9/11, 20 Years On: How the Kurdish People Were Betrayed

The attacks led the U.S. to lead a global 'war on terror', but two decades later, America's allies in the fight against groups like ISIS have been left behind. This article is part of a special Haaretz project marking 20 years to 9/11

Akil Marceau
Akil Marceau
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A man calling for an independent Kurdish state, at a protest in Berlin, October 2017. AP/Markus Schreiber
A man calling for an independent Kurdish state, at a protest in Berlin, October 2017.Credit: AP/Markus Schreiber
Akil Marceau
Akil Marceau

On that sunny September day, Paris and New York were united in harmony under the same blue sky. Paris, where I was living, looked how we love and imagine it, Chagall’s colors, the soundtrack of Louis Armstrong and Edith Piaf.

In my neighborhood near the Bastille – that symbol of the French Revolution and the secular Republic, starting point for every major political demonstration in France – the only pollution in an otherwise perfectly clear sky was the intermingled rallying cry of the left and Islamists, backing the violent second intifada in the West Bank and Gaza.

This article is part of our special 9/11 project. Read it here

Following Mitterrand’s long reign, and Gaullist Chirac’s rise to power, the French left had lost its bearings. They were looking for a second wind and, for opportunist electoral reasons, threw themselves into the outlying suburbs of France’s low-income, North African youth. Those same youth – themselves in search of an identity – were, meanwhile, being instrumentalized by Islamist networks.

I witnessed this marriage of convenience almost every Sunday, when demonstrators shouted anti-American and antisemitic slogans while carrying posters glorifying Osama bin Laden and Che Guevara.

I was coming home when my friend dragged me in front of the TV. The first of the Twin Towers had already been gutted and, our mouths agape, the second was collapsing in front of our disbelieving eyes. We witnessed live the jihadist airstrike on the Pentagon. We didn't need to say anything. We already knew what horrors and devastation Sunni and Shi’ite jihadist terrorists were capable of in the Middle East.

My friend's uncle, secretary-general of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDP), a chemist trained in Paris, had been assassinated by official emissaries of the Iranian regime during peace negotiations in Berlin, in 1992. A few years earlier, the party’s secretary-general, A. Ghassemlou, professor in Prague and Paris, had been assassinated in Vienna by agents sent by Iran.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the Kurds, coming from a liberal, tolerant, diverse and multifaith tradition, naturally found themselves in solidarity with the pro-Western camp. This loyalty was never rewarded.

Back in 1975, America betrayed its pact with Iraqi Kurdistan. And in 2019, under Trump, America stabbed them in the back again, leaving the way open for Turkish troops and jihadist mercenaries to invade part of Syrian Kurdistan. These military setbacks and moral defeat marked the rocky start to America’s 21st century.

With the attacks on 9/11, Mideast terrorism in all its guises took a firm grip in the West. A decade later, Paris, London and Madrid would also be targeted, nourished by the same sources.

And other than a few brave voices, complacent Middle Eastern and Western elites had no direction and strategy when faced with such evil.

Jihadists the world over applauded 9/11. Today, their offspring applaud the American debacle, and the Taliban’s victory, in Kabul.

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