By Jack Barnes, the Militant,
Vol. 63, no 9, 8 March 1999

The following selection on the Kurdish struggle for national self-determination is excerpted from The Opening Guns of World War III: Washington's Assault on Iraq, the lead article in issue no. 7 of the Marxist magazine New International. The article is based on a talk given by Socialist Workers Party national secretary Jack Barnes on March 30, 1991, just weeks after the U.S.-organized slaughter of the Gulf war in Iraq. It is copyright (c) 1991 by 408 Printing and Publishing Corp. Reprinted by permission.
The U.S. rulers' military victory put an international spotlight on another unresolved fight for national self- determination in the region - that of the Kurdish people. Prior to the Gulf war the Kurdish struggle had largely been in retreat, having been dealt repeated defeats over the past half century by the Iraqi, Turkish, Iranian, and Syrian ruling classes, with the complicity of Washington, London, Paris, and Moscow. The consequences of the Gulf war have now posed Kurdish national self-determination more sharply than at any time since the close of World War II and the years just after the 1958 revolution that overthrew the monarchy in Iraq.
Some twenty million to thirty million Kurds are divided between southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria, northern Iraq, and northwestern Iran, as well as a small region in the southern part of the USSR. An independent Kurdish republic came into existence in northern Iran after the establishment of a workers' and peasants' government in neighboring Azerbaijan in December 1945.(1)
Although the Kurdish republic was crushed by the Iranian monarchy a year later, the Kurds continued their struggle during the decades that followed. The U.S. rulers have alternately doled out aid with an eyedropper to Kurdish nationalist groups, and then abruptly cut off this backing, depending on Washington's shifting relations with regimes in the area, especially Baghdad and Tehran.
The Kurdish people took advantage of the weakening of the Saddam Hussein regime as a result of the war to press forward their struggle once again, holding many villages and towns - including the major city of Kirkuk - for a week or more in March. Baghdad used helicopter gunships and heavy armor to crush the Kurdish rebellion with ruthless brutality, causing two million or more Kurdish refugees to attempt to cross the Turkish and Iranian borders.
As we discuss here today, the U.S. and European imperialist powers have declared a temporary refugee enclave for the Kurds north of the thirty-sixth parallel in northern Iraq near the Turkish border. Washington is sending troops, Special Forces units, into northern Iraq to function as what amounts to little more than a police force for Saddam Hussein. Along with Turkish soldiers, the U.S. troops are forcing the refugees out of Turkey and off nearby mountains into ill- provisioned and barren transit camps. Washington's aim is to push the Kurds back to the towns and villages from which they fled.
At best, this enclave will be the temporary equivalent of an Indian reservation in the United States or one of the many blocked-off areas near Israel's borders containing Palestinian refugee camps. The imperialists share a common interest with the capitalist regimes in Baghdad, Ankara, Damascus, and Tehran in ensuring that such a haven for the Kurds is short- lived. All of them know that any more-or-less-permanent Kurdish area can only breed aspirations for more land that is justly theirs, as well as potential intifadas among young generations of Kurdish fighters. Bush will have nightmares about setting up a very large reservation, nightmares about a modern-day Geronimo leading a new breakout.(2)
This is another of the unresolved and uncontrollable social forces in the Gulf that has been unleashed, rather than contained, by the results of Washington's war against Iraq.
As we continue campaigning against imperialism and war today, we must call not only for All foreign troops out of Iraq! but also Open the U.S. borders! - to the Kurdish people and to all Iraqi and Kuwaiti refugees fleeing the Baghdad regime and the al-Sabah monarchy.
For the ruling class in Turkey, which joined Washington in the war against Iraq in hopes of winning trade favors and military aid and hardware, the results so far - nearly one million refugees pounding at its borders -are nothing short of a catastrophe. (The Turkish regime is also suffering major economic blows from honoring the continuing blockade, which shuts off Turkey's oil pipeline with Iraq and the resulting flow of funds into the state treasury.) These events have brought to greater world attention once again the Turkish rulers' own suppression of the Kurdish people, until recently legally denied the right even to speak their own language in Turkey - and they are still denied the right to read, write, or be educated in Kurdish.
Above all, the Kurdish people have come to the center stage in world politics as never before, not primarily as victims, but as courageous and determined fighters for national rights....
The U.S. rulers did not anticipate the scope of the rebellions by Kurds and other oppressed toilers in Iraq, nor the bloody suppression unleashed by Saddam Hussein and its embarrassing media results at home. But the most important point is that such matters were never part of Washington's calculations one way or the other. The U.S. rulers have no interest in the national rights of the Kurds. The depth of the national pride and determination of the Kurdish people - like that of the Palestinians and other fighting peoples - is a mystery to them; it will always catch them by surprise. To the contrary, Washington's interest is in forging stronger ties of imperialist domination with a subjugated Iraqi government and with other historic butchers of the Kurds: the Turkish government, the Syrian government, and, to the degree possible, the Iranian government.
1. The Kurdish regime held power for nearly a year. When the Iranian monarchy moved to crush the two governments and reoccupy the areas in December 1946, the Soviet government opposed the resistance efforts by the Azerbaijani and Kurdish peoples. This led to a split in the Azerbaijani leadership, with the majority following Stalin's dictate and calling off armed resistance. The Stalinist leadership in Azerbaijan capitulated without a struggle. The fall of the Azerbaijani government quickly led to the fall of the Kurdish republic. Kurdish forces, however, organized a fighting retreat.
The retreat was organized by Mustapha Barzani, the military commander of the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad, who had earlier led Kurds from Iraq to join the republic in northern Iran led by Ghazi Muhammad. Fighting the shah's army, they crossed the border into Iraq, where they came under attack by the armed forces of the Iraqi monarchy backed by British imperialism. Barzani then led his forces in a fighting retreat through Turkey and Iran into the Soviet Union. They remained there until the overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy in the July 1958 revolution when they returned to Iraqi Kurdistan and continued the struggle for self-determination.
2. Geronimo, an Apache warrior, was an outstanding leader of the struggle by the American Indian peoples against the U.S. government's genocidal policies and dispossession of Indian lands and rights. In May 1885 he and his followers broke out of the San Carlos reservation in Arizona, where they had been driven by U.S. government forces. They then went to Mexico, where they were ultimately pursued by five thousand U.S. soldiers, a force equivalent to nearly one-third of the U.S. army's combat strength, as well as thousands of Mexican army troops. Geronimo and a few dozen followers finally surrendered in September 1886. The entire band was then deported to Fort Marion, Florida.
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