This week, the White House announced unexpectedly that U.S. troops are pulling out of northern Syria, prompting the Turkish military to go on an imminent long-planned offensive against Kurdish-led forces along the south-western border with Syria.
The Kurds are a long persecuted but often forgotten people living in the Southwest Asia, mainly the Middle East.
Between 25 and 35 million Kurds inhabit a mountainous region straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. They make up the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but they have never obtained a permanent nation state and constantly face persecution in the countries they inhabit.
Nevertheless, when ISIS raised its head a few years back, it was the Kurdish fighters who proved decisive in the fight against the radical Islamic group, both in Iraq and Syria.
Now, expecting a Turkish assault, Kurds are accusing the U.S. of turning its back on them and risking gains made in the fight against the Islamic State group as American troops began pulling back from positions in north-eastern Syria on Monday.
There is deep-seated hostility between the Turkish state and the country’s Kurds, who constitute 15% to 20% of the population.
Kurds received harsh treatment at the hands of the Turkish authorities for generations especially after the establishment in 1978 of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, considered a terrorist organisation not only by Turkey but also the European Union and the United States. The PKK’ s fight for an independent state within Turkey cost the lives of more than 40,000 people and hundreds of thousands were displaced.
In 1991, during the first Gulf war, the Kurds had heeded the call of President George H.W. Bush when he famously called on “the Iraqi military and Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands, to force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside”.
They did just that.
But the U.S. military stood down as Iraqi forces massacred the Kurdish rebels across the country.
After harrowing images of the carnage on the international media, the U.S. eventually supported what was started as a British effort to protect Kurds in northern Iraq.
This is just a brief summary of what the Kurds have endured through the years and once more it seems that we are going to witness a tragic repeat.
These recalls and draws parallels with a similar situation some years back in a different era and continent.
The Hmong issue in Southeast Asia, specifically Laos, is one of the longest unsolved crises in the region.
After loyal service with the U.S. military, on the withdrawal of the American forces from the region, the Hmong were abandoned to their fate.
This ethnic group has been persecuted by the government of Laos since 1975, when they were publicly signalled as traitors due to their support to the American troops during the Vietnam War.
As a result, over 17,000 members of the secret Hmong army and 50,000 civilians have been slaughtered by the Laotian government in successive ethnic cleansing campaigns.