Making sense of Trump’s Mr. Kurd remark


It is no mystery that US President Donald J. Trump has been the target of major media scrutiny since entering the 2016 presidential election and becoming the 45th president of the world’s most powerful state on Earth. Since entering politics, Mr. Trump has been praised by some and condemned by others for making some very controversial statements in regards to important issues, such as immigration, the criminal justice system, race relations, and American foreign policy.

However, his remarks in a recent press conference in response to a Kurdish journalist’s questions filled most Kurds with joy. On the other hand, Mr. Trump received a lot of flak from the media and individuals on social media who felt that his referral to a Kurdish journalist as ‘Mr. Kurd’ was offensive and derogatory. 

However, many Kurds including the recipient of the remark - Rahim Rashidi - took to social media to express their appreciation and gratitude that Donald Trump had acknowledged his identity and rights as a Kurd; an identity that has been denied by many of the states that control Kurdish territories.

While the media focused all the attention on the Mr. Kurd remark in an effort to arguably demonize Mr. Trump, the Kurds welcomed the media attention with zeal. Trump also said what most western leaders often say about the Kurds, “they are great fighters.” This I found to be more offensive than the whole media fuss about the Mr. Kurd remark.

The West has long used the Kurds for their valor and fortitude when it has best suited their interests. This foolhardy mantra that has become a norm of western leaders and foreign policy engineers is not only derogatory but also belittling of the Kurds as mere fighters that can be used to fight the West’s wars. 

It also conjures memories of how western powers like the US, Britain, and Russia have betrayed the Kurdish nation time and time again to further their own interests.

The Kurds should not forget that it was European powers like Britain and France who first carved up the boundaries of the Middle East in the Sykes-Picot Agreement and denied them their legitimate right to statehood in the treaty of Lausanne. The Kurds might also recall how Soviet Russia abandoned the short-lived Kurdistan Republic in 1945 to the whim of the then Western-backed regime of the second Shah of Iran. 

They must not forget how the US covertly armed the Kurds of Iraq to conduct an insurrection against Saddam Hussein with promises of continued military support only to change its mind after a double-dealing with the Shah and Saddam Hussein.

The US’s abandonment of the Kurds following an agreement between the Shah and Saddam cut off the arms and supplies that the US had guaranteed the Kurds. As a result, the Kurdish rebellion was crushed, and thousands of Kurds were displaced. When the House Intelligence Committee questioned the architect of the operation, Henry Kissinger, in 1975, his defense was that “covert action should not be confused with missionary work.” 

Kissinger was articulating a principle that is not only at the root of US foreign policy but much of how politics is conducted in international relations.

The shock with which Kurdish people and leaders reacted to the lack of support from allies like the US and European powers for the September referendum in 2017 is a clear sign that the Kurds have failed to heed the message that is rooted in a frequently cited Kurdish dictum, “No friends but the mountains.” A dictum that can be interpreted as a realist principle that warns of the dangers of trusting or relying on other powers to secure one’s interests.

Since the beginning of relations between the Kurds and the West, western powers have continuously used the Kurds as geopolitical bargaining chips to secure western interests, often at the detriment of Kurdish ones.

The Kurds must pressure western allies to develop a policy that takes a clear stance on the Kurds as Israel has so effectively done. Israel has successfully secured a guaranteed pro-Israel policy and stance from the US and major European powers that have yet to disappoint.

To prevent future setback and ensure that their western allies deliver on their promises the way they have in the case of Israel, the Kurds would do well to concentrate all their diplomatic capabilities on securing a pro-Kurdish policy stance from their western allies, most particular the United States.  The days of sacrificing the Kurds for the geopolitical interests of the West will come to an end the day Kurds assert themselves and affirm, to foe and allies alike, that they have lines that must not be crossed and interests that they will shrewdly defend and advance.

Halmat Palani is an English teacher and political science graduate from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.

Editing by Nadia Riva