[Opinion] Europe loves the armed Kurds, not their civilians

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Türkmen Terzi

During the last four decades, major EU countries have become the main supporters of armed Kurdish groups in Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. The recent suffering of thousands of Kurdish civilians, among them women and children, at the border between Belarus and Poland indicates that Europe’s support is for armed Kurds only and does not extend to civilians.

News stories and images circulated worldwide demonstrate the heartbreaking situation of around 4,000 Middle Eastern migrants, mostly from Iraqi Kurdistan, who were camped out along the border with Poland. They had no access to food, clean water or shelter in the bitter winter cold. A picture of a father who was trying to warm his little boy’s fingers with his breath was especially devastating. Kurdish migrants told the media that as they waited in between the Polish and Belarusian borders, the guards restricted their movement. Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told a local radio station that the migrant crisis on the border would not be resolved quickly and that his army had to prepare to deal with it. According to reports, almost a dozen migrants died at the Polish-Belarusian frontier.

The late Turkish President Turgut Özal, whose mother was Kurdish, quite aptly summarized the European Union’s stance on Kurds. During an interview with the BBC in 1989, Özal described how 36,000 Kurdish refugees had fled the tyranny and massacres of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and gathered at the Turkish border in the hope that Özal’s government would assist them. He sought help in attempting to do so by requesting financial assistance, but human rights agencies in Europe made absolutely no effort to assist the Kurdish refugees. “If you are truly concerned about the Kurdish issue, why did you not then accept its people. I requested that they take at least half of those Kurdish refugees, but they [the Europeans] were unwilling to accept even a single Kurdish refugee,” Özal said, expressing deep disappointment with the European states.

Three decades on, little has changed for the Kurdish people. Several media reports indicate that most of the Kurds at Poland’s border were from the northern Iraqi Kurdish region and left their homes as a result of Turkey’s ongoing bombardment of militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the area.

Turkey has increased its cross-border operations in northern Iraq in recent years to target PKK militants. Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Security Council officials have called on Turkey to stop its attacks and have also called on the PKK to leave the region. The council stated that Iraqi Kurds who migrated to Belarus were used by the terrorist PKK and human traffickers to defame KRG rule internationally.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of the Barzani clan and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of the Talabani family have controlled the Kurdish region of northern Iraq since having received autonomy from Saddam’s regime three decades ago. The Kurdish region is home to rich oil reserves, and the Barzani family has received increasing criticism over reports that oil revenues go to the Barzani clan instead of to the people. Thus, an increasing number of desperate citizens are considering the option of leaving home for a better life in Europe.

The Jerusalem Post reported this week that up to 60 percent of those who were going to Belarus were people who lived in Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk, targets of the Turkish bombardment. These Kurdish migrants were stranded in Belarus on the border with Poland and were left increasingly vulnerable as a result of the rising tension between the Belarus-Russia bloc and the European Union. Media reports have cited corruption, nepotism, injustice and failed judicial institutions as other reasons for people leaving Iraq and Syria; however, Turkey’s attacks on the PKK and Iran’s operations against Kurdish dissidents in the city of Sulaymaniyah together with sectarian militia conflict in Iraq are major contributing factors for people leaving their homes.

It has become clear that Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish civilians were victims in a political struggle between the Belarus-Russia bloc and the EU. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has strong ties to Belarus’s autocratic President Aleksandr Lukashenko, has become a part of this Kurdish migrant game as Ankara recently bombed northern Iraq and Turkish Airlines carried many Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni nationals to Minsk.

The government of Poland accused Lukashenko’s regime of intentionally luring Middle Eastern migrants to the Polish border, while Brussels says Belarus issued tourist visas to migrants to create a migrant crisis within the EU.

To prevent the arrival of any more Middle Eastern nationals at Poland’s border, the European Commission came to an agreement with several airlines including Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad and Egypt Air. According to commission spokesman for transport Stefan de Keersmaecker, following the intervention by the commission Turkey last Friday stopped selling tickets to Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni nationals wanting to fly to Belarus, and these airlines condemned any form of “human trafficking.”

EU countries supported armed Kurdish groups against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq. France’s President Emmanuel Macron recently hosted the head of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), Ilham Ahmed. The SDC is the political wing of the People’s Defense Units (YPG). PKK veterans formed the YPG, and the group declared an autonomous administration in north and east Syria in March 2016. The EU lists the PKK as a terrorist organization while ignoring the PKK’s Syria branch, the YPG. The PKK is very active in Germany, and the group is said to have approximately 25,000 of its members residing in the country with Europe’s largest economy.

European countries hold in high regard the Barzani and Talabani clans as well as armed Kurdish groups such as the PKK and YPG while neglecting Kurdish civilians. Thousands of Kurds who attempted to flee Turkish bombardment, Western-backed autocratic Kurdish rulers and Kurdish armed groups died at the doorstep of Europe. The EU has time and time again demonstrated its lack of concern and mercy for ordinary Kurds but does not hesitate to arm Kurdish militias against Turkey, Iran and Iraq to establish a greater degree of control in the region.

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