Are Middle Eastern countries responsible for ISIS?


The following text was originally written for a public meeting with Daniele Pepino, author of "Kurdistan. In the Eye of the Cyclone" (in Nunatak No. 35, summer 2014), which took place in Bologna at the beginning of September 2014. Since we could not attend the meeting, we finally changed the original draft; the result of this can be read either as a series of concise notes on this article or as a stand-alone text.

"Kurdistan. In the Eye of the Cyclone" gives a clear picture of the political forces acting in the Kurdish region; but the article raises a number of questions which we would like to address. The author goes far beyond an appreciation of the intervention of the PKK militias in support of the Yazidis in northern Iraq, who are threatened by IS, it is a true eulogy for this organization and its alleged “libertarian” turnaround (the so-called democratic confederalism). In addition, the absence of any analysis of social forces and classes, of which the various organizations are an expression, represents their work as a product of simple subjective decisions of indefinite individuals. And finally, some questions, from the financing of the PKK to the network of alliances, which in a definition of the Middle East must at least go into it, treated too negligently. Of course, one would have to write several books to deal with all of these points in depth; the following notes remain at the drafting stage. In this way, however, we can shed a different light on both the recent development of the “Kurdish question” and the once again emerging conflicts in the Middle East. If this is to be of any use to us or to others, it lies in the fact, not the question of autonomy (whatever that means), but that of the communism to deliver.

The Kurdish question: a historical digression

The emergence of a specifically “Kurdish question” towards the end of the First World War is part of the chaotic process of the formation of nation states in the Near and Middle East. The formation of a modern nation state implies that the borders of an administrative state with those of a single national population coincide. Multinational states are usually problematic or exceptional cases. The nation-state, i.e. the state of capital, is mononational, because in the relationship between the individual and the state, loyalty to intermediate communities cannot be tolerated - state and nation must coincide. This process is not something “natural”, it is a process of homogenization that involves any kind of Tinkering and can take advantage of both forms of soft assimilation and the most brutal ethnic cleansing. It is true that the populationpuzzle in Western Europe was less of an obstacle than in the Balkans or the Middle East, the reason for this lies less in the greater or lesser complexity or unsolvability of the puzzle itself, but rather in the fact that the formation of nation states is under the impetus of endogenous capitalist development realized and made possible through a precise sequence of previous modes of production, while in the Balkans and the Middle East it resulted from a development of capitalism elsewhere and the resulting intercapitalist rivalries. The fragmentation of the Ottoman Empire, or rather its division between the victorious powers Great Britain and France, led on the one hand to the establishment of Iraq and Syria under the respective mandates and on the other hand to that of Turkey through the rise of the nationalist movement of Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk). The latter was immediately confronted with the multinational character of the future Turkish state (Turks, Kurds, Greeks of Anatolia), although the situation had already been "simplified" by the extermination of the Armenians by the Young Turks in 1915-16 (1.2 million deaths). As far as the Kurds are concerned, the Treaty of Sèvres (August 10, 1920) guaranteed the possibility of creating a small, independent Kurdistan, provided that this corresponds to the collective will of the Kurdish people and that an Armenian state emerges in certain Eastern Anatolian provinces . These conditions were rejected by tribal leaders and sheikhs (landowners) because the territory of the proposed Kurdish state was small compared to the regions actually populated by Kurds and would have become even smaller with the emergence of an Armenian state. An embryonic Kurdish nationalism then tried to join the Kemalists, but after their consolidation their response was the suppression of the Kurdish deviation together with the Marxist element in Koçgiri (1921) and finally the imposition of a revision of the Sèvres Agreement concluded three years earlier Treaty of Lausanne (1923), which determined the borders of today's Turkey and thereby also left southern Kurdistan to the British mandate.

The history of the Kurdish movement consists of two significant periods: the first, from 1919 to 1990, with a sharp break in 1946 (Republic of Mahabad), is the nationalist period in and of itself; the second, from 1990 to today, is what we want to call the “crisis of nationalism” after Hamit Bozarslan. Even if less pronounced than in the rest of the Middle East, these historical turns follow the sequence within the Kurdish settlement area of ​​three different fractions of the bourgeoisie in the leading position of society: the rural bourgeoisie, the intellectual petty bourgeoisie and the oil bourgeoisie. The first period - which was marked by the hegemony of the rural bourgeoisie - was characterized by a series of violent excesses. In Iranian Kurdistan, the Shikak tribal confederation - which was first supported by the Kemalists and then fought against - led the surveys from 1919 to 1930. In Iraq, Sheikh Mahmoud Barzandji - the self-proclaimed King of Kurdistan - was the first to lead the movement, followed by the Barzani family. In Turkey there were 18 uprisings in less than 15 years (1927-1930 in Ararat, 1936-1938 in Dersim). The Syrian Kurds participated in most of these revolts. The last important event of this period was the proclamation of an autonomous republic in Iran on January 22, 1946 in a room opened by the Soviet occupation of part of the country. The Republic of Mahabad was unable to mobilize the entirety of the Iranian Kurds, divided by tribal conflicts (although many Kurds from Turkey and Iraq rushed to their defense) and was defeated on December 15, 1946 by the Iranian army with the execution of President Mohammed liquidated. Mustafa Barzani's DPK peshmerga, who rushed to support the republic from Iraq, fled to the USSR and stayed there until 1958.

These uprisings were everywhere accused of plotting with foreign powers, often across borders, and were jointly suppressed by the countries concerned:

Neither of them [the respective nascent national bourgeoisie in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq] had the slightest scruple about getting the dirty work done completely. The first of these, which made a name for itself with violent repression against the Kurds, was the “progressive” Turkish bourgeoisie, led by Kemal Ataturk, about whom the Third International perhaps [sic!] Once had exaggerated illusions. [...] Through pacification campaigns, in which the Turkish government was actively supported by France (especially in 1925), it reduced the Kurds to “mountain Turks” and restricted Kurdistan to the eastern region of Turkey. The Arab-Iraqi bourgeoisie, which had begun and continued the imposed Arabization of the oil-rich region around Kirkuk, first with British help (1943-1945) and later with the exclusively military support of the USSR (1961-1975), put down a widespread guerrilla war . The Iranian bourgeoisie, which, even under the false revolutionary Dr. Mossadegh, never acknowledging the existence of a national Kurdish question in Iran, was not only characterized by uninterrupted repression and, in certain regions, by the application of the “Final Solution” against Iranian Kurdistan, but also by an active partnership in the repression against the uprisings of the Turkish people Kurds (1930), as well as the dirty cynicism with which they, together with the CIA and Kissinger, “supported” the Iraqi Kurds in 1975. Finally, the Syrian bourgeoisie, the most progressive of all (as the Palestinian refugees in the Damascus camps know), despite the absence of any real internal "Kurdish threat", drove 140,000 poor Kurdish peasants from their original territory to replace them with Arab populations , and routinely used administrative arbitrariness, police raids, retaliatory layoffs and other inventions of progress against the Kurds. "[1]

The period from 1946 to 1958 is known as the "Era of Silence". Apart from a few locally isolated riots and the election success of the local DPK (80% of the vote) in Iran under Mossadegh, the Kurdish movement appeared to be over. Even so, the violence of the repression is insufficient as an explanation. Rather, the 1950s marked the beginning of a massive exodus from rural regions, particularly in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, where the cities of Diyarbakir, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah exceeded the threshold of 100,000 inhabitants. The intensification of transport networks and education in Turkish Kurdistan - triggered by the development of Turkish industry - resulted in a petty bourgeoisie consisting primarily of teachers and members of the liberal professions, but also of self-taught craftsmen. Many young people from poor families were able to go to university. This small educated middle class - which was educated in western Turkey, Istanbul and Ankara, the only university towns in the country in the 1950s - will revitalize Kurdish nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s - beginning with the first coup in Turkey 1960 - and give the movement a more pronounced national and popular character:

The left patriots managed to mobilize the masses. Its success depended on the ability to “benefit from certain economic difficulties” and to emphasize certain inequalities (the underdevelopment of the East, the inadequacy of the grants approved in the five-year plan). It was also linked to her ability to ally with those who have been affected by the expropriation of agricultural land for the benefit of the oil industry in the Batman area. They also defended the workers and peasants of the region who were demanding employment in the oil industry. They became the advocates of the landless peasants and mostly rural populations who fell victim to the violence of the special forces of the army. [2]

The so-called "Generation of 1949"

The Turkish coup on March 12, 1971 provoked a violent reaction, which was also a consequence of the economic situation. It was "the years of ungovernability" during which a number of governments were unable to control the situation until the renewed military coup in 1980. A number of illegal Kurdish organizations emerged during this phase. Their social composition was practically the same as immediately before this period: students and members of the liberal professions. But the average age of those involved was lower and political affiliation turned towards Marxism-Leninism, which was very fashionable among European intellectuals at the time. After the general amnesty on April 26, 1974, the Kurds who had been arrested for political crimes after the 1971 coup were freed and those who had fled abroad were able to return. Formations such as the PSKT (Socialist Party of Turkish Kurdistan - which aims at an autonomous Kurdistan within a socialist Turkey) and the PKK (Kurdish Workers' Party, separatist) emerged at this point in time. The then established Kurdish organizations clashed violently and none except the PKK and (to a lesser extent) the PSKT survived the subsequent coup in 1980.

Originally the PKK was little more than a cult of very young students, inspired by an extremely vague Marxism and above all by the personality of Abdullah Öcalan (from the "generation of 1949"). The class character implied by the name of the organization remained purely verbal or limited to an endeavor. A proto-party structure already existed in 1974, but the party was not officially founded until 1978. She appealed to the liberation of Kurdistan from a “Turkish colonialism supported by imperialism outside and by compradors within”. Traditional leaders and "feudal" Kurds (i.e. the rural bourgeoisie) were identified as "a central obstacle to national Kurdish development" [3]. The PKK followed the pattern of similarly oriented (Marxist-Leninist, Guevarist, Maoist, etc.) organizations which, luckily or not, had proliferated in Latin America, Asia and Africa by then, but it was a somewhat late appearance because they were already there in free fall, especially in the Near and Middle East: “The clear defeat of the Arab armies against Israel is undoubtedly the central event that finally interrupted the series of successes of revolutionary Arab nationalism and put an end to the anti-imperialist unity whose vanguard the Nasser Egypt [as a state] after the nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956. ”[4] Although this deficit increased in importance over time, it was not obvious from the start. At the beginning, in 1978, the organization was strong enough to declare a "revolutionary war on feudalism". At this point in time their actions consisted in the beginning of the (attempted or successful) murder of tribal leaders, which, however, did not prevent them from participating in local elections (the first PKK supporter was elected in Batman in 1979). At the same time, the “revolutionary war” was also directed against rival organizations: clashes between the PKK and the KUK (National Liberation Organization of Kurdistan) in the Mardin and Hakkari regions were among the bloodiest, with dozens of deaths. After the 1980 coup, the majority of those PKK members who failed to leave Turkey were arrested (official sources speak of 1,800 arrests, but the Diyarbakir military prison alone contained around 5,000 Kurds who were accused of membership in the PKK ). Dozens of prisoners die on hunger strikes.

The organization of the PKK abroad actually began in 1981, but in terms of the international context, 1979 was the decisive year: Egypt's Sadat recognized Israel (Camp David), confirming the bankruptcy of pan-Arab socialism; the Iranian revolution, which began in factories and quarters, brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power; the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan. In this dark landscape, in which the coherence of an anti-imperialist front, which until then could still pretend a certain unity, melted like snow in the sun (completely in favor of Islam), the Kurdish question developed within the conflicts of those states who share the Kurdish area; from tensions between Turkey and Syria to the Iran-Iraq war. The Ayatollahs responded with little sophistication to the demands for autonomy and the anti-Islamic orientation of the Iranian Kurds (45,000 dead according to some estimates); which led to the merger of the Iranian DPK [5] and Komala in Iraq. On the other side of the border, the Iraqi Kurds - who were at the mercy of the Arabization of the region around Kirkuk ordered by Saddam Hussein to "protect the Arab nation" - accepted Iran's support. From 1988 (the last phases of the Iranian-Iraqi war) the Iraqi regime began with systematic extermination using chemical weapons (180,000 dead). The anti-Kurdish persecution was condemned by the West until the First Gulf War without any real sanctions. On another front, Hafez al-Assad [6] was urged by the break in diplomatic relations with Iraq, tensions with Turkey and the consolidation of Alawite hegemony against the Shiites in 1979 to present himself as the protector of the Kurds in the region. The PKK leadership, co-opted in this strategy, fled to Syria in the same year to escape the repression of the Turkish state. The recruitment was approved by the regime and the PKK has shown itself to be a useful tool in controlling Syrian Kurdistan.In Lebanon, where the civil war was just beginning (1975-1990), the PKK was given bases in the Beka Valley, thanks of course to the support of Damascus, where it founded its first military academy. In July 1983, the Iraqi DPK signed an agreement with the PKK to discourage Turkey from cooperating with Iraq and allowed it to organize guerrillas near the Turkish border. On August 15, 1984, the PKK took up armed struggle by attacking two Turkish military posts. At this time the social basis of the organization changed:

The PKK's guerrilla campaign quickly caught the attention of the young Kurds, who will fill their ranks in the future. She diligently recruited in the country, but also in the Kurdish cities and also Kurdish workers and young people from the big Turkish cities, certain European countries, Syria and Libya. This gave the PKK a predominantly rural character. [7]

In this regard, it is also interesting to analyze Paul White's 1992 interview with Abdullah Öcalan:

Öcalan: The working people, the peasants, the petty bourgeoisie, the urban bourgeoisie support the PKK. The patriotic poor and the middle class support the PKK.
White: But what is the most essential group? You mentioned different social groups. I think the main group, the most essential ones, are the poor

Translated by