Washington Kurdish Institute
January 1, 2018
In 2017, the Kurds, in all parts of Kurdistan, continued to be targeted, oppressed, and attacked by authoritarian regimes and terror groups. Similar to past years, 2017 was yet another bloody year for the Kurdish people, as the U.S. administration and the international community chose the path of silence and inaction towards the atrocities committed against the Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.
In Iran, the authoritarian Islamist regime continued its policies of execution, imprisonment, and oppression. Over the past year, Iranian border guards have shot and killed tens of Kurdish porters who work on the border of Iraqi Kurdistan and Iranian Kurdistan transferring goods for businessmen in Tehran. Because of the high unemployment in these Kurdish areas, these porters (known as (Kolbers) are forced to abandon their college degrees and education and opt for border smuggling in order to provide for themselves and their families. Almost everyday, these workers must dodge the bullets and guns of the Iranian regime’s border guards — they are often times killed. In September of 2017, after Iranian border guards killed two Kolbers, thousands of Kurds in several cities in Iran took to the streets to protest the murders. The Iranian regime reacted in brutal fashion, detaining tens of Kurdish activists and protesters. The regime deployed its so-called “Revolutionary Guards” in these cities to attack and detain these peaceful demonstrators.
In addition to these protesters, the Iranian regime continues to imprison hundreds of other political prisoners. The regime not only detains these Kurdish prisoners under inhumane conditions but also tortures many of them. These Kurdish prisoners are often detained for being members of political parties that reject the tyrannical Islamist regime currently ruling Iran. In many cases these political prisoners end up executed in public by crane trucks.
The Iranian regime also discriminates against Kurds in many other ways, including lack of funding and services during natural disasters. On November 12, 2017 a deadly earthquake hit the Kurdish areas in Iran; more than 456 people lost their lives in Kermanshah province. Hundreds of homes were destroyed while ten of thousands of people were displaced. The regime’s humanitarian aid was very limited in the Kurdish areas, leaving residents to beg for food and other assistance on social media. The regime response to these pleas to the outside for assistance was to arrest many of these individuals looking for help.
In Iraq, after years of fighting against the terror group ISIS and cooperating with the Iraqi army to liberate Mosul province from ISIS control, the Kurds faced an offensive from pro-Iranian sectarian militias. This offensive, initiated by the Iraqi government, was in response to the Kurdistan region of Iraq holding an independence referendum. The attack took place on October 16 and focused on Kirkuk province and other disputed territories — with most of these pro-Iranian militias possessing U.S.-made weapons that the Iraqi government received from the U.S. Dozens of Peshmerga forces were killed and thousands of Kurds and their families were displaced. Once the Iraqi government gained control of these areas, it once again began engaging in familiar tactics from the Saddam era, “Arabizing” Kurdish areas by pushing Kurdish residents out (especially in the town of Tuz Khurmatu). This Arabization campaign started before the military offensive, when the elected Kurdish governor of Kirkuk was sacked from his position and replaced with an Arab official. The Iraqi government, led by Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi, has also stopped providing the Kurdistan region with its fair share of the national budget, thus depriving thousands of Kurds of their salaries and livelihood.
In Syria, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) liberated Raqqa Province from ISIS in a military operation called “Wrath of Euphrates”. Before its liberation, Raqqa served as the so-called Islamic State’s capital, housing thousands of fighters. Backed by the U.S.-led coalition, the Wrath of Euphrates liberation campaign took about a year, involving four phases, to clear the entire province of the terrorist organization. Hundreds of Kurdish youths in the ranks of the People’s Defense Units (YPG) have died during the fight against ISIS this past year.
In 2017, the Kurds of Syria continued the development and promotion of their federal system in northern Syria: a multi-ethnic, secular, democratic political system that emphasizes decentralization of power. The Northern Syrian Federation held two rounds of elections to determine local representatives. The third round will be held in January 2018 to determine new members of the Democratic People’s Conference (Parliament).
Despite these military and political achievements, the international community deprived the Syrian Kurds of participation in any of the important peace talks over the future of Syria, such as the ones held in Geneva and Astana. This rejection was undertaken in an attempt to appease Turkey, which labels the Syrian Kurds as terrorists who have no place in a future Syria. Yet it is Turkey who has violated human rights and promoted terrorist groups in Syria. For instance, Turkey’s military has encroached on and attacked Kurdish territory in Syria dozens of times, even bombing the city of Afrin.
In 2017, the Kurdish-held territories have also hosted more Internally Displaced People (IDP), mostly fleeing from the violence of both ISIS and the Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad regime. And yet Assad has called the SDF traitors for cooperating with the U.S.-led international coalition to fight ISIS.
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continued his oppressive policies against the Kurds. The failed coup attempt against Erdogan in 2016 gave the authoritarian ruler the pretext to crackdown on all opposition, and in 2017, the same anti-democratic, illiberal campaign continued. For example, ten lawmakers from the Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) remain imprisoned, including HDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtas. Turkish authorities also banned Demirtas from attending his own hearing, which wasn’t held until 13 months after his initial detention. The Turkish government also detained hundreds more HDP members in 2017 throughout many provinces of the country.
On April 16, 2017 Erdogan granted himself more power after a corruptly run, unfair referendum on constitutional changes in Turkey. The results of the referendum, which was opposed by most Kurds, gave Erdogan more authority to expand his power. With these new powers, Erdogan shut down Kurdish media outlets and imposed curfews and military occupation in Kurdish cities and towns.
Much like in the past century, the Iranian and Turkish regimes’ animosity against the Kurds was not confined to their nation’s artificial borders but rather expanded across the region. So, when the Iraqi Kurdistan region held an independence referendum, the two powers allied with the pro-Iran Iraqi government to target the Kurdistan region of Iraq both militarily and economically. Both Iran and Turkey closed their borders with the Kurdistan region and imposed an embargo. They also signed military agreements against the Kurdistan region.
Today the Kurdish people in Iran are rising up against the brutal regime that has oppressed millions of people for decades as the international community merely talks tough towards Iran without following through with substantive action.
In Iraq, the Kurds have expressed a willingness to cooperate with the Iraqi government, even going so far as to freeze the referendum results. Yet Baghdad still isn’t willing to give the Kurds their basic rights — rights recognized even under previous Iraqi governments.
In Syria, Kurdish-led forces continue to liberate territory from ISIS control, such as in Deir Ez Zour, while the U.S.-led coalition remains silent about attacks by Turkey and its proxies against the SDF in Afrin. Meanwhile, the Kurdish experiment in democratic confederalism in Northern Syria will grow and evolve more in 2018 after its final round of elections, but it still awaits official recognition from the international community.
In Turkey, the Kurds continue to call for peace and demand their basic rights, while Erdogan spreads his fascist, anti-Kurdish rhetoric to win over voters’ trust in the upcoming elections
In all parts of Kurdistan, the Kurds are hopeful that 2018 will be a peaceful year for them and the region but in light of the continued existence of and threat from the dictatorships and brutal regimes all around them, that hope remains a wishful one.