November 2016.

If the West supports the Kurds, are we supporting terrorism?

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This question begs further questions: which Kurds? And what issues of concern?

Many state that Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (PYG) – a PKK affiliate and the armed forces of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria – have expelled Arabs in some areas, and destroyed their homes in disputed territories. Kurds refute this, stating these were isolated incidents linked to security measures. These tensions will likely continue after ISIL is expelled from Mosul and in Syria.

The other issue of concern is the U.S. alliance with the PYD in Syria. The U.S. differentiates the PYD and PKK (which is a terrorist group) while others, particularly Turkey, Syrian Arabs, and some Iraqi Kurds (KDP) do not. As the PYD and PKK become empowered and expand their influence, they are intensifying Turkey’s threat perceptions and the reactions of Arab groups.

So, is the West supporting terrorism? No – it is committed to fighting ISIS and other jihadist groups. In doing so, however, we are unintentionally creating and fueling divisions between Kurdish groups, changing the balance of power, and enhancing fears of non-Kurdish local and regional actors. These consequences could undermine the goal of defeating ISIL and mitigating its return, and could have a backlash on Kurdish communities.

The views expressed are Dr Natali’s own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the US government. 

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