WHO ARE THE KURDS? by Barry Webb for Americans for Intelligence Reform

With the Trump withdrawal from Syria and the worldwide flood of criticism it engendered centered on “betrayal of an American ally,” “inability of anyone being able to trust America in the future,” and (domestically), the “stupidity of Trump,” some of the far right websites and pundits started a cottage industry of demonizing the Kurds, as a way to justify Trump’s betrayal of them. Turkey and Qatar have been flooding the internet, and the airwaves, with anti-Kurd propaganda which has been picked up by some of these lunatic websites in the West.

These demonizations of the Kurds included such things as calling them “nothing but Nomads,” and “people who go back and forth across borders,” and “committers of atrocities themselves.” Therefore, it has become necessary to set the record straight.

In this report I will first answer the above accusations, then explain where the Kurds came from and who they are ethnically in relation to other ethnic groups in the Middle East. Then I will identify, and explain the differences between the PKK, YPG, FSA, and the SDF.

As for the “nomads” accusation. Every ethnic group on this planet has been “nomadic” at some point in their history. The reason Kurds are found “across the borders” of several countries, is because the western powers after WWI drew the border of Middle Eastern “nation states” in a way that forced the Kurds to be divided between four other countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey). As for “atrocities,” I ask any major ethnic group or nation which has not committed an atrocity to please stand up.


Among Kurdish historians there are two major trains of thought. One is that they are the descendants of an ancient people called the Medes by western historians. The Medes were an Indo-European speaking people out of what is now Southern Russia who settled in the 9th and 8th centuries B.C. in what is now northern Iran.

Prior to the coming of the Medes, the Semitic-speaking Assyrians, based in Nineweh built an Empire which stretched from Northern Iran to the Halys river in central Anatolia, and included all of Mesopotamia and most of Syria. This region closely describes the territories which the Kurds currently inhabit, however, the Kurds, though most of them are fluent in Arabic, speak a non-Semitic language as their native tongue. So, their origin has always been a mystery to historians and linguists since the Kurdish language can not be connected with any other known language group on the planet.

In the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. the Medes began building an empire conquering most of what was then the Assyrian Empire by the end of the 7th century B.C. (while their Babylonian allies took southern portions of that Empire). The current geographic distribution of the Kurds corresponds more precisely to the extent of the Mede Empire than to the earlier Assyrian Empire, which would seem to lend some support to the Mede hypothesis. However, the native tongue of the Kurds is no more Indo-European that it is Semitic, leaving the mystery of their origins still outstanding.


The second Kurdish explanation for their origins claims that they are descendants of the ancient Elamites. The Elamites originally lived in what is now southwest Iran, just east of Mesopotamia. They founded one of our planet’s earliest civilizations, nearly contemporary with the Sumerians who mentioned them in their texts. They remained contemporary with each succeeding polity that ruled ancient Mesopotamia down to the Persian Empire, and interacted with each succeeding civilization.

In the 5th century B.C., the Persians (who had already taken over all of what was once the old Mede Empire, as well as the Babylonian Empire, as well as Egypt), wanting Elamite territory for themselves, and considering the Elamite polity in their midst to be a security threat, deported the entire population of men, women, and children from their Elamite homeland to the regions once dominated by the old Mede Empire.

The Elamites had developed their own writing system contemporary with the Sumerians, but scholars have so far been unable to decipher it. It is not Sumerian, Semitic, Hamitic (like ancient Egyptian), or Indo-European. My guess is that Elamite might be the ancestral language of the modern Kurds. Ethnically, the modern Kurds are likely a mixture of Elamite, Ancient Medes, and Assyrians.


The Kurds pre-date their Turk oppressors in Anatolia by thousands of years. They predate the Arabs of Syria and Iraq by hundreds of years, and they pre-date the Iranians in the Middle East region by thousands of years.

With the coming of Islam, most of them converted to Islam. In fact, Islam’s greatest hero, after Muhammad, is a Kurd. Selaah ad-Deen (the weapon of the religion) whom we westerners call “Saladin” was a Kurd, and is given credit for driving the Crusaders out of the Middle East.

Yet, when the Europeans divided up the map after WWI, everyone in the region, including all the “latecomers” like the Turks (who fought against the allies, and lost) got their own state except the Kurds, the original inhabitants.

Can anyone blame the Kurds for being ticked off? And for forming revolutionary groups?


The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, came into being in the late 1970s–as a direct result of brutal Turkish repression. The Turkish government, loyal NATO “ally” and secular, “democratic” polity that they were, had banned the use of the Kurdish language, Kurdish dress, Kurdish folklore, and Kurdish names. Even the words “Kurd,” “Kurdistan”, or “Kurdish,” were banned in an oppression aimed at completely snuffing out an indigenous culture that pre-dated their own by thousands of years. An oppression and culture assassination that would have made Hitler and Stalin blush.

Thus, the formation of a group like the PKK was inevitable. Now, if you want to form an organization to combat the fascist repression of the Turkish state, who would you turn to? Turkey’s American allies? Of course not. You would turn to the one country in the world that historically hates the Turks as much as you do. And this country is Russia, which then was the primary cog in the Soviet Union.

Consequently, the PKK also adopted the ideology of their allies, the USSR. So, they became a Communist organization with a Kurdish nationalist bent. And, they began a series of attacks against Turkish military, security, and government facilities and persons.
The Unites States and the rest of NATO thus declared the PKK to be a terrorist organization because it was attacking their NATO ally Turkey.

However, in the current situation, now that there is no USSR, and given that the PKK has never attacked an American or European entity–with the exception of the one hit against the Turkish embassy in Paris–I doubt whether the designation of “terrorist group” accurately depicts the PKK.

That being said, there is some evidence that the PKK has allowed some members of the so-called “Antifa” to train on weapons with them. Antifa, for its part, will train with anyone who will have them, because they want to use these skills, once acquired, to attack targets in their home countries in the West. The PKK might well be performing these services (training) for badly needed pay and/or might actually believe that the Antifa people really are “against fascism” when the opposite is true. Indeed, in America the entire Democrat Party has been snookered by antifa propaganda, as has most of the media in the West.

Antifa, by the way, has also trained and fought with ISIS.


This group was formed in 2004, and then rapidly expanded during the Syrian civil war. They are falsely accused by Turkey of “having connections with the PKK.” They share with the PKK only the desire for Kurdish culture and nationality. The only connections they might have had with the PKK might have been a few e-mails discussing those issues. But they have never conducted a terrorist operation in conjunction with the
PKK–not even against the Turks.

That’s not good enough, though, for Turkey who considers any and all Kurds to be terrorists–especially if they wear Kurdish clothes and speak the Kurdish language.

In another issue, there is some unconfirmed evidence that western “Marxists” have been training with the YPG. Some in the media have assumed that this means that the YPG, as well as the PKK, has trained “Antifa.” That is probably a leap too far. One can be a European Marxist without being “Antifa,” and besides, the number of these types of folks (training with the YPG) is exceedingly small (two or three guys seen in a photo).

What is not small, though are the numbers of ex-American military who have come back to Syria and Iraq to embed with the YPG and other Kurdish entities to fight ISIS and other terrorist groups. Photos of these folks could easily be mislabeled as “Marxists” or “Antifa.”


One of the few things that the Obama administration did that was right, was to urge the YPG to form a new group called the SDF in 2015 which would include, in addition to the Kurds, Arabs, Christians, and/or any other ethnic group that wanted to participate in the fight against ISIS. As a result, the SDF contains a large contingent of Christian militias, Sunni, Shi’a, and non-believing Arabs, and even a thousand or so Yazidis.

The YPG and SDF have been accused of setting ISIS prisoners free. The truth of the matter is that virtually all of the ISIS prisoners being held in camps guarded by the YPG and SDF are from countries outside of Syria. It is not the responsibility of the Kurds or the SDF to guard, feed, and clothe these people. It is the responsibility of the countries these individuals came from take custody of them and do with them as the law requires. The SDF has been crying for months for the international community to take this problem off of their hands.

During the Syrian civil war, the YPG, and SDF, focused their military efforts entirely on ISIS and various al-Qaeda offshoots. Never did they raise a hand against the Syrian government or any of the western forces operating in Syria. Yet, Turkish intelligence termed the YPG to be the PKK’s “military arm” in Syria. Former U.S. Director of National “Intelligence” Dan Coats fell for the Turkish accusation repeating it verbatim.

The YPG’s only sin in Erdogan’s eye, was their military efforts against his ISIS assets in Syria. Therefore, he called them a “terrorist group.”

However, fortunately, the Trump administration initially and wisely, maintained the U.S. support for the YPG and SDF, and expanded upon it which resulted in the ultimate defeat of the physical manifestation of ISIS in Syria.

But then, in October of 2019, all it took was for one phone call from Erdogan, and Trump too fell for the Turkish line on the YPG. The result is the carnage we saw this past week, and a Hitlerian advance into a neighboring country by Erdogan.


The FSA is a conglomeration of various militias made up of left-over ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Muslim Brotherhood personnel that Turkey has picked up over the years. Turkey recycles these jihadis into new militias with new names and assigns them to the FSA. The FSA is then used as Turkey’s “shock troops” for committing the most heinous ethnic cleansing acts in advance of the regular Turkish army.

They performed most of the dirty work when Turkey took Syria’s ‘Afrin province in 2018 while the Trump administration looked the other way after a phone call from Erdogan, and they performed most of the dirty work this past week in the Kurdish areas east of the Euphrates, again while Trump not only looked the other way but pulled American troops out after yet another phone call from Erdogan.

This is hoping that this report helps explain for readers why so many people of all political bents are so disturbed not just from the fact of an American withdrawal from Syria, but at its bumbling suddenness leaving our wonderful YPG allies for Erdogan’s terror groups to do their work for Allah.


Barry Webb has logged a 25-year career as an Arabist for the NSA, has two MA degrees in related subject matter, and is currently a Senior Fellow with Americans for Intelligence Reform www.intelreform.org. He is the author of Confessions of an (ex) NSA spy: Why America and its Allies are Losing the War on Terror. His website is www.barrywebbauthor.com

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