be a mistake not to see that Putin and Erdoğan have the same mindset, and the same longing to ‘correct historical wrongs’.
Shall we also keep the victims of this in mind, and how they are perceived differently in Europe?
Many people have pointed out the hyper-hypocrisy going on around Putin’s attack on Ukraine and his will to occupy the country. Hypocrisy of Erdoğan speaking out in favour of Ukraine while he is bombing Kurdistan and occupying parts of South- and West-Kurdistan, and the whole of North-Kurdistan, for that matter. Hypocrisy of western countries, who themselves started an illegal war in Iraq of which the effects still rumble throughout the country today. Or, somewhat further back, western countries that fought colonialist wars against liberation movements in the countries they occupied. And has the US forgotten the Vietnam war? So many examples.
It is good that the EU reacts strongly against Putin’s brutality and the widespread attention for the attack against Ukraine in the media is nothing more than welcome. It would be lazy though, to not reflect on the system of power in which this attention is all rooted. The more proximity you have to power as a nation, the more the west, dominated by whiteness, will stand up for you. Ukraine is a clear example. Not only does the country want to join the EU and NATO, it’s population is also overwhelmingly white and christian, it’s situated in Europe. This helps to get sympathy not only in government circles, but among populations in western and central-European countries too.
When it comes to the Kurds, this leads to an interesting dynamic. Kurds have no proximity to power, but have gained that the last decade or so during their fight against ISIS, in which they showed themselves fierce fighters. Well, not being fierce fighters was what made white westerners support them to a certain extend, but their perceived secularism, or, let’s phrase that differently: their perceived non-religiousness, better yet: their perceived rejection of Islam. It’s a huge misperception because many Kurds are deeply religious and their communities are shaped by it, but western audiences often applauded Kurds for being ‘pro-Western’ and ‘secular’. A part of the Kurdish identity is secular in the sense that they don’t want to live in a caliphate but prefer religious freedom, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t religious. And the troops that fought so fiercely that they won the sympathy of many in Europe, the YPG and YPJ and later SDF, are actually anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, so not ‘pro-Western’ at all. But they support western values, you said? Which western values? The ones that are responsible for the genocide of the indigenous people in the Americas? The ones that set up the transatlantic slave trade? The ones that colonised much of the global south and continue to do that economically? The ones that masterminded and carried out the Holocaust? The ones that lets people drown by the thousands in the Mediterranean Sea and freeze at the borders when they run away from the land ravaged by the west? Those values? Kurds are proud to have their own values.
Okay, let me catch my breath.
In the western power dynamic, Kurdistan just doesn’t matter at all. It doesn’t even exist, formally. Turkey does. And it’s important to NATO now for a variety of reasons, but it is crucial to see that Turkey is working on exactly the same project in its vicinity as Putin does in his. Both are longing to restore the lost glory of the old times. They both claim that their attacks and occupations aren’t born out of imperialism but are historically justified. Both claim that the people they suppress are actually their brothers, and that brotherhood is obligatory and those who reject it, must die. If the EU is serious about stopping Putin, they will have to stop Erdoğan too. They will have to see that their strong reaction now may be coming from real concern, but if this real concern is only about themselves and not about everybody, their ‘concern’ will boomerang them right in the face one day.
Europe will have to face its system based on white supremacy, it will have to decolonise, or standing up to brutality remains void in the wider context.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.