The moment of truth for the Kurds is fast arriving: In conversation with Jonathan Randal
By Ava Homa:
‘After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness?’ is the title of a book by Jonathan Randal that I came across last year. The book’s daring and honest criticism of both world powers and Kurds in shaping the Kurds’ unfortunate destiny both intrigued me and blew me away. The book is a treasure, an extraordinary memoire that is focused on the history of the little-known and little-understood Kurds. Randle does not hesitate to straightforwardly state that Kurds have been used as pawns by both Middle Eastern nations and United States. Randle talks about the Kurds’ political suicides, their repeated mistakes and what he calls their “blind trust” in the States which constantly betray the Kurds. Incredibly unbiased, Randle portrays injustice and ignorance without the slightest desire to please any Middle Eastern or Western nation. He provides details on the atrocities committed during Anfal and reports how the States made loads of money selling arms to Saddam. Nonetheless, Randal states that “without wanting to be cruel, much of the last 100 or so years of the Kurdish experience can be construed as a series of political suicides, but they, too, have forged the Kurdish soul, albeit at a terrible price.” The book also includes details on the hazards Randal has been through to meet war lords and see the difficulties of Kurds.
Generally, we Kurds are used to self-pity and blaming foes more than we are familiar with facing our mistakes and fixing them! Feeling exposed and bare naked, I told myself I needed a break from the book before I can get back to it and digest it.
‘Osama: The Making of a Terrorist’, ‘Going All the Way: Christian War Lords, Israel Adventurers and American Bunglers’ are Randal’s other books. Last month I met Randal in a cafe in Paris. A high-spirited, very charismatic and strikingly wise and calm gentleman, Randal greeted me in a typical Parisian cafe and offered me the Farsi version of ‘After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness?’ Translated by Ebrahim Yonesi, the book was a very good read and made me face what I unconsciously preferred to escape. My time in European subways and trains was once again devoted to reading the miseries and mistakes of my nation.
Randal currently writes a preface for a book he has been working on for almost 30 years about how the Lebanese (Christian) Maronites committed political suicide—and helped blow up the country - rather than compromise with the other dozen and a half communities in Lebanon. ‘Going All the Way’ is the title. Randal still works on a book about the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the siege of Beirut and its unheeded lessons.
“The moment of truth is fast arriving,” says Randal. “The American troops are leaving by the year’s end. There are no US bases in Kurdistan. That leaves the messy situation between Kurds and Arabs unsettled around Mosul and Kirkuk. Did the KRG really ever think that would happen and, if so, when and what now is Plan B?”
“Years ago, an American ambassador told me the Kurds had nothing to worry about as long as Saddam Hussein was in power. But, he asked, what would the US and the rest of the world do, if Saddam fell and a determined Sunni Arab general decided to exercise sovereignty all the way to the international borders? Since then Saddam is no longer around and the question now would involve a Shiite Arab general. But the question remains valid. I keep thinking of the 1937 Saadabad Treaty allying the region’s nation states against the Kurds. Have things changed that much in the last 75 years? How long will the Turks want to keep making nice?”
“Obviously, the Kurds are coining money”, Randal says. “They never had it so good. Esso has dared sign an oil deal with the KRG despite Baghdad’s threats. But is that a proof of Kurdish strength or Baghdadi weakness?”
In response to my question on what can actually be done to prevent a potential crisis, Jon says: “I have a dreadful feeling that it may be too late, that what at least seemed like blind faith in the United States may have become so ingrained that there is not much the Iraqi Kurds can do now that the US recessional is underway, indeed nearing its conclusion. How ironic that the Kurds doubled down on the US just when the US was losing its clout and soft power … because of its wars in Muslim countries.”
Randal warns the Kurds but does not entirely dismiss the chances for a stable future for them. “The Kurds are gamblers”, Randal says, “and I suppose it was a wager worth taking. It was difficult to grab the brass ring when good fortune seemed to emerge from the very nadir of Kurdish history.”
Randal wraps up by saying that “I keep hoping against hope that somehow the KRG will emerge unscathed when Baghdad does get organized and the neighbouring states are tempted to honour the Saadabad accords. It puts me in mind of Dr. Johnson’s description of second marriages: ‘the triumph of hope over experience.’”
We are getting very close to the end of the year 2011 which marks the end of the US presence in Iraq. What else can we do other than “hoping against hope?” Can hope actually overcome experience?