Kurdish Participation in the Armenian Genocide

A bipartisan 405-11 majority of the US House of Representatives decided Tuesday to condemn the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. The result came after decades of attempts by the Armenian lobby, which had been successfully opposed by Turkey and its friends in the United States, especially – until recently – the pro-Israeli Jewish lobby. (A fascinating article in the Jewish Daily Forward by Nathan Guttman from 2010 entitled "Jewish Lobby Sits Out Vote on Armenian Genocide," describes how deteriorating relations between Israel and Turkey had led the Jewish lobby to stay largely neutral in a very close but unsuccessful vote that year.)

The huge margin this year was primarily the result of President Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Northern Syria – an intervention that began under Obama and was always pushed primarily by the US intelligence community, but also supported by Israel and its US supporters as an anti-Assad operation. No attempt was made to link the current vote to any anniversary of the massacre itself. The timing of the vote was clearly meant instead to signal disapproval of Trump’s actions and of Turkey’s military campaign to take control of the border area between Syria and Turkey from Kurdish militias that had captured control of the region during the recent Syrian civil war.

Turkey’s use of Sunni Arab militias in the campaign had been particularly attacked by advocates of the US Syrian adventure. Ironically, those same Arab militias which are now being correctly described by deep state spokesmen as "thugs" and "murderers" were only six months ago being praised by these same people as the "Free Syrian Army" and "moderate opposition". Before that these same militias were actually funded by the CIA and their leaders were posing for photos with John McCain.

The New York Times account made the connection with the Kurds explicit:

Livid at Turkey’s bloody military assault in northern Syria, some lawmakers saw an uneasy parallel between the Armenian genocide and the bitter warnings from Kurdish forces that the withdrawal of American forces would lead to the ethnic cleansing of their people.

"Recent attacks by the Turkish military against the Kurdish people are a stark reminder of the danger in our own time," Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in a speech on Tuesday.

Not widely known in the United States, but very well known in the region, is that among the most enthusiastic participants in the Armenian massacres of 1915 were Kurdish Muslim tribesmen, who largely inhabited the same regions of Anatolia as Armenian Christian peasants. This fact also goes unmentioned in the New York Times piece, but can be found by a casual perusal of Wikipedia, and the associated footnotes.

The Ottoman government of World War I (whose most important leaders, such as Kemal Pasha and Enver Pasha, were actually Albanians by ethnicity) considered Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians as a potential fifth column for the Russians, and made every effort to encourage Muslim attacks on them. The best parallel is with anti-Jewish pogroms in Czarist Russia of that same era, which were encouraged by government officials but mostly carried out by local Polish and Ukrainian peasants.

In the context of the House resolution, it is ironically appropriate that the only Kurdish political party that has actually acknowledged that Kurds participated willingly in the Armenian massacres, and were not just ordered to do so by the Ottoman government – namely the PKK – is the only Kurdish party that is condemned by the US Government as a terrorist organization. I will discuss the PKK and its Syrian offshoot, the PYD in a subsequent article.

Morgan E. Hunter received her PhD in Classics from the University of California at Berkeley in 2019. She also tweeted as @Molotov_1917 as part of the award-winning #1917LIVE Twitter project that reconstructed the daily events of the Russian Revolution and the beginning of the Russian Civil War.