Every day, hundreds of lorries pass the Iraqi-Turkish border towards Zaxo/Zakho, Duhok, Hewlêr/Erbil or Silêmanî/Sulaimaniyah. Some pass the Kurdish cities and drive all the way into central Iraq. The goods that these lorries transport over the border usually can no longer be sold in the Turkish market, their quality is poor or their expiry date is approaching. Almost all carry Turkish symbols or names: Malkoçoğlu, Fatih, Türkler, Sarıboğalar, Turhan, Tunahan, Yunus Emre, Akbağ, Akan, Arıhan, Akhan, Pilot, Öz Sezer, Babur, Edinoğlu, Reyhan, Öz Konaklı, Filomlu, Sayılır, Trans Aktaş, Seray, Nuhoğlu, Misnak …
Everybody who has walked on these streets will have seen that along the route driven by the Turkish lorries in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, massive commercial billboards say “Taha Group – We Carry the World to Iraq”.
The Istanbul-based Taha Group consists of businesses such as Taha Holding, Taha Tekstil, Taha Diş Giyim, Talu Tekstil, Yavuz Tekstil, Fetih Tekstil, Fatih Tekstil, Fatih Emprime and Özen Mensucat. On their website, the corporation describes itself as an apparel manufacturing group, “providing a wide range of from innovative product development to logistics arrangements“. In other words, unlike its commercial slogan, the business does not bring the whole world, but in fact Turkish goods into Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. It is worth closely examining the reasons and consequences of the conquest of the Iraqi market by Turkish firms.
The Beginning of the Exploitation of the Middle East through the Nation-State Model
Within the framework of their long history of common cultural valus, the people of the Middle East region made important contributions to the historical, cultural and scientific developments in the world. However, today, many people seem to view the Middle East, Iraq, or Kurdistan as though such developments never took place. Behind this backdrop, the looting and exploitation of the region’s underground and overground treasures are accepted as some sort of destiny.
Two important developments have assured this situation. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empore, the Middle East was re-ordered through the creation of several nation-states. The hegemonic powers of capitalist modernity, i.e. the western countries, were keen on pursuing their own interests and profits within this context. The newly-created nation-states in the region were assigned the function of small police or military posts to assist the plundering and exploitation of the region. The regimes which were established within these artificial borders now coerced the different peoples, faith and belief communities and cultural groups to assimilation and collaboration. The hegemonic powers of capitalist modernity used the artificial nation-states in the Middle East to implement their own interests in the region in the 20th century within the framework of a divide-and-rule policy.
Divide, rule, create conflicts, confiscate resources…
The order which was shaped in the 20th century no longer fulfils its former function. In the 21st century, the attempt is to incite conflicts among the different groups within these nation-states, in order to turn them into tools of the system of exploitation. It must be emphasized that the responsibility for the chaos and destruction in the Middle East does not exclusively lie with the western powers, whose influence on the current developments are immense nevertheless. Today, the old politics of divide-and-rule is being extended with the politics of displacement and dependency.
In the past, this system gained legitimacy through the collaboration with despotic regimes in the region. Especially in order to distinguish themselves from the violence and anti-democratic politics of the regional regimes towards their own populations, these hegemonic powers wore the mask of democracy, human rights etc. in order to gain sympathy by passing as the defenders and protectors of universal values. This turned into a game, whereby the butcher was accused, instead of those who created the game, who make decisions, and who impose death penalties.
The assault on Iraq through war and destruction
Let us look at the developments in Iraq more closely, since they directly affect the situation of the Kurdistan Region. At the beginning of the 1990s, the US took the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait as a pretence to drop Saddam Hussein, who was their ally until then, to declare war on the Iraqi regime and to kill tens of thousands of people. This war destroyed the drinking water system, the sewage system and the dams, and thereby, the fundamental infrastructure of the Iraqi state. In addition, several sanctions were imposed in Iraq. In 1996, on a TV program, the then US foreign minister Madeleine Albright was asked about the 500.000 Iraqi children, who died as a consequence of the sanctions. Albright answered that the sanctions presented a “very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it”. A minister, who defended a massacre in cold blood, never had to fear the consequences of her actions. The “worth“ of these measures surely did not merely consist of the removal of the Saddam regime, but also in the plundering of Iraq’s riches.
Albright was speaking to the world public about the democratization of Iraq, which was especially declared a source of profit by the American weapons and oil industry. At the same time, she pursued a foreign policy, which was supposed to legitimize the plundering and occupation of Iraq. The course of events is well known: with the leadership of the US, an international coalition of firms and cartels, especially Great Britain, targeted Iraq and eventually occupied it in 2003. The limited liberties, which the Kurdistan Region of Iraq gained as a result of the Iraq war cannot veil the fact that this was an occupation of Iraq. Countries that stood up against this invasion were silenced with money. Germany, France, Turkey and others are on the top of this list of countries receiving shush money.
Sinan Antoon: “Fifteen Years Ago, America Destroyed My Country“
On March 29th 2018, on the anniversary of the US occupation of Iraq, the New York Times published an article by Iraqi author Sinan Antoon with the title “Fifteen Years Ago, America Destroyed My Country“. The article reads like a lament. Antoon elaborates on the consequences of the American invasion and says that it is partially worse than under Saddam’s rule: ”No one knows for certain how many Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion 15 years ago. Some credible estimates put the number at more than one million. You can read that sentence again. The invasion of Iraq is often spoken of in the United States as a “blunder“ or even a “colossal mistake”. It was a crime. Those who perpetrated it are still at large. (…) The pundits and “experts“ who sold us the war still go on doing what they do. I never thought that Iraq could ever be worse than it was during Saddam’s reign, but that is what America’s war achieved and bequeathed to Iraqis”. Die Aufteilung des Iraks durch seine Zerschlagung
Here, it is important to mention that groups such as the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), al-Nusra et care a result of this occupation. After the occupation of Iraq, trade, production, industry, animal husbandry, sewage systems in the cities, markets and public space were destroyed. The region with its people, which we call Iraq, was turned into a sphere of profit for the USA and several other countries. In Iraq, which was shaped by a revenge campaign of the Shiites against the Sunnis, the Kurdistan Region gained an official status and became a profitable area in the midst of extreme violence.
The Saddam regime was defeated, but there were no plans for the post-regime period afterwards. The nation-statist model, which was supposed to be implemented on a global and regional level, was adopted in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in the form of a bad copy. Within the politics of the previously mentioned “shush money“, a system was created which was supposed to divide power equally among the two formerly hostile parties PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party). As a result of these developments, Iran gained power in the PUK-held areas, whereas Turkey did the same in the KDP areas. These spheres of influence were so accessible that the Kurdistan Region of Iraq could be turned into a colony.
The Colonization of Minds in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq
15 years have passed since the defeat of the Saddam regime. Ever since, cities such as Hewlêr, Duhok or Silêmanî have been flooded by goods: from the construction sector to electronics, textiles, fruits and vegetables, and goods which can no longer be marketed due to their poor quality. They are mostly imported from Iraq and Iran. Although exact numbers on Iranian goods are missing, we know of at least 1,500 Turish firms that are active in Southern Kurdistan. Parallel to the economic dimension of occupation, there is also a policy of cultural occupation. Both channels affiliated with the KDP, run badly dubbed soaps without any artistic or substantial aspiration, such as “Arka Sokaklar”, “Güllerin Savaşı”, “Kurtlar Vadisi”, “Kara Gül”, “Lale Devri”, “Akasya Durağı” and many more. Channels such as K24 and Rudaw live-stream Turkish president Erdogan’s speeches. This way, the colonization of the mind takes place.
Apart from the KDP’s dependency on Turkey, this way, the colonization of the population’s intellect is being targeted. The aim is to bring the population to such as stage, where it simply quietly accepts the intentions of Erdogan and Turkey, which say things along the lines of: “Stay where you are. Make money, you have oil. Stay calm. You want an independent state? You have a 350 km border with us” Have you consulted us or Iran about your plans?” These are the words that Erdogan directed at Mesûd Barzanî on September 28th, 2017, three days after the referendum. No politician rejected these words. But the fascist Erdogan, who declared all Kurds as enemies, is not more democratic than the dictator Saddam Hussein. Even if their means and methods differ, and even if today’s times are different, there is no difference in their aim to deny and annihilate the Kurds.
Cultural Dissolution and Societal Chaos
In spite of the multitude of opportunities and resources, today, the society of Southern Kurdistan is alienated from itself more than ever, due to the exploitation and dissociation from their identity and cohesion. Never before, have hopelessness, isolation, atomization, corruption and autocracy, anti-democratic practice and weakness in the field of education and public services been as developed as today. In this outstandingly fertile region, people were alienated from production and joyful life, so that they drown in everyday worries and hope, in vain, for solutions from the problem-ridden political institutions. The crisis deepens, as the government opens the door to exploitation for Iran and Turkey. The government does not manage to build a communal economy, develop its own productive capacities, bring its own goods to the market and to sell at appropriate prices. These developments bring about a phase of cultural dissolution and societal chaos. When people come to realize this, they will try to obstruct this process. If this does not happen, the developments can turn deadly.
Putting an end to all of these negative developments would be an expression of an autonomous will. The political resistance against colonization is a central part of this. However, current regional and international relations, make it impossible for the Kurdistan Regional Government to pursue an appropriate path of politics. Through the connection of foreign political relations with the domestic political chaos and dissatisfaction, a situation of instability emerges.
Saving the Kurdistan Region of Iraq from becoming a back-up of Turkey
Turkey regards Kurdistan as it back country and has meanwhile occupied Southern Kurdistan politically, militarily, and economically. Through a variety of assaults on that part of Kurdistan which has attained an official status, Turkey is trying to hinder those Kurdish political forces in their existence and organization, which act against the interests of the Turkish state. Permitting the space for these policies to flourish cannot be in the interest of politics and attitudes for Kurdistan, but serve to increase and deepen the chaos in the region and in particular in Iraq and Kurdistan. The silence in the face of the Turkish aerial and ground attacks on South Kurdistan is an expression of a politics of collaboration and political dependency. For a more detailed view on the situation, the statement of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) from April 10th, 2018 is quite insightful. The KCK criticizes the existence of Turkish military points in Southern Kurdistan: “There are more than 15 Turkish military bases in Southern Kurdistan. They were not only built for the fight against the Kurdish freedom movement, but moreover for the control over Southern Kurdistan, the obstruction of Kurdish unity, for pressure on Southern Kurdish powers and for the incitement of intra-Kurdish conflicts. At the moment, the Turkish state expands its occupation of Southern Kurdistan and establishes its military bases along the way”.
A day after the “independence referendum“ in Southern Kurdistan on September 25th, 2017, Erdogan addressed the former president Mesûd Barzanî in a derogatory manner: “If we implement our sanctions now, you will change your mind anyway. When we pull the plug on you, everything will be over. All incomes will come to a halt. As soon as the lorries no longer drive into Northern Iraq, you will no longer find anything to eat or wear there anymore. This is what your situatuon will look like soon”. The lorries and goods from Turkey, which we mentioned in the beginning, do not seem to be as innocent after all. To take a stance against these aggressions will lead to overcoming this dependency and lead to a free life in Kurdistan with an independent attitude.
But as long as the government does not take any steps to satisfy the needs of society, the Kurdish fruit and vegetable traders will be forced once again this summer to present their fresh goods on the roadside.