Kurds: “We have no friends but the mountains”

This week, following the Trump Administration’s betrayal of a long-time Middle East ally, I received a message containing these words from one of my former students in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan Region.

We as “Kurds have no friends but the mountains“ history repeats itself!

Over the past 100 years, the Kurdish people–whose territory includes northern Iraq, northern Syria, southeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran–have been repeatedly lied to, stabbed in the back, gassed and violently murdered by successive regimes from both the West and the Middle East.

The US Government has called on the Kurdish people repeatedly for help and these loyal allies have at all times capitulated to Washington’s requests. In 1972, they were asked by the CIA and US-placed Shah of Iran to rise up against the Ba’athist Party-led government in Iraq. The Kurds were used and then left alone to suffer the wrath of the Iraqi military when Iran’s Shah make a back-door deal with the Iraqi government.

Still willing to trust the Americans, the Kurds in northern Iraq once again rose up against the Baghdad-based government of Saddam Huessein at the urging of George H. W. Bush’s administration during the Gulf War in Kuwait in 1991. While the Kurds did eventually receive US support in setting up a no-fly zone over their northern territory, other promises of oil wealth sharing and possible independence were not kept. Establishing border security was left to the Kurd’s very capable military, known as the Peshmerga, which created a safe haven in an otherwise extremely dangerous and chaotic country.

During the most brutal years of George W. Bush’s misguided War on Iraq, the Kurdistan Region became a refuge for Arabs and others seeking to escape the daily suicide bombings and civil unrest in all the other regions of Iraq. Because of the relative safety of the Kurdistan region, the US State Department established an American University in the city of Sulaimaniyah in the east near the Iranian border. In 2010, while based in the Sultanate of Oman, I had the opportunity to go to Kurdistan to teach during a 12-week intensive summer session.

Ironically, it seems the Kurds are being constantly punished by Western governments for openly working for the very things American administrations of the 21st century have tried to force down the throats of countries from Iraq to Libya: democracy, the rule of law and freedom and dignity for all citizens.

The time I spent teaching Kurdish and Arab students in Iraqi Kurdistan was one of my life’s highlights! In 2017, I wrote about my experiences and impressions in Welcome to Iraqi Kurdistan, Amazing Students of Kurdistan and The Kurd’s Destiny.

My Kurdish students in particular were the most motivated and hard-working students I’ve ever had the great pleasure to teach. I suppose that’s one of the most important lessons those who live through war learn–to utilize all available resources and take nothing for granted.

With one of my 2 classes at the American University of Iraq in 2010.

With the second of my 2 classes at the American University of Iraq in 2010.

Even though the tension from years of civil war was sometimes palpable among my students, I found the Kurds to be friendly, intelligent and incredibly determined to make their lands safe and free. They are a fearlessly independent people who don’t expect anyone to do anything for them. They know personally from the hard-knocks of their own bloody history that only they are responsible for their destiny.

Now, the American Government has stabbed the Kurdish forces (and all the Kurds) in the back by opening the door for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s TurkIsh military to lay siege to the region they, themselves, not so long ago took from the terrorist group, ISIS, that posed the greatest threat to the American way of life since 9/11. These very same Kurdish troops have been allies of the USA for decades, most notably fighting in advance of the American forces in the war against ISIS. They took the front lines in this fight, so that American troops wouldn’t have to, and died in great numbers.

The Kurds have long fought for their freedom and against tyranny, as well as for America’s goals in the Middle East. The only reason ISIS has been (at least temporarily) defeated in Iraq and Syria is due to the 100% dedication of these Kurdish freedom fighters–both male and female–on whom the USA now has turned its back.

The Trump Administration decision to withdraw all US forces from the Syria/Turkey border region is a betrayal of one of America’s closest allies in the ever-turbulent Middle East region. Shame on the man in the White House who made this heinous decision!

At the same time the Trump Administration was back-stabbing America’s Kurdish allies in Syria, the Pentagon was deciding to send ‘3,000 additional US troops‘ to Saudi Arabia to help protect their oil facilities.

In essence, Trump has kissed the asses of two authoritarian leaders this week–Erdoğan in Turkey and MBS in Saudi Arabia–while providing evidence to America’s long-term allies abroad that the US Government cannot be trusted.

It appears Donald Trump is so morally bankrupt he can’t distinguish friend from enemy.


Header Image: Kurdish YPG fighters in northern Syria in 2017.

Wiki Photos via Flicker: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rojava_conflict

Categories: Human Rights, PoliticsTags: , , , , , , , ,


  1. We are under the thrall of one of the most amoral/immoral leadership teams in centuries. Whether or not Trump is convicted of impeachment, the deep wisdom of US citizens will not allow his re-election. If there is any good news, it is that there is a cadre of devoted patriots whose respect for our basic values is allowing them to step into the witness chair to expose Trump’s fraud and evil. Among the worst news is that it may take a decade or more to re-establish the free world’s trust. Thanks again for your posts!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. This is one of those times when there needs to be a different button than “like.” One more punch in the gut — one more assault on respect, compassion, common decency…. Somehow this man stays in power… Somehow he may get re-elected. Incomprehensible. Thanks for your personal insight, as always, Henry..

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Henry, thanks so much for sharing your personal, on-the-ground experience of living and working among the Kurdish people. These “fearlessly independent people who don’t expect anyone to do anything for them” must once again return to the battlefield to preserve their homeland.

    What an indictment of America’s leadership that we value oil above the lives of those who have fought besides us to promote our democratic ideals!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Hi Rosaliene,

      Unfortunately, it’s yet another sign that the US Government cares more about the almighty dollar than traditional values of friendship, trust, loyalty and the defense of innocent lives.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Yes, Trump’s decision to abandon the Kurds who defeated ISIS and then send troops to defend the despotic butchers OF Saudi Arabia was certainly a dark day in American history.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I cannot believe that a sitting president of the USA has his hand in this…. what might turn out to be genocide.
    I feel ill.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. It’s all so unbelievable..how did we get here?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Jane,

      I AGREE, but was hoping you could answer that question? 🙂 I think the terms “mass consumption” and “individualism on steroids” can explain some it, but it will take someone a lot more enlightened than I to figure out solutions.


  7. Thanks for this post, Henry. It means so much to hear your personal experiences in Kurdistan, and see photos of your students. We can’t get an adult into the oval office soon enough. -Rebecca

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Rebecca,

      I think it’s important to put a human face on events. The constant media bombardment has desensitized us all to a degree. Thanks always for your support.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You did an excellent job of contextualizing what the current betrayal will mean. Are you still in contact with any Kurds you met in 2010? I wish them and their compatriots peace and safety.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I had such amazing experiences getting to know these students. The atmosphere had such intense energy that I felt as if I knew each student’s history–thanks to small classes as well!–by the end of 12 short weeks. Several of the students do keep in touch with me on a periodic basis. It’s nice to see how they’re progressing professionally and, for many, as parents as well.

        Liked by 2 people

      • What an amazing experience. Likewise, we learned so much living abroad in Chile. I hope more US citizens have the chance to travel or work abroad. I believe it would create healthy change.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree totally Rebecca. Living in a foreign context is life-changing in so many positive ways.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. It is heartbreaking and criminal that our country would open the door for a dictator to slaughter the Kurds. And it’s looking like genocide. Thanks for your personal story.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. XLV is a person never to be trusted.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is so disturbing. If the U.S. as a country continues along this path, it will be we ourselves who have no friends, not even the mountains.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. Not sure how many we have left at the moment. I don’t think the US can really depend on Russia or Saudi Arabia to come to our aid in a time of need, but those are the regimes this president has befriended and defended, despite their human right’s abuses. It’s definitely time to change paths.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. What an insightful commentary and personal story. The lack of integrity and humanity that scoundrel brings to the highest office in the land is shameful. There are many before him as well who put the blantant self interest of the US, or rather, what seemed in our best interest, before the welfare of others. Oh for a leader, and a govenment, who would lead us with honor, integrity, promise-keeping; with an eye to the world not just the US. What we do in secret and in Trump’s case, in the blatant open, to promote what we see as advantageous has so often come to haunt us with shame in the history books. When will we learn?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Reblogged this on billziegler1947 and commented:
    I had been meaning to assemble a piece about the Kurdish people for some time now. Fortunately, Henry Lewis has written a piece the keenly brings his personal experience to the fore. Actually, it is the best article I’ve yet encountered on the amazing Kurds. I think my readers will quite agree.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Bill,

      After spending a short (only 12 weeks), but intensely intimate time in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdish people will always occupy a very special place in my heart. Anything we can do to enable these warm, generous and incredibly tough people to determine their own destiny is only a small step toward righting our many betrayals of the past and present. Thanks for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Henry thank you for an honest reporting of what is happening in Northern Syria. You may not know it but there was a general request from a majority of Israeli soldiers for the IDF to intervene and help the Kurds. Much equipment was dispatched almost immediately but no physical intervention against the Turks took place. Probably because our prime minister is busy keeping himself out of jail.
    Very sad indeed. Trump is blamed but nobody else stepped into the gap and upheld a sense of decency. Where is Britain, France, Germany or Canada. Just a sickly silence from us and a deadly roar for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mikel,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

      I admire any individual, group, organization or nation that steps up to help the Kurds at the moment. I support nonviolent change and believe war is never the answer to a problem, but to desert the Kurds and give Erdogan a green light to invade was a stupid and despicable move by Trump. He is simply incompetent and clueless as a leader. He bows to all other authoritarian leaders, while at the same time, attacking the weak. He’s must go!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. This might be one of the most important articles you’ve written to date, in my opinion. It’s heart wrenching to think about the havoc our country is causing and how it impacts the Kurdish people. Through you I feel I know these people just a little, and with that familiarity comes compassion.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I keep thinking about that quote,
    “we have no friends but the mountains.”
    Mountains are beautiful.
    But they are cold,
    They only fall,
    And they,
    are silent sentinels,
    watching extinctions,
    come and go.
    When you realize,
    your only friend,
    are the mountains,
    you have lost,
    any faith,
    in humans.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. For the Kurds, mountains have always been about survival, the only refuge they had from the more powerful states that literally surround them. Thanks for expressing your thoughts Cindy.


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