Kurdistan is back in the media spotlight as the Islamic State’s power spreads — and it’s up to Kurdish ex-pats to keep it there, says Resho Bistuyek.
The Kurds are finally making the news. After nearly two years of fighting between Kurdish militias and Islamic militants in Rojava, or Syrian Kurdistan — the western part of what some hope will one day be a united Kurdish state — the Islamic State’s surge into Iraq and the threat of genocide on the slopes of Mount Sinjar have caused the international community and media to sit up and take notice. There are many reasons this is happening only now: the strategic importance of Iraqi Kurdistan’s oilfields; the position of Iraq relative to Syria in the minds of the Western powers at least partly responsible for its current vulnerability; and the tendency, only now beginning to change, to think of Syria as the site of a single, unitary war rather than the cluster of smaller but no less bloody conflicts that war has become.
But for Kurds — especially those active in the Kurdish twittersphere, who wear their nationalism on their sleeves — Rojava remains of the utmost importance. For them, the two-year struggle to hold the area has been less a part of the Syrian war than the opening battle in a much larger, longer and transformative project: the war for Kurdish unification and independence.
“I’m very happy and grateful that this has finally become international news,” Resho Bistuyek (@r3sho) told Crikey. “But the situation unfortunately had to reach the point where a whole religious community, the Kurdish Yezidis, was faced with genocide.”
“In a sense, I think the Kurdish people showed their true strength in making this happen,” he said.
“You had People’s Protection Unit (YPG) fighters enter Iraq from Rojava. Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerrillas came down from the mountains. The Kurdistan Democratic Party-Iran (KDP-I) guerrillas rallied to the call. And the Kurdish diaspora, together with the Kurds living in each of the four parts of Kurdistan” — Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran all have Kurdish-majority areas — “made one hell of a ruckus. We were not going to allow yet another genocide attempt on our people. The world was witnessed this seemingly anomalous behaviour — they had never seen us so united — and it was impossible for them to ignore the way we were organising to stop the genocide attempt on the Yezidis.”
“I must say though, that I also think that this time the world population also rallied behind the Kurds,” he said. “I’m not talking about the political establishment. I’m talking about everyday men and women, who until now had been watching a Middle East spiralling down a drain, and who now saw an underdog nation put up a fight against the new bully on the block. A nation with no country to call their own, and who had been harried for a thousand years by every neighbouring nation, rose up united against a group of sectarian bigots whose favourite pastime is to behead and crucify people. How can one stay silent and not support this fight?”
“People didn’t stay silent. Take a tour on Twitter and read people’s reactions. There is even an active campaign to delist the PKK” — which has effectively been at war with the Turkish government for the better part of thirty years — “from the US terror list. Kurds used to say that we had no friends but the mountains. I’m convinced that that’s no longer true. The support for the Kurdish plight is unprecedented and gratefully welcomed.”
Bistuyek was less kind towards the aforementioned political establishment, however, which he said could and should have supported the Kurds in Rojava and Iraq earlier.
“I would rate their performance as highly unsatisfactory,” he said. “They were aware of the expansion of the Islamic State, yet chose to ignore it until it hit them in the face in the form of a genocide attempt. The Islamic State is actively recruiting in Europe and other Western countries, right under the nose of law enforcement. The result is a Middle Eastern map on which the Islamic State has spread like diseased black veins, stretching over two countries.” Bistuyek said he expected those veins to spread elsewhere, too.
“The Islamic State will stop sending its European recruits to Syria or Iraq,” he said. “They will remain in Europe for other missions. It is inevitable. Actually, I would rate the performance of Western governments as more than highly unsatisfactory. I would rate their performance as highly suicidal.”
Born to Kurdish activists in Diyarbakir, the capital of Turkey’s Kurdish region, in 1976, Bistuyek and his family emigrated as political refugees to Scandinavia following the 1980 coup d’état that brought the Turkish Armed Forces to power for three years. He moved to the United States to study electrical engineering in the early 2000s, started a family, and currently lives and works in California as a researcher and consultant. “My story is pretty common among Kurds in the diaspora,” he said.
That diaspora is large — well over 1.5 million people, including nearly 7000 in Australia — which helps to account for the multilingual nature of the Kurdish twittersphere and its impressively wide reach.
“Twitter is seen by Kurds as a sanctuary for Kurdish activism,” Bistuyek said. “It’s where we have most effectively been able to reach out to the world regarding developments in Kurdistan and it plays an extremely large role in our activism online. This is especially true since Facebook implemented policies censoring any meaningful Kurdish activism.”
“It is not easy for me to forget my reasons for being so far away from my birthplace,” he said. “But those of us wound up in the diaspora were in many ways the lucky ones. It is our duty to inform the people in our new countries about our cause. With the dawn of the internet, we were able to disseminate that information to the whole world.”
A Dunon (@ArjDnn): I’ve known him for almost two decades and he has always impressed me with his sense of integrity. He vets the information he disseminates even more than me, and is an overall jovial guy.
Avashin (@Avashin ): For Kurdish military developments on the ground, Avashin is the go-to guy. He implements strict OPSEC, but you know that the information disseminated by him is vetted and as true as you can get on social media.
@Hevallo (@Hevallo): The hub of Kurdish activism online and often the one initiating the campaigns. The Energizer Bunny has got nothing on him.
Fekifirosh (@KawaHogir): Runs his own Youtube channel filled with classical and new Kurdish music. He’s also an activist, but I think his cultural knowledge is what distinguishes him from the rest of us.
Hamo (@KekHamo): A Kurdish Yezidi activist living in Belgium, who has actually been active on Twitter much longer than me. His account is one of the few that has extensively covered the attacks on the Yezidis.
Ninveh (@NinBazi): I don’t think Syriacs/Assyrians/Chaldeans are getting enough attention, but they should. Ninveh is an Assyrian activist based in California and a great friend of the Kurds.
*Read more about Resho Bistuyek’s thoughts on an independent Kurdistan on the website …On the possibility of an independent Kurdistan …
I am sure we will see an independent Kurdistan in the future. To what extent, I’m not sure. But this is the Kurdish century and the momentum is on our side. Kurdistan has become a beacon of hope in a hopeless Middle East, a place where it is possible for different nations to live side by side in peace and prosperity. It has also become clear that this is not an artificial peace that hangs on a thin thread, its strength is dependent on political developments in the Middle East at large. It is real and tangible and sustained by a strong political will that won’t budge easily for the whims of neighbouring power houses and their allies.
On watching events unfold from a distance …
Following events in Syria and Iraq can be extremely traumatising. The only time I feel excited is when I see how much more united we have become in our endeavours. We have occasional hiccups internally, but the overall progress is amazing. I have tremendous hope for the future of the Kurds, and this gives me an inner peace despite the stormy chaos surrounding us.
I sometimes wish I could be there, of course, but everyone has their own mission. Most of the Kurds in the diaspora are more effective where they are and with what they do. I personally think that Kurds in the diaspora have more opportunities than they would in Kurdistan. They must take these opportunities, cultivate them, and translate them into something that benefits their people in the long run. Perhaps one day, when my kids have grown up, I will move back and look for a job as a teacher in a corner somewhere in Kurdistan.
On the possibility of the media losing interest …
The Kurds have always dropped out of the headlines after a “good run” in the media, which usually occurs after a “bad run” — a massacre, a refugee crisis — back home. It’s the law of — how should I put it? — political physics in the Middle East. It’s not in the interest of many of the powerful nations in the region — Turkey, Iran, the Gulf nations, the US, the EU, etc — to have sustained coverage of the Kurdish issue. They all have way too many Kurdish skeletons in their closets. Too many burned villages, too many connections to death squads, too much previous support for military juntas and dictators who shed Kurdish blood in the millions of gallons, and so on. The Kurdish Question is the Pandora’s Box of the Middle East.
But that box has now been opened, and there is no stopping us — not with the tremendous momentum gained with the declaration of a second autonomous region in Rojava, the peace process with Turkey, and the unifying factor that is the struggle against the Islamic State.