July 1, 2016
The ancient Prophet Ezekiel said the Lord plunked him down in a valley “full of dry bones” and asked him, “Can these bones live?”
If the dry bones of dead Syrian dictator Hafiz al-Assad could live, they would surely be shouting at his son above the din of the shocking suicidal attacks at Istanbul airport.
They have a lot to shout about—going back many years.
All the way back to the turbulent 70s, when the United States had taken a licking in Vietnam and socialism seemed to be the unstoppable wave of the future.
That was also when Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish rebel leader, sought refuge in Syria, and Hafiz al-Assad welcomed him with open arms—and gave him a safe haven to wage war against neighboring Turkey.
Armed with Das Kapital and AK 47s, the Kurdish leader unleashed a war of liberation and whirled the Kurdish Question into the top issue in Ankara.
Successive Turkish leaders bitterly resented Syria for giving Ocalan free rein to poke hellish thorns in their country’s soft underbelly.
Then when rising socialism took a dramatic nosedive in Nicaragua, Afghanistan and Poland, it paved the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall and the implosion of the Soviet Union.
With Russia in the doldrums, Ankara seized the moment to threaten Syria—a client of Moscow—with an invasion unless Mr. Ocalan was handed a pink slip.
He was, and was forced to leave Syria. Then, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) trapped Mr. Ocalan in Kenya and handed him over to Turkey as a belated Christmas present, courtesy of President Clinton.
The Turks don’t like to be associated with CIA and when a reporter asked the Turkish prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, how his government had captured the Kurdish leader, he answered with a Turkish proverb:
“Enjoy your grapes; don’t bother with the proprietor of the vineyard!”
The Ocalan grapes didn’t turn out to be very sweet, even though he has gone overboard to accommodate the Turks, who think they can “solve” the Kurdish Question without the mustachioed leader.
So with Mr. Ocalan counting his decades in jail, the Turks got a chance to engage in a bit of payback with Damascus when the Arab Spring finally scorched Syria’s borders.
The Turks didn’t arm the Kurds to fight Damascus—now ruled by Bashar al-Assad, the son of Mr. Ocalan’s patron—but equipped an array of Islamic groups that have metastasized into the likes of Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra.
If it were up to Ankara, the Kurds would have joined these groups and toppled the ruler of Damascus nevertheless.
But the Kurds didn’t want to be “the wood in someone else’s fire,” as a Kurdish expatriate put it to me when I asked him why weren’t they fighting their tormentor-in-chief.
They are holding on to their blood soaked gains and hoping for a weak central government that will respect their autonomy and grant them a federal status similar to what their brethren enjoy in Iraq.
Turkey has accepted the constitutional status of the Kurds in Iraq and has invested heavily in their infrastructure, but it remains implacably opposed to the Kurds acquiring any such status in Syria.
In fact, the Kurds of Syria have become the most vexing issue between Ankara and Washington.
Turkey denounces Kurds as “terrorists,” but America hails them as the most effective ground forces against the Islamic State.
Normally, the United States and the libertarian Kurds of Syria would have nothing in common, but the political quicksand of Middle Eastern politics has forced them watch each other’s back.
In 2014, a high ranking Turkish civil servant in Sanliurfa bordering Islamic State told a journalist, Ahu Ozyurt: “ISIL are like us, fighting against seven great powers, as we did in our war of Independence.”
Another one added, “Rather than the Kurds, I would rather have ISIL as a neighbor.”
He might want to rethink that.
His desired neighbor just blew up the Istanbul airport on Tuesday, murdering at least 44 travellers—with the death toll still rising.
The United States would do well to reflect on Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
America’s future safety and security requires the less-taken road, siding wholeheartedly with the Kurds while keeping a wary eye on the Turks.
My liberal friends may scream: “That’s as outlandish as Donald Trump.”
President Roosevelt collaborated with Stalin, and Churchill praised the exploits of Tito’s partisans.
Kurds are providing that same helpful alliance today.
That should be America’s yardstick to distinguish friends from foe.
After all, isn’t the enemy of my enemy my friend?
Kani Xulam—on Twitter @AKINinfo