Forget Turkey; Israel must take up the Kurdish cause

Ankara's present unequivocal stand with Hamas frees us of our loyalty to a country that used to be our friend

The International relations lexicon includes the term “friendly nations,” which denotes the fact that international friendship entails mutual loyalty and commitment.

However, political price often precludes a strict adherence to standards of human morality.

For instance, support for the parties in the struggle between Britain and Argentine over the Falkland Islands was never about definitions of justice, but was concerned with the relations each country had with either side. Russia’s refraining from involvement in Libya alongside other European countries did not stem from the pursuit of justice, but from reciprocal relations, as is the case with its non-involvement in Syria and Iran. The war in Kosovo also placed alliances between various countries on opposite sides of the conflict, and in most cases the support was not based on pure justice, but on affinity and interests.

The State of Israel was also touched by bias when, in view of its close relationship and strategic ties with Turkey, for many years it ignored Turkey’s brutal treatment of the Armenian minority and, along with many other countries, managed to overlook the Armenian Holocaust perpetrated by the Turks in 1915-1918.

At the same time, the entire world is part of the inexplicable injustice toward the Kurdish people that are divided among a number of Middle Eastern countries, which overpowered them and have denied them the right to establish their own state. Various estimates put the number of Kurds between 30 and 50 million people. The fact that there are no precise numbers is another aspect of the attempt to diminish the Kurdish problem.

After WWI, the Allies created a number of countries in what used to be the Ottoman Empire, under the Treaty of Sèvres, signed in 1920. This pact was in fact a realization of territorial aspirations by various powers, specifically France and Britain, to control large areas and considerable natural resources, and expressed the desire to repay various trusted allies with protectorates. The distorted borders that were created at the time are a basis for many of the wars that are still being waged in this area.

The Kurds, one of the world’s most ancient populations, formerly followers of the Zoroastrianism religion, one of the ancient religions in the area of Iran, were conquered in the seventh century by Muslims, and subsequently converted to Sunni Islam, but they always wanted their own state. Following WWI they were promised an independent state, but the powers – due to political and economic considerations – broke that promise. The fact that Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey, was a favorite of the West allowed him to overtake territories that were designated for the Kurdish state. The wealth of these territories – huge quantities of water and oil deposits – was shared among the allies’ favorites: Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran, so that the colonial powers and their supporters could benefit from these vast natural resources.

By any standard of human justice, the division of the Kurdish nation between countries that refused to acknowledge its individuality was based not on an attempt to address social justice but on interests.

Kurds celebrate Newroz, a traditional feast whose name means 'new day' in Kurdish, March 20, 2011, Istanbul, Turkey
Kurds celebrate Newroz, a traditional feast whose name means ‘new day’ in Kurdish, March 20, 2011, Istanbul, Turkey (Kurds image via Shutterstock)

Turkey, which overpowered the Alexandria region that had previously been part of Syria, justifying the occupation with the claim that most of the region’s population was Turkish, refuses to acknowledge the Kurds’ legitimate demands and to grant them the independence they desire. For years the Kurds have struggled in every possible way – from revolt to political alliances – to achieve political standing. In some places, Kurdistan has managed to receive limited autonomy, but its demands for self-determination have been thwarted due to the economic-based objections of Iran, Syria, Turkey and Iraq.

The State of Israel has been part of the worldwide conspiracy of silence regarding the Kurds’ struggle for independence, because of its friendly commitment to its strategic ally — Turkey. (Although one can clearly see the world’s hypocrisy in supporting an undefined virtual entity with no historic past such as Palestine while ignoring an ancient nation of about 50 million that is refused the right to self-determination for political reasons.)

Turkey’s present unequivocal stand with Hamas and its rule in Gaza, despite the illegitimacy of that regime, which does not accept Israel’s right to exist, frees us of our loyalty to a country that used to be our friend, and allows us to take a more sober look at social justice in the Middle East.

For the first time in history, Kurdistan now has a real chance to establish a state. Syria’s deteriorating weakness, the de-legitimization of the regime in Iran, the governmental chaos in Iraq – these are all important incentives that can make a Kurdish independent state possible. Such a state could become one of the important countries in the Middle East, because of its social cohesion – most of the population is Sunnite Muslim with great affinity and correlation – and its willingness to cooperate due to the vast natural resources in its territory. It would also haves no commitments to the surrounding countries that have fought and discriminated against their Kurdish minorities and forcibly separated them.

The State of Israel certainly has a vested interest in an independent Kurdish state, a relationship with which could be based on principles of growth, cooperation and development. The Western world would gain one country in which a real Arab spring might produce a democratic regime, accepted by the entire population, which could become a good example in the general chaos of the Middle East.

Although there are no assurances that this old/new country would accept Israel’s outstretched hand, Israel can still voice its support, in opposition to those who betrayed our friendship by inexplicable support of forces that repudiate Israel’s right to exist and refuse to live alongside it in peace.

Friendship, loyalty and commitment can be maintained only in reciprocity, and if that reciprocity is breached, they should not be surprised when reality slaps them in the face – as Syria on the one hand and Turkey on the other hand are finding out, as countries they considered friends are turning their backs on them.

Israel must detach itself from its commitments to Turkey, because today’s Turkey is nothing like the Turkey of old. This is a country that on the one hand betrayed its friends, and on the other imprisoned its military elite, including primarily generals and officers who were loyal to the previous regime. These people have dedicated their lives for many years to preserving Turkey’s Western character, its freedom and its democracy, and have brought it almost to the status of a European country. Their mass imprisonment has changed the country’s nature beyond recognition.

We need to turn the page on our recent approach toward Turkey and adopt a new outlook, as Turkey has repudiated this recent past, as well.

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center