By Randall Stevens
July 25th, 2013
Who’s killing Kurds?
On January 10, three women were assassinated in Paris in what French authorities described as executions. Among the victims was Sakine Cansiz, a leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Parti Karkerani Kurdistan, or PKK). A nationalist separatist group, the PKK considered Cansiz, 55, to be a living legend. Present at their foundational meeting in 1978, she was also responsible for creating the highly influential women’s movement within the organization. (According to author Aliza Marcus in her book Blood and Belief, by 1993 one-third of the PKK membership was comprised of women.) The two other victims found dead with Cansiz at the Kurdish information center were Fidan Godan, 30, and Leyla Soylemez, 24, described by The New York Times as Kurdish activists.
Less than a week later, on January 16, Russian mafia boss Aslan Usoyan was assassinated by a sniper outside a restaurant in Moscow at the age of 75. More commonly known as Ded (Granndfather) Khasan, Usoyan was an ethnic Kurd born in Georgia. His illicit business interests included arms and drug dealing, as well as casinos and illegal extraction of natural resources.
Who wanted these Kurds dead, and why kill them now?
What’s a Kurd?
Wikipedia describes the Kurdish people as follows:
The Kurdish people, or Kurds, are an Iranic people native to Southwest Asia, mostly inhabiting a region known as Kurdistan, which includes adjacent parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. They speak the Kurdish language, which is a member of the Iranian branch of Indo-European languages. The Kurds number about 38 million, the majority living in Southwest Asia, with significant Kurdish diaspora communities in the cities of western Turkey, in Armenia, Georgia, Israel, Azerbaijan, Russia, Lebanon and, in recent decades, some European countries and the United States. The Kurds are an indigenous ethnic minority in the countries of the Kurdistan region, although they have enjoyed partial autonomy in Iraqi Kurdistan since 1991. An irredentist movement pushes for the creation of a Kurdish nation state.
In the aftermath of World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurdish people were the largest sizeable ethno-linguistic group in the region not to be given an autonomous state. The Kurdish diaspora across the region, in countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Turkey, has been the source of many conflicts, particularly since the 1970s. Nationalist movements within the diaspora emerged in an attempt to gain autonomy for the Kurdish minorities across several countries, such as the Baath Parties in Iraq and Syria, and from Turkey. The most prominent nationalist Kurdish parties are the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), whose current leader is Jalal Talibani, the President of Iraq, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Founded in 1978 by Abdullah Öcalan (aka “Apo”), the PKK was originally a “fusion of revolutionary socialism and Kurdish nationalism.” (The original flag was red and yellow, and featured a hammer and sickle; since 2005, the party’s flag is still primarily red, with a five point red star in the middle.) In 1980, the PKK bombed the Turkish Consulate in Strasbourg, France. Around this time, in 1979 or 1980, the late Sakine Cansiz was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured by Turkish police, to be released in 1991. In 1984, the PKK transformed into a paramilitary/terrorist organization, with a goal of establishing an independent Kurdistan with territories seized from Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Following a crackdown of the local group in Turkey, many PKK members, including Öcalan, fled to Syria, creating tensions between the two countries that ultimately led to an undeclared war between them. Hafiz al-Assad, then President of Syria, viewed the Kurds as leverage in his ongoing struggles with neighboring Iraq and Turkey (Noi). However, following a string of suicide bombings in the mid-1990s within Turkey, Syria cast out the PKK to avoid a direct confrontation with the Turkish military. While many PKK members fled to northern Iraq, Öcalan fled instead to Kenya, where he was arrested in 1999 by Turkish authorities. Though sentenced to death, his punishment was commuted to a life sentence so that Turkey could join the European Union (the death penalty being outlawed within the EU). He remains imprisoned in Turkey today.
Following the death of Hafiz al-Assad in 2000, his son, Bashar, assumed the Presidency in Syria. Breaking with his father’s general leniency, Bashar cracked down on the 300,000 Kurds within Syria, forbidding them from building private schools, publishing books in Kurdish, and giving their businesses and children Kurdish names. Though some of these restrictions have since been relaxed by granting a measure of autonomy to Kurdish regions, until 2011 Bashar had maintained tighter control over this sizeable minority of non-Arab Syrians. Yet since the commencement of the Arab Spring, Syrian cooperation with the PKK is evident. The PKK, for example, has warned Turkey that in the event of a Turkish intervention, they would fight alongside the Syrian government (Noi). Bashar al-Assad, like his father, considers the PKK and their desire for Kurdish independence a weapon to be wielded against rival Turkey. Tellingly, Syrian Kurds have been conspicuously absent in the movement to overthrow the Assad regime, despite years of oppression. This is in large measure because they do not trust the intentions of the rebels, especially the Islamists among them, including the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda elements.
Since March 2011, a disparate coalition of insurgents has been fighting to overthrow the Arab nationalist Baath government of Bashar al-Assad. Coalition partners include the domestic Free Syrian Army, foreign Mujahideen (among them Pakistani Taliban), and Kurdish Democratic Union Party – whose position puts them at odds with their close ideological partners, the PKK.
Backing the insurgents in seeking to overthrow Assad are the countries of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. A recent New York Times article implicated the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia as “funneling money and small arms to Syria’s rebels.” Some of the monies and small arms were American in origin, which coincides with the position taken by the Obama administration to recognize the Syrian National Council as the sole legitimate government of Syria. But only Turkey has engaged Syria militarily: following the Syrian downing of a Turkish F-4 fighter jet in June 2012, the countries’ militaries exchanged artillery fire.
The ruling party in Turkey is the Justice and Development Party, or AKP. The AKP, like the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt, is the party of al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon (aka “Ikhwan”), or Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, founded in 1928 by Egyptian schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna after Kemal Ataturk dissolved the caliphate, believes in re-establishing the Ummah, or the nation of Islam under Sunni Sharia rule. (Inasmuch as he accepts his party’s stated goal, Prime Minister Recep Erdogan fundamentally rejects the founding of the Turkish Republic by Kemal Ataturk.) Is it no wonder that the Turkish government supports the Mujahideen in Syria, a term that emerged in the 20th century to describe the fundamentalists in Afghanistan who battled with Soviets for independence? Al-Assad, a secular ruler by regional standards and close ally of Moscow, is Alawi (quasi-Shia), and therefore of an enemy of a movement that desires a global Sunni-based caliphate.
Vladimir Putin has used Russia’s place on the U.N. Security Council to protect Assad from American and European maneuvers to force resignation. Many speculate that Assad is residing on a Russian warship in the Mediterranean. In addition to diplomatic maneuvering, Russia also provides heavy arms to the Syrian military. Moscow’s other major ally in the region, Iran, supports Assad with their elite Revolutionary Guard, who helped to suppress anti-Assad protests, and through their proxy Hizbollah. On January 26, as Patriot missile batteries were declared operational along Turkey’s border with Syria, a senior Iranian official warned that any attack on Syria would be viewed as an attack on Iran.
Of the two neighboring countries of Syria who are American allies, Israel and Jordan, the allegiances are less opaque than they may appear. Despite its historical distrust of Syria and Iran, Israel has been publicly ambivalent on the matter of Assad; for though Baathist Syria and its affinity for Tehran have been a persistent cause of concern for Israeli security, the assumption of power by Sunni fundamentalists, who count among them Taliban and al-Qaeda, is equally if not more disconcerting to the Jewish state. And although in late 2011 King Abdullah II of Jordan did suggest that Assad step down, in January the Jordanian monarch and direct descendent of Mohammed was more measured, cautioning that Assad would not fall any time soon. Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood party in Jordan, the Islamic Action Front, is no friend of Abdullah; not only did they hold anti-election rallies and then boycott voting, but have since sought to sew unrest by calling for change in the Jordanian political system. (Qatari-based Al Jazeera quoted IAF leader Hamza Mansour after the election: “The street is not calm.”)
Syrian rebels receive support not only from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, but from the U.K., France, and the Obama administration. In this respect, events are consistent with what happened in Egypt when secular Mubarak was forced to step down, ultimately turning the rule of Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood under the banner of the Freedom and Justice Party. Yet in the case of Egypt, Mubarak was a long time American ally, not a Russian proxy; and although Egypt is the most populous Arab country, Syria’s geographic proximity to Israel, Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon presents its own complex strategic puzzle.
Unsurprisingly, given Syria’s close relationship with Tehran, the Syrian government also has the backing of North Korea, which provides them with Scud missile technology. The presence of North Korea is significant not only because of their considerable military capabilities, but because Scud missiles can be used to deliver biological and chemical weapons. A mix of al-Qaeda-linked revolutionaries and biological weapons in Syria is regarded by Israel, the United States, and Russia as the worst possible outcome. In light of reports of rebels committing genocide against Syrian Christians, the potential emergence of a Syria ruled by al-Qaeda associates is particularly disquieting.
This sum of all fears perspective seems to be confirmed by Israeli warnings that they are considering pre-emptive strikes against Syrian chemical weapons.
Religion, Politics, or just Business?
There is an important, less politically legitimate side to the PKK: heroin trafficking.
Like many terrorist and paramilitary groups, the PKK is engaged profitably in the drug trade. In Asia and the Middle East, two regions produce the vast majority of opium globally. The first, an area known as the Golden Triangle, consists of grows in Burma, Laos, and Thailand. This region is the major source of heroin to North America. The second region, which supplies Europe, is known as the Golden Crescent and includes Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. The PKK is a primary trafficker of heroin from the Golden Crescent. Heroine is transported into Turkey, via Iran. From Turkey, it goes into Europe and Russia. The PKK is a major part of the opium trade, and profits from it handsomely.
These are widely reported facts: “The terrorist Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) and its armed wing, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), have entered the ranks of the world’s biggest drug cartels, narcotics operations in recent years show” states one article from November 2011. According to a report from 2008, “Turkey remains a major transit route for heroin trafficking with a substantial proportion of the revenue being used to finance radical organizations, such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), according to a recent report by the Department for Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime (KOM) in the Turkish Interior Ministry.”
Still, the PKK has competition. And that competition just happens to be in the graces of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Turkish state. Enter the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU. Turning again to Wikipedia:
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is a militant Islamist group formed in 1991 by the Islamic ideologue Tahir Yuldashev, and former Soviet paratrooper Juma Namangani—both ethnic Uzbeks from the Fergana Valley. Its objective was to overthrow President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, and to create an Islamic state under Sharia. [emphasis added]
Today, IMU is active not so much in Uzbekistan, but Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and there main business just happens to be – surprise – heroin smuggling from Afghanistan. According to the U.N., by 2000 the IMU allegedly controlled the majority of heroin entering Kyrgyzstan. From Kyrgyzstan, heroin is brought north by IMU, through Kazakhstan and into Russia. Today, the volume of Afghani heroin entering Russia is enough to give the country the dubious distinction of one of the largest consumers of the narcotic.
And you wonder what funds terror?
Listed IMU allies on Wikipedia include al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who are right now fighting to overthrow Assad – with full support and approval from Turkey, the Obama administration, etc.
A Detour through Benghazi
On January 23, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before Congress regarding the events of September 11, 2012. On that day, four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were murdered following an extended firefight at what was originally termed an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Operating in that region is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The political battle that erupted in the aftermath of the killings has revolved around the administration’s initial explanation events. It just so happens that on the same day, there were (allegedly) spontaneous protests in reaction to an anti-Islamic video. Some speculate that before the November election, for President Obama to acknowledge that al-Qaeda had taken more American lives would contradict his hard-on-terror public persona, so carefully groomed since the killing of Osama bin Laden by SEAL Team Six. Instead of disclosing the role of al-Qaeda in the attack, the administration lumped in the incident with other coincidental protests, including one in Cairo, that were apparently inspired by the now infamous The Innocence of Muslims – or so say critics.
Briefly, the movie’s creator, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, turned out to be criminal with a long rap sheet including bank fraud and drug charges. He is now in jail for violating the terms of his parole. One can only speculate why a fraudster with a criminal record related to drugs would launder spend $5 million and take the time to create a sensational movie that had no audience outside of its notoriety in inciting riots.
Yet in recent weeks, the very premise of the Benghazi story has been called into question. Multiple sources claim that in fact the “consulate” was no such thing (also see here and here), but in fact a CIA safe house established for the purpose of running Libyan weapons into Syria to arm the rebels. Recently, Senator Rand Paul called the operation “a kind of international Fast and Furious in Benghazi.” Notwithstanding that gun running between Mexico and the United States is implicitly international, this would help to explain the odd fact that the attack happened right after a visit from the Turkish Ambassador with Stevens.
AQIM, like the PKK and IMU is also in the drug business. The terrorist group, which has recently made headlines due to the Benghazi attack and the French incursion into Mali, transports drugs imported from South America through northern Africa, to Europe and Asia. Looked at through the rubric of a Profit and Loss Statement rather than ideology, it is not improbable that such notorious (one might say intentionally flagrant) attacks are carefully considered distractions aimed to draw attention away from smuggling rings operating in the area. This may explain Nakoula’s cinematic enterprise. Lest the idea of committing acts of terrorism for profit sounds too risky, consider that recent narco-subs have the capacity to carry up to twelve tons of product, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Take the recent hostage crisis and subsequent massacre at a natural gas facility in In Aménas, on the Algerian-Libyan border, by an AQIM splinter group: with such large amount of money on the line, the ultimate intentions of such violence cannot automatically be assumed to be ideologically inspired.
Could all these events, movie included, be coordinated distractions to draw security focus away from ports of entry and common shipment routes? Recognizing the overlapping, self-reinforcing, networks of terrorism and the international drug traffic, and the coincidence of interests between drug smugglers and non-state paramilitary organizations, such tactics cannot be ruled out.
Part 2 To Follow ( Obama: Leading From Behind or Friends With Benefits? )