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J’Accuse: Kurds Held the Line Against ISIS—Yet The U.S. Abandoned Them

The  following article was originally published in The Daily Beast.

On Tuesday evening, accompanied by the United Nations ambassadors of France and Great Britain, the French philosopher, journalist, and human rights activist Bernard-Henri Lévy presented a documentary film at the United Nations. Its subject is the major role that Iraqi Kurdish fighters, known as peshmerga, played in the defeat of the so-called Islamic State.

The Kurds had hoped that their close alliance with the United States and other Western forces in that fight would help open the way for independence. But when they held a referendum in September, with 93 percent of the population of Kurdish northern Iraq voting for independence, their former allies turned their backs on them and Iraqi government troops and Shia militias rolled into contested territories.

Lévy’s remarks are a damning accusation:


Delivered by Bernard-Henri Lévy, 28 November 2017, at the UN Building In New York in Advance of a Screening of Peshmerga.

It is with a sense of satisfaction deeply tinged with sadness that I am here tonight at the invitation of French Ambassador [François] Delattre and his British counterpart to present my film Peshmerga to you, honorable ambassadors and friends of Kurdistan.

What you are about to see is a documentary that I filmed, from July to November 2015, with a team of five, along the thousand kilometer front where Kurdish fighters, alone on the ground, were battling the Islamic State.

The film paints the portrait of a small but great people who stood up to the Islamic State defending their freedom and ours; it depicts a people who, at the moment of victory, after a century of struggle and suffering, dared to imagine themselves as a sovereign nation and who paid the ultimate price for this dream: blockade; armed attack and territorial dismemberment; unprecedented humiliation of their leadership, whose representatives, by the way, were prevented from joining us here tonight; the shocking images of the heavy weaponry furnished to Iraq by the United States, in the name of the common struggle against the Islamic State, turned against the Kurds; and the Kurds’ abandonment by the community of nations—an abandonment that occurred also (forgive my bluntness) right here in this building.

Yes, we failed to show our gratitude to the Kurdish people.

Yes, we denied them the protection against aggression that they deserved.

And, when the remaining friendly countries, such as France, attempted to raise the issue of the historic rights of Kurdistan, the apostles of the principle that might makes right, the advocates of undiluted application of “reasons of state,” the strong men of the region, those who believe that man was born to obey, peoples to submit, and borders to be carved into the living flesh of humankind—they, alas, had the last word.

After completing the film you are about to see, I returned to Kurdistan for the referendum of September 25th.

I revisited the old front line on the heights of Bashiqa overlooking the Plain of Nineveh. There I reunited with the Peshmerga battalion in which I had been embedded and whose battles I filmed.

The soldiers—men and women—had just finished voting, at the very place where they had fought and won. When the polls closed, rifles by their sides, they raised their hands as one, their ink-stained index fingers signifying that they had done their duty as citizens.

Honorable ambassadors, they had exchanged the tools of war for those of democracy.

But we did not properly appreciate their splendid act.

We rejected the sharing of values and hope that they were offering us.

And, as so often in the past, we shamefully turned our backs on them.

Ambassadors, friends, the future lasts a long time.

The long march of history never ceases, and the will to freedom, more indomitable than ever, never dies.

Burning brightly in the images you are about to see is the inextinguishable flame of Kurdistan, which, one day, will burst out from the mountains of Kurdistan to reach the Tigris.

The trailer for Peshmerga is in French, but the visuals take the viewer straight to the front line.


This article was originally published in The Daily Beast.

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