Only a few months ago, Kurds in the Middle East were optimistic. They enjoyed a newfound international recognition, and a major political breakthrough glimmered on their horizon. Their confidence sprang in large part from the achievements of the Syrian Kurds.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) mostly dominated the multiethnic umbrella militia group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. That group had worked for almost five years in close alliance with the world’s premier superpower, the United States, to defeat the Islamic State, or ISIS. The affiliation was extraordinary, from the Kurdish point of view, because the Kurdistan Workers’ Party was initially behind establishing the militia. Based in Turkey, that party has long battled the Turkish government, and it is on the U.S. terrorist list. In the Syrian territories that the militia forces liberated, Kurds quickly established their own governmental structures and institutionalized their rule.
The Kurdish success in Syria came some two decades after an autonomous, internationally recognized Kurdish entity, the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, solidified in Iraq. In the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991, Washington sought to stop Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein from massacring the country’s Kurdish population. The result of U.