The assassination of a Kurdish opposition leader in Syria may lead to more violence as protests against the Assad regime escalate. But it should also serve as a reminder of the hypocrisy of much of the world’s attitudes about the Middle East.
While most of the world has been obsessing about the alleged wrongs of the Palestinians, few seem to think it’s worth caring about the fact Kurds remain the object of violent suppression in both Syria and Turkey. Yet as we saw this past week, when Russia and China vetoed United Nations resolutions condemning the crackdown against dissent in Syria, few among the globe’s chattering classes seem willing to condemn any nation in the world other than Israel. Nor do many seem concerned with the plight of any national or ethnic group demanding sovereignty or rights other than those seeking to do so at the expense of the globe’s only Jewish state.
The focus of global attention in recent weeks has been the attempt of the Palestinians to get the United Nations to give them statehood without first having to make peace with Israel. This has resulted in an orgy of rhetoric about the right to self-determination of all peoples. But the plight of the Kurds, who have arguably suffered far more than the Palestinians or any other stateless people, doesn’t move the international community. Indeed, the only reason this latest outrage committed against the Kurds in Syria is getting any attention at all has been because it comes in the context of efforts by the Assad clan and its Alawite allies to hang on to power in Damascus.
It remains to be seen whether an uprising by the Kurds, who make up approximately 10 percent of the Syrian population and are concentrated largely in the northeast of the country along the border with Turkey and Iraq, will be the last nail in the coffin of Bashar Assad’s dictatorship. So far, the regime has been holding on with help from its ally Iran and Hezbollah. Assad is also confident the Obama administration won’t do anything more than issue belated protests about his behavior and is assured by Russia he need not fear action from the UN. If he survives, that may mean a new era of even more brutal government oppression for Syria’s Kurds.
Of course, the Syrians aren’t the only nation that seeks to repress their Kurdish minority. Kurdish culture and language were banned for decades, and any demand for independence or even autonomy has been summarily rejected. Turkey, which has thrown away its longstanding alliance with Israel out of sympathy for the condition of Palestinians in Hamas-run Gaza, has also been busy slaughtering their Kurds for many years. Turks rightly denounce the Kurds’ PKK organization as a terrorist group, but it is no worse than the Hamas killers the Turkish government supports.
Yet the Kurds, who have only achieved a degree of freedom in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, have not been able to mobilize the kind of sympathy from international human rights activists that the Palestinians routinely count on.
Unlike Turkey and Syria, Israel has repeatedly stated its desire to negotiate a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. And unlike the situation of Kurds in most of the Middle East, Arab citizens of Israel also have full civil and legal rights. It should also be stated that, whatever crimes have been committed in the name of Kurdish independence, the goal of Kurdish groups is not the eradication of other nations. The same cannot be said of the Palestinians. But no one should hold their breath waiting for the UN or its misnamed Human Rights Council to give the Kurds’ far more grievous wrongs the same hearing they give the Palestinians.