Opinion |

For Arabs and Muslims, Do Only Palestinian Lives Matter?

In Ankara, Tehran, Damascus and Baghdad, there are mass rallies for Palestine, but no solidarity for Kurdish liberation from occupation, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Rank hypocrisy rules, and this is why

Akil Marceau
Akil Marceau
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Participants in a pro-Palestinian rally in the borough of Queens, New York City raise a 'Free Palestine' sign, an Israeli flag superimposed with the sights of a gun, and a photo of Saddam Hussein
Participants in a pro-Palestinian rally in the borough of Queens, New York City raise a 'Free Palestine' sign, an Israeli flag superimposed with the sights of a gun, and a photo of Saddam HusseinCredit: STEPHANIE KEITH - AFP
Akil Marceau
Akil Marceau

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Ankara, Tehran, Damascus and Baghdad in solidarity with the Palestinians during the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas. Brother Muslims protested in Jakarta, Islamabad, Cairo and Doha. 

But this ‘green tsunami’ of support for the Palestinians is taking place while the Kurds continue to be deprived of support to their right to exist, their right to their national identity, and their right to be educated in their language, on their ancestral lands.  

For Kurds, support on the scale offered to the Palestinians is a fantastical dream they know will never be fulfilled. Despite their majority-Muslim demography, despite their oppression by anti-democratic states trampling on any rules, whether of war or peace, the Arab and Muslim worlds won't be going out en masse to shout for their liberation. 

Because it is four Muslim states who are the Kurds' oppressors. It is the despotic regimes in power in Ankara, Tehran, Damascus and Baghdad who shed crocodile tears for Palestine while entrenching their decades-long destruction of Kurdish rights, culture and identity.

As Kurds, they do not have the right to dream of liberation.  

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators take part in a rally in front of the Israeli Embassy in Ankara, Turkey to protest against Israel's airstrikes on the Gaza StripCredit: ADEM ALTAN - AFP

No Arab or Muslim state mobilized international institutions to act when ISIS terrorists targeted Kurds and Christians in Kurdish areas, not even when they committed genocide against the Kurdish-speaking Yezidi minority. No Arab or Muslim member state catalyzed votes or denunciations in the United Nations Security Council, or the Arab League, or the Organization for Islamic Cooperation. No fund was set up to rebuild the destroyed souls and devastated cities.

Nearly 70,000 ISIS terrorists and their families, overwhelmingly from Arab Muslim countries, are still being held in Camp Hol, in Syrian Kurdistan. None of their home states want to take them back. The Kurds find themselves caring for and feeding their worst enemies.

Hypocrisy and cynicism know no bounds.

The leaders of the Muslim world galvanize their subjects to protest for Palestine as an Islamic duty. But where were the faithful when Kurds were being massacred and Arab Muslim leaders cited Islam to justify their atrocities?

Iraqi demonstrators protest to express solidarity with the Palestinian people amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Baghdad, Iraq Credit: KHALID AL-MOUSILY/ REUTERS

Saddam Hussein used a word beginning a Quranic verse as the code name for his campaign to exterminate the Kurds. "Anfal" means the "spoils" of war: the three-year campaign has been recognized by a number of states in the West, not in the Muslim world, as genocide. 

Erdogan’s invading troops and their jihadist affiliates, who occupy the Kurdish townships of Afrin and Serê-Kaniyê in Syria, were sent on their way to the soundtrack of Turkey’s 90,000 mosques broadcasting the Quranic verse entitled "The Conquest." Hundreds of thousands of Kurds have been forced to abandon their homes: a policy of demographic change, if not ethnic cleansing, has been put in place by settling jihadists' families in those occupied areas.

In this umpteenth war between Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamists who have taken the Gaza Strip hostage, the states and regimes of the Arab-Muslim world have shed crocodile tears, vociferating with well-oiled semantics against the "Zionist entity" and the Western world as a whole. A hateful, cynical mobilization on the part of regimes little known for their defense of human rights. 

Demonstrators take part in a protest to express solidarity with the Palestinian people, in Damascus, Syria May 16, 2021Credit: FIRAS MAKDESI/ REUTERS

This mobilization is just enough to nourish and raise a new generation in hatred, who are themselves, at best, living under authoritarian regimes and, for the most part, under dictatorial ones.

These same states, which repress peaceful demonstrators who call for their own most basic rights, in countries which deny all minority rights, let tens of thousands of people march in the streets. Those marches are often showcases for the most fanatic and radical factions, shouting hatred and antisemitism. And those states are involved in wars against their own populations and/or elsewhere: in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Libya.

For more than a hundred years the majority-Muslim Kurds have been oppressed in a Middle East abundant in natural resources but whose populations are impoverished.

Hundreds of thousands of Kurds in Syria have been stripped of their nationality and made stateless, but there's no outcry at the United Nations. Thousands are held in the prisons of the Ayatollah’s regime in Iran and hung in public squares without trial. Millions live in exile. Kurdish leaders have been assassinated on the streets of Berlin, Vienna and Paris on the orders of the Ankara and Tehran regimes.

Palestinian national flags and a picture of slain top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani at a protest to condemn Israel's air campaign on Gaza at Palestine Square in central Tehran, IranCredit: ATTA KENARE - AFP

A few, rare, courageous voices in an Arab-Muslim world abundant in its own misfortunes have called out this evil, shameful hypocrisy. They denounce the Arab-Muslim regimes' instrumentalization of, and trading in, Palestinian blood. 

In the Middle East, Kurdistan is one of the most populous, largest, oldest and richest countries, with its own natural resources. But it is oppressed and occupied by four Muslim states: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. 

The first two, one Sunni, the other Shiite, are vying for the leadership of the Muslim world's 1.5 billion people. The other two are both Arab and for a long time both dominated by the same Baath party.

These states are at the same time often enemies to each other, with regimes pursuing different and very often opposing objectives, but nevertheless managing to come together for one common purpose: to oppress their Kurdish populations.

Protesters hold placards and chant slogans as they take part in a demonstration in support of Palestine during an anti-Israel protest rally in Islamabad, PakistanCredit: AAMIR QURESHI - AFP

They also manage, during each Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to support in unison "the Palestinian cause." They come to an agreement, for opportunistic reasons and for domestic consumption, distracting their own populations from their own legitimate demands and their own suffering.

Thanks to ideological overlap, Erdogan's Turkey has forged, for many years, close links across the Arab-Muslim world between his Islamist party, the AKP, and the radical Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood. 

The Sultan of Ankara, who claims to want to liberate Jerusalem, fully supports Hamas, calling Israel a "terrorist state." This is an incredulous claim from a state that razed to the ground the historic city center of Diyarbakir, the Kurdish Turkish capital, whose population alone is close in size to that of Gaza; this, from a state that destroyed entire neighborhoods in the city of Nusyabin, which laid siege to Kurdish enclaves and committed atrocities there.

Protesters set an Israeli flag on fire during a demonstration against Israel in front of the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul, TurkeyCredit: OZAN KOSE - AFP

The Turkish president never hesitates to accuse Israel of apartheid towards the Palestinians, while he sends the political representatives of his country’s own 20 million Kurds to prison, having removed Kurdish MPs' parliamentary immunity. Since the 2019 municipal elections, the mayors of 48 out of 65 municipalities won by the pro-Kurdish HDP party were replaced by state-appointed administrators.

The medieval Kurdish conqueror Saladin is remembered in academic books in the West with kindness and respect for his magnanimity and his respect for his enemies during the conquest of Jerusalem.

Today's Kurds cannot imagine an Arab, Turkish or Iranian Saladin freeing them from their oppressors. But the Kurds also have the right to dream, the right to justice, the right to expect solidarity. Their blood shouldn't be considered cheaper than anyone else's.

Akil Marceau is a researcher and former director of the Representation of the Regional Government of Iraqi Kurdistan in Paris. A history and humanitarian law graduate, he has worked for French media outlets and the Japanese NHK television network. 

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