It is thirty years ago this month that the first foundations were laid for the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. After the Kurdish uprising in Iraq of 1991, a no fly zone was established in the north to protect the Kurds against Saddam Hussein’s brutality. A year later, the first regional elections could be held. During the commemorations, western allies of the Kurds have been honoured, particularly John Major, who has a street named after him now in the historical heart of Erbil.
Will there be public spaces named after current European government leaders because they helped out Kurds who are suffering under dictators now? I don’t think so.
John Major was the Prime Minister of the UK thirty years ago. Saddam Hussein had just completed the Anfal Campaign, in which tens of thousands of Kurds were murdered (often with chemical weapons, like in Halabja in 1988) and many mountain villages emptied. In 1991, the Kurds rose up, encouraged by both the weakened position of Hussein after the Iran-Iraq war and the First Gulf War, and the calls from, among others, the US to the people of Iraq to topple the dictator. Major pushed for a No Fly Zone in the north (and one in the south to protect Shia populations) to save the Kurds from Hussein’s retaliation. The French Mitterrand couple, especially Danielle, played a role as well. The graditude of the Kurds is eternal, and indeed there is little doubt that the No Fly Zone saved a lot of lives.
With this history, it is no surprise that many Kurds call on Western nations to help them in times of need – which is continuously. When I reported in Bakur (Kurdistan occupied by Turkey) people so often asked me, almost desperately, why ‘Europe’ didn’t do anything to stop the Turkish state from suppressing them, killing them, torturing them. I remember once when a demonstration was attacked with teargas and we ran away into Amed’s (Diyarbakır) backstreets, and we weren’t even done coughing and crying our eyes out yet when a man asked me: “Where is Europe?”
Europe, I had to inform him, likes to talk about human rights but their non-action speaks louder than words. Getting a UN resolution against Saddam Hussein accepted and a proposal for a No Fly Zone was easy, because it concerned a dictator who had nothing to offer to Europe. With Erdoğan, that is different. Erdoğan stops refugees. Turkey has a huge, young population that is interesting for European economies. Turkey is a member of NATO and the EU. Turkey buys European military equipment and weapons.
But there is more to it. In the beginning of this year, the Dutch government resigned because of a huge scandal at the tax authorities. A Kurdish journalist contacted me about it, because he found it so inspiring that the Dutch government took responsibility for its actions. While that is, actually, not at all what happened. The racism that was part of the scandal (mainly people with a migration background were targeted) had not even been part of the official investigation. And elections were scheduled anyway, and the incumbent PM, Mark Rutte, didn’t resign as party leader and went on to win the elections. He knew that would happen because the average Dutch voter doesn’t care so much about racism. Taking responsibility? No, a cynical political game of which the victims of the tax authority’s racist policies suffered the most.
What that has to do with Kurdistan? Well, non-white lives don’t matter. That’s you, Kurds. You don’t matter. Muslim lives don’t matter – that also most of you. Not even when they are Europe’s own citizens, let alone when they live far away. And when you want to come to Europe because you see no way to build a future in Kurdistan, or because your life is in danger because of Erdogan’s brutality in both North and West Kurdistan (in Turkey and in Syria), Europe prefers you to drown in the Meditterranean or to suffer endlessly in Greece’s or the Balkan’s hellish camps. Europe wants its richess all for itself – its white self.
A No Fly Zone above North, West and South Kurdistan is long overdue. Decades, if you ask me. What is really the difference between Saddam’s genocidal tendencies and those of Erdoğan? Isn’t Erdoğan bombing Kurdish civilians and the Kurdish armed resistance like Saddam did? Doesn’t Turkey destroy Kurdish towns and villages like Saddam did? Doesn’t Turkey jail Kurdish leaders and activists, like Saddam did? Doesn’t Turkey suppress the Kurds’ aspirations for autonomy, like Saddam did? All yes, and for a much longer period already than Saddam Hussein ever could.
Stop expecting any help from any European leader. They are your supressor’s willing allies. At no point in the future will you feel any need to ceremoniously open a Rutte Road in Diyarbakır or Merkel Square in Afrin, or name a valley after Macron in the Qandil mountain range.
That’s a guarantee.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.