Trump vs. Hillary: The Kurdish Question


With only less than two weeks left before the much anticipated U.S. election, levels of disagreement and apprehension seem to be at an all-time high. Realistically, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump fall significantly short of what many voters envision as an ideal candidate. Clinton will push for much of the same rhetoric as the Obama Administration, and Trump remains a mystery though constituents are very wary. For the 15-20,000 Kurds in the U.S with Nashville, Tennessee housing the largest population at 13,000, this election directly affects Kurds both here in the U.S. and in Kurdistan, which spans all four states of conflict; Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.

In the second presidential debate, Hillary Clinton echoed her stance on the Kurds, stating that she would like to work with allies on the ground in Syria and she would “consider arming the Kurds”. Furthermore, she continued to say that “I think the Kurds should have the equipment they need so the Kurdish and Arab fighters on the ground are the principle way we take Raqqa after pushing IS out of Iraq”. To anyone distant from the situation this sounds like a great idea, why wouldn’t anyone arm the Kurds? However, Kurds view this policy much differently.

Kurds have little or no trust towards Clinton’s policies, after all she was Secretary of State under Barack Obama when U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq after the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani warned the Obama Administration not to do so. Obama too promised to bring a “responsible end” to the war in Iraq; now it’s considered a failed state. Recently the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim brushed off calls from Iraqi leaders to withdraw its 2,000 troops from the country saying, “become a state before talking big”.

Kurds are aware of Obama’s betrayal and are skeptical of Clinton’s “status quo” agenda. It would be a mistake to define Iraq and Syria as states. Kurds in Iraq are preparing for a referendum which calls for separation from Iraq, and Kurds in Syria have carved out their own region, denying this would be yet another failure under Clinton. Why didn’t Hillary Clinton arm the Kurds before, as early as 2011? Why the desperate plea now?

A Clinton administration would use the Kurds to save Iraq, Syria and simply leave them dry just as the Obama administration did. Hillary Clinton also called for the establishment of a “safe-zone” in Syria, which is seen as another betrayal by the Kurds. A “safe-zone” would only benefit Turkey, which favors dismantling Kurdish progress in Syria, preventing them from creating an autonomous region like the KRG. The “safe zone” or no fly zone (NFZ), was the mastermind of Erdogan, Turkey’s brutal nationalist president to spite the Kurds in Syria.

Clinton was also for the Iran nuclear deal, allowing the Islamic Republic to gain billions of dollars. Iran, under the supposedly “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani, has increased its crackdown on Kurdish political activists and has executed more Kurds than any other president. There have been 830 executions in 2015 alone, according to Human Rights Watch. It is apparent that Iran is using scare tactics to instill fear against the Kurds.

The Kurdish population in Iran are largely Sunni-Muslim, where Iran’s majority is Shiite-Muslim, and they number about 8-10 million. Azad Moradian, spokesman for the Los Angeles based Kurdish American Committee for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran has said that “Kurds in Iran are persecuted twice, first because they are Kurds, and second because they are Sunnis”. For a candidate to allow a state sponsored terrorists to get hold of billions in cash would only mean further unrest for the Kurds.

So why Trump? He simply offers everything Clinton does not; the exact opposite. Although his policy towards the Kurds are not clear, there still lies a bit of optimism, anything is better than the status quo. In the past he’s mentioned that the Kurds “have been horribly mistreated”. He has also stated that “he’s a big fan of the Kurdish forces” who have made the most positive impact on the ground against IS. Trump is also against the Iran deal, stating that it is “one of the worst deals [he’s] ever seen”. A Kurd would say that there is no such thing as “moderate” rebels in Iraq or Syria, today they may be terrorists, tomorrow they are considered allies. This has been the root cause of the rise of violence in the region, going in without a decisive military strategy. Donald Trump understands that the United States should distance itself from training rebels it does not know or control.

With all things placed into context, it is highly likely that the Kurds will gain little or nothing under either candidate. However, Clinton’s ill-informed strategy in the Middle East has done nothing to make the Middle East a safer place, let alone help the Kurds. Donald Trump offers a bit of hope, until then, the Kurds will continue to shuffle through candidates until they get lucky.

Originally published at on November 1, 2016

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