New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Hosted by the Consulate of Greece in New York, the Hellenic American Leadership Committee (HALC) presented a special book event on May 28. Endy Zemenides, Executive Director of HALC led a discussion with David L. Phillips, author of the new book The Great Betrayal, How America Abandoned the Kurds and Lost the Middle East (I.B.Tauris).
Director of the Program on Peace-building and Human Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Phillips has worked as a senior adviser to the United Nations Secretariat and as a foreign affairs expert and senior advisor to the U.S. Department of State, Phillips writes: “Despite having repeatedly relied on the Kurdish population of Iraq for military support, on three occasions the United States have abandoned their supposed allies in Kirkuk.”
Based on first-hand interviews and previously unseen sources, The Great Betrayal provides an accessible account of a region at the very heart of America’s foreign policy priorities in the Middle East. The political and diplomatic history of the Kirkuk region and its international relations from the 1920s to the present day reveals failings of America’s policies towards Kirkuk, and the devastating effects of betraying an ally.
Consul General of Greece in New York Dr. Konstantinos Koutras made sure he arrived in good time to introduce the event after a day’s meetings with Greece’s visiting Minister of Defense. Welcoming Zemenides, Carol Mouyiaris and Professor Phillips, Koutras repeated what he had told Endy Zemenides
a few days earlier. “In memory of the late Nikos Mouyiaris, founder of HALC, my dear and close friend of several years, from here on HALC has found its home in the Consulate General of Greece in New York.”
Thanking the Consul General for this and for evoking the memory of Nikos Mouyiaris, Zemenides that all those who started HALC made a promise to Niko that “none of us will grow old on the positions we hold now. s the organization grows larger, its leadership “will grow younger.” Toward this end, last year HALC initiated a new program titled Leadership 2030. In this program, individuals 30 years old or younger who have earned one degree are put through a two-year fellowship program that provides them the opportunity to dramatically improve both their knowledge and skills base. They are given mentorship opportunities that will further their professional development and civic engagement, as well as offer multiple opportunities to begin leading now. The program aims for a 50/50 balance of men and women, “so this is revolutionary,” said Zemenides.
HALC is supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which has endowed the program with a one-million-dollar grant. “Obviously, this program is something Nikos, the father of HALC, was very excited about,” he said, acknowledging Carol Mouyiaris as “the ‘mother’ of HALC” and asking the latest 2030 class to stand and announcing the new name of the program: the Nikos Mouyiaris Leadership 2030. As the class that was present knows, said Zemenides, “There was nothing Nikos loved more than cultivating new leaders.”
Zemenides noted some of the organization’s successes, such as the launch, almost a year ago, of their “No Jets for Turkey” campaign; a new piece of legislation was introduced by Senators Van Hollen, Shaheen, Langford and Tillis imposing new restrictions on the F35 transfers and a letter to Secretary Pompeo was circulated by Congressmen Sarbanes and Bilirakis asking for the F35 transfer to be halted.
Moving into the discussion with Phillips, Zemenides asked about the timing of Phillips’ books. Uncertain Ally: Turkey under Erdogan’s Dictatorship (2017), came out “right when Turkey fell off the cliff. And I think that The Great Betrayal came out right after President Trump had that talk with Erdogan.” Phillips answered that he foresaw that the Kurds would be betrayed because of the events in Iraq, and thought that the Kurds in Syria would suffer a similar fate. “When you study the trends in political history you can foresee problems before they happen.”
When he wrote The Great Betrayal as a tribute to his dear friend, Najmaldin Karim, Governor of Kirkuk, who after Kirkuk was occupied by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Iraqi army, fled as assassins closed in on him (he is now a Maryland resident), and as a warning that Syria would suffer a similar fate as Iraq, he didn’t realize that it would be so timely or relevant, but then when you’re writing about the betrayal of the Kurds it’s always timely, because tragically, the Kurds have been betrayed over and over again during the 20th century and up to this day.”
Asked to talk about the Kurds’ “multiple stages of betrayal”—from presidents Woodrow Wilson to George H.W. Bush to Barack Obama and Donald Trump—Phillips replied that the Kurds have been “their own worst enemy” in that they have never succeeded in coming together and having a unified front to advance their national aspirations.
This was first apparent at the Paris Peace Conference when aspiring nations sent delegations to Versailles, said Phillips. As the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires were broken up, new states emerged from their remnants. “Of course, the Kurds wanted a state of their own but they weren’t able to form a single delegation at Versailles, so no determination was made about Kurdish statehood. Because of that their status was left ambiguous. Then the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 promised that the Kurds would have a referendum within one year to vote on whether they wanted independence. Soon after Sevres, however, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk launched his war of independence; Sevres was overtaken by events. Weary after the war, Western powers didn’t have any appetite for confronting Turkey, so they allowed Sevres to essentially be nullified.”
The first of three betrayals of the Kurds: “The next conference culminated in the Treaty of Lausanne, which didn’t mention the words “Kurd” or Kurdistan’ anywhere in the text,” said Phillips. “So, the first betrayal of the Kurds occurred between Sevres and Lausanne, when the Western powers essentially went wobbly, and left them alone, and they became a divided nation…Kurds in Iraq, in Iran, in Turkey. They didn’t achieve their national aspiration. And that’s been the bane of Kurdish identity ever since. Differences among the Kurds, captive nations among countries in the Middle East. To this day, they still suffer from those same problems.”
Directing the discussion back to Sevres and Lausanne, which had major implications for Greece and the Greek presence in Asia Minor, Zemenides asked whether what the Kurds suffered in their betrayal was “because of the genius of Ataturk, or because lesser powers were not tough enough with Ataturk. Phillips replied that it was really a result of the cowardice of the West. “Ataturk presented himself as European, modern, secular, selling these countries a bill of goods and the people of the Republic of Turkey paid a very high price for Western cowardice towards Ataturk.”
Second betrayal: The Cold War was another tragic period for the Kurds, Phillips said. “Mullah Mustafa Barzani declared the Mahabad Republic in 1946. This was a country called Kurdistan.” It was supported by the Soviet Union, but it was short-lived. Without state-building or adequate leadership the Mahabad Republic collapsed in less than a year. The Kurds went back to their villages, and in Iraq they suffered terrible abuses because of the racism of the Ba’ath Party, so Mullah Moustafa launched a rebellion. “They negotiated an agreement on autonomy with the government of Iraq that was pretty exemplary in every respect; there was a Kurdish vice president, Kurdish quotas, Kurdish language and culture was affirmed, but this was just a device by the Ba’ath Party to get the Kurds out of the way. “When the Kurds realized that their deal with Baghdad was not genuine, they rebelled again. This became an ongoing battle with the government.”
Third betrayal: In September 2017, Iraqi Kurdistan held an independence referendum, intended to be a starting point on negotiations with the Iraqi Government in Baghdad on the terms of a friendly divorce. Though the US, Turkey, and Iran opposed it, the referendum passed with 93% of the vote. Rather than negotiate, Iraq’s Prime Minister Heider al-Abadi issued an ultimatum and then attacked the region. Iraq’s Kurdish population have been abandoned, once again, by their supposed allies in the US.
David L. Phillips’ other books: The Kurdish Spring and Losing Iraq (2017, and The Kurdish Spring: A New Map of the Middle East (co-author, 2015). Phillips also writes regularly for publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, and Foreign Affairs.