By Robert Fisk
The Kurds were born to be betrayed. Almost every would-be Middle East statelet was promised freedom after the First World War, and the Kurds even sent a delegation to Versailles to ask for a nation and safe borders.
But under the Treaty of Sèvres, in 1920, they got a little nation in what had been Turkey. Then along came the Turkish nationalist Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who took back the land that the Kurdish nation might have gained. So the victors of the Great War met in Lausanne in 1922-23 and abandoned the Kurds (as well as the Armenians), who were now split between the new Turkish state, French Syria and Iran and British Iraq. That has been their tragedy ever since – and almost every regional power participated in it. The most brutal were the Turks and the Iraqi Arabs, the most cynical the British and the Americans. No wonder the Turks have gone back to bombing the Kurds.
When they rebelled against Saddam Hussein in Iraq in the early 1970s, the Americans supported them, along with the Shah of Iran. Then the US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger engineered an agreement between Iran and Iraq: the Shah would receive a territorial claim and, in return, abandon the Kurds. The Americans closed off their arms supplies. Saddam slaughtered perhaps 182,000 of them. “Foreign policy,” remarked Kissinger, “should not be confused with missionary work.”
You would have thought the Kurds might have learnt their lesson. But at the start of the first Gulf war to liberate Kuwait, they were urged by the Americans — or rather, a covert CIA radio station operating from Saudi Arabia — to rise against Saddam. And they did. The Americans let them die in their thousands again, only shamed weeks later into creating a “safe” zone in northern Iraq after tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians trekked under fire in a biblical exodus to the safety of Turkey. America’s “safe” zone eventually proved illusory.
Even when the US planned to invade Saddam’s Iraq through Kurdistan in 2003, the Kurds found that the Turks planned to send 40,000 troops with them. The Turks wanted to stop the Kurds grabbing the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Kirkuk; Ankara feared that a self-governing Kurdish pseudo-state would creep across the border to Turkey.