Justice for Kurds Chairman: Kurds have broad support; President Barzani to address JFK-Yale University series

Dr. Thomas Kaplan, Chairman of Justice for Kurds, discusses broad US support for the Kurds ahead of a new seminar series
Dr. Thomas Kaplan, Chairman of Justice for Kurds, said the Kurds have widespread bipartisan support in the US and Europe. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Dr. Thomas Kaplan, Chairman of Justice for Kurds, said the Kurds have widespread bipartisan support in the US and Europe. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Dr. Thomas Kaplan, Chairman of the non-profit Justice for Kurds, described to Kurdistan 24 in an interview the aims of his organization, as he also discussed the four-part seminar series that begins on Tuesday, which is hosted jointly with Yale University. 

Seminar Series: The Kurds in the Middle East

The series, devoted to the subject of “The Kurds in the Middle East,” is an outgrowth of the activities of Justice for Kurds, which Kaplan, along with the French philosopher and filmmaker Bernard-Henri Levy, established in March 2018.

The President of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, will be Tuesday’s keynote speaker as he launches the discussion series. Kaplan and Levy will also participate and Emma Sky of Yale’s Jackson Institute will moderate the discussion.

Sky, a British citizen, served as political advisor to Gen. Raymond Odierno from 2007 to 2010, when he was Commanding General of US Forces in Iraq.

Subsequent discussions will include Gen. David Petraeus (US Army, Retired), who led the 2007 “surge” in Iraq, shifting the US away from conventional war-fighting toward a counter-insurgency strategy and preparing the way for US troops to leave Iraq in 2011.

Amb. Dennis Ross, who served in the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations, will also speak. In early April 1991, following Bush’s premature declaration of a cease-fire to the Gulf War, Ross, then Director of Policy Planning at the State Department, accompanied Secretary of State James Baker on a crucial trip by helicopter to the Turkey-Iraq border.

Over a million Kurdish refugees were camped there in miserable conditions, having fled Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards, fearful that he would use chemical weapons against them – as he had done just a few years before during the genocidal Anfal campaign.

Baker remained only 12 minutes on the ground, but they were enough to convince him that the Bush administration’s focus on maintaining Iraq’s unity – whatever the cost in civilian lives – was wrong, and, within hours, the US position shifted.

“The American generals, who had been celebrating the end of their nice, neat war [100 hours], got a call from Washington telling them to prepare to airlift food within 36 hours,” as one senior US official described it.

Ross played an important role in helping to convince Baker of the need for that change (as had the US ambassador to Turkey, Mort Abramowitz, and Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz with Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney.)

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Two Kurdish officials are also slated to address the seminar series: Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Representative in Washington, as well as Sinam Mohamad, Representative of the Syrian Democratic Council to the United States.

Mission of Justice for Kurds

Speaking to Kurdistan 24 on Monday, Kaplan described his organization’s mission: “to make sure the Kurdish people, their shared interests and shared values with the West are front and center,” so “ultimately they will have justice in all those lands” in which they live.

Kaplan stressed the strong bipartisan support for the Kurds that exists in the US, as well as in Europe. Indeed, when Justice for Kurds began, he was pleasantly surprised to discover its extent. 

“Whenever we would bring up the subject of the Kurds, anyone we spoke to would agree that the Kurdish cause was an honorable one,” he said. That strong bipartisan support “was a revelation to a lot of people,” including those “in government circles.”

Kaplan explained how he became interested in the Kurdish cause: Although now an entrepreneur and businessman, many years ago, he studied at Oxford University with the renowned military historian Sir Michael Howard. Kaplan’s doctorate focused on counterinsurgency wars, and he became familiar with the Kurdish struggle, as led by the legendary Mustafa Barzani, as well as its betrayal by the Shah of Iran.

In the early 1970s, both Saddam Hussein and the Shah supported insurgencies in each other’s countries. Saddam supported Iran’s Baluch, a traditional, tribal Sunni people living in eastern Iran and western Pakistan who aspired to an independent homeland, but, like the Kurds, failed to gain one.

The Shah for his part, along with his allies, Israel and the US, supported the Kurdish revolt against Baghdad – until the 1975 Algiers Accord, in which Iraq and Iran agreed to end their support for those rebellions, while settling their riverine border on terms more favorable to Iran.

The leaders of Iraq’s Kurdish revolt, including Mustafa Barzani, came to the US, where he passed away a few years later. The leaders of Iran’s Baluch revolt took their refuge in Baghdad.

As Kaplan stated, the Kurds have been subject to repeated betrayals in modern times, going back to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, and the “first priority” of Justice for Kurds is thus to “ensure that the Kurds will not be betrayed again.”

Indeed, support for the Kurds extends far beyond the US and Europe. “I travel a lot in the Arab world,” Kaplan said. “The respect for the Kurds is enormous. There is nothing that I’ve said about the Kurds” that “you would not also hear in the Gulf states, for example.”

Mike Pompeo’s Support for the Kurds  

In illustrating the bipartisan support that the Kurds enjoy in the US, Kaplan shared a telling anecdote about Mike Pompeo, who served first as Donald Trump’s CIA Director, before replacing Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State in April 2018.

Kaplan affirmed first, “President Biden is pro-Kurd. [Vice-President] Kamala Harris is pro-Kurd,” as he clearly established the Democrats’ support for the Kurds.

He then turned to the Republicans and described a small dinner with Pompeo – on the day in October 2019 “that the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] were thrown under the bus,” as the White House announced that Trump had told his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that the US would not oppose a cross-border Turkish attack in northeast Syria. 

Kaplan was surprised that Pompeo did not, in fact, cancel the dinner, as it had been a rough day for him. Yet Pompeo did not do so, and when he arrived, among his first actions was to take off his tie and ask for a beer.

Kaplan said he was not going to spend the entire evening berating him, but he spoke very harshly to Pompeo about the White House decision, and in fact did keep coming back to the subject of the Kurds.

Pompeo is a West Point graduate and has a military background, as Kaplan noted, and Pompeo “actually said,” he continued, “If there were any ally who you would say is a textbook case of a great partner and a great ally, it would be the Kurds.”

Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly