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The betrayal of the Kurds: If you break it, you own it

4 1 0
12.10.2019

OPINION

Winston Churchill can finally rest comfortably in his grave after a 115-year reign as the worst political and military strategist and tactician in dealings with the Turkish empire. That's a title he inherited from Pope Nicholas V, who thought that letting Constantinople fall to Sultan Mehmed II in 1543 would make the Byzantine schismatics seek reunification with Rome.

Churchill's replacement is, of course, Donald Trump. Much of the modern Turkish delight is of western creation; many Australians have died as a result. We ourselves put it in our backyard.

A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed Kurdish-led alliance, keeps watch from a rooftop in Bagouz, Syria. Picture: Getty Images

This week Donald Trump betrayed the Kurds, in a way at least as awful previous treacheries by the British, French, and Americans. To add insult to injury, this representative of a nation which sat out five of the nine years of WWI and WWII said that Kurds weren't real allies because they had not helped America at the battle of Normandy during World War II (nor did any of the Trump family, needless to say). I think he meant that they were not real white men, like himself.

Scott Morrison is publicly refraining from criticism, being "loyal", and hoping for the best. But he should not think of Australia as a bystander. One way or another we are complicit in the latest developments, because we were involved in helping create the circumstances that have made it happen.

Trump, moreover, can excuse his betrayals of American allies by reminding us he didn't start the war. But the point of being president - and of having sovereign power - is that one is America, not a person or a partisan. A president owns his nation's history, its honour and its reputation. He has the luxury of being able to make history, but not of repudiating it.

Churchill had two very bad ideas about Turkey during World War I. He mostly gets blamed for his second brainstorm - Gallipoli - but his first was probably the more disastrous and unnecessary, and led to a greater overall loss of life. His actions brought Turkey into the war within two months of its starting.

Turkey didn't rush to war in August 1914. It hadn't made up its mind about who to go with until, at the first moment of the war, Churchill, as First Sea Lord, decided to seize two significant Turkish warships whose construction had just been completed in Britain. He thought Britain could probably put them to better use than Turkey. Perhaps: one of the warships was to participate in the battle of Jutland, even if it was the only capital ship engaged which didn't fire its main guns. By contrast, the war with the Ottoman Empire was to end up involving more than 800,000 Allied soldiers, and, counting both sides, involve half a million deaths.

Churchill's better-known brainwave of World War I came six months after Turkey decided to go with Germany. The war in Belgium and France was falling into stalemate. He conceived the idea that an attack on Turkish positions along the Gallipoli Peninsula could quickly capture Istanbul and push Turkey out of the war, permitting the resupply of Russia through the Black Sea and war in Europe's soft underbelly to relieve German pressure on the western front.

Australians, especially those who listen to Brendan Nelson, sometimes seem to think that Gallipoli was all about Australians. There we were, locked in mortal combat with Johnny Turk, after which all of Turkey resounded with praise for the bravery of the ANZACs. Then we all became friends again. In fact, Australia was only a bit player, and its participation made little difference to the........

© Canberra Times