ISIS and the false dawn of Kurdish statehood

History is often full of strange ironies. Decades from now, the rise and fall of ISIS will probably be remembered in the same breath as the rise and fall of Kurdish hopes of statehood. That Kurdish aspirations of independence in Syria and Iraq should have suffered the same fate as ISIS is, of course, an irony of tragic proportions for the Kurds.

Let’s be clear: from the perspective of Kurdish nationalism there is certainly nothing to regret about the demise of ISIS. But what happened after the territorial defeat of the so-called caliphate – first in Iraq with the fall of Mosul and later in Syria with the fall of Raqqa – did not produce the strategic results the Kurds expected.

During their heroic struggle against an ascendant ISIS between 2014 and 2017, Western support for the Kurds was total. But once ISIS was gone, that support turned into cold betrayal, as America and Europe stood by and watched Ankara go after the Kurds in Syria this year while Baghdad did the same in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2017.

Perhaps the Kurds should have known better; after all, their history is littered with such betrayals. But it is also clear they had no better alternative.

The rise of ISIS presented an existential threat as well as a strategic opportunity for Kurds. Peace with ISIS was simply not an option. In many ways, Kurds were defending their own lands more than Western interests.

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