Had Hitler been confronted in Spain, the world could have been spared World War II, saving many millions of lives both in Germany and elsewhere. Instead, international passivity in the face of Hitler’s aggressions in Spain from 1936 to 1938 emboldened him to invade the rest of Europe and launch his genocidal campaigns. Today, 80 years on, Erdogan is building a similar fascist front, and the revolution in North and West Kurdistan stands alone in its uncompromising opposition to that Neo-Ottoman project.
In 1936, the fate of the anarcho-communist revolution against fascists and nationalists led by Franco was met with similar indifference on the part of foreign governments. The struggling republic, which was born after the fall of the monarchy only five years prior, had the sympathy of liberal governments in the West (with the exception of some Catholic and conservative fractions that sympathized with the nationalists), but it was a cowardly sympathy completely lacking in action.
Progressive intellectuals around the world recognized that the Spanish Civil War would be a turning point in history, that it was the last hope to stop fascism from spreading to all of Europe. Yet, in spite of the tens of thousands of volunteers who joined the International Brigades, not a single Western government came to the aid of the poorly-armed revolutionaries. This continued even as Hitler and Mussolini ordered warplanes to bombard Barcelona and Madrid on daily bases and openly shipped weaponry and troops to bolster Franco’s forces. As the Munich Agreement proved, as late as October 1938, France and Britain were still trying to avoid any confrontation with Hitler, preferring to submit to his bullying politics.
Today’s Middle East and North Africa share striking parallels with late 1930s Europe. It is a region teeming with fascism, albeit of an Islamist persuasion, and at the very heart there is again a powerful populist leader with a deadly vision for the world.
Notwithstanding the influence of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Erdogan is for Sunni Islamism what Hitler was for fascism. Turkey under Erdogan has been the single most powerful ally of Sunni Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas to Al-Nusra and the Islamic State. Moreover, Erdogan’s popularity among Sunni Islamists of all backgrounds exceeds that of any other populist leader, and, to make things worse, his agenda has gone largely unnoticed, especially amidst the chaos in Iraq and Syria.
While Kurds and their allied progressive forces struggle to stop this rise of Islamism, the West has done little more than yield to Erdogan’s bullying politics with bad faith, hoping that he would one day stop supporting the Islamic State and other Islamist forces. Passive solidarity or sympathy alone will not enable Kurds and allied forces to stop Islamists in Syria. This is particularly the case given that Turkey, with the silent approval of NATO, continues to use all its power to destroy Kurds in both Turkey and Syria, just as Nazi Germany was directly involved in suppressing the ant-fascist revolution in Spain.
If the world remains reluctant to stop Erdogan, the impending disaster will indeed be comparable to World War II. While his two-faced politics with the liberal West – again resembling those of Hitler from 1936 to 1938 – continue for the time being, Erdogan’s imperialist Caliphate is already taking shape. At the same time, his politics of blackmailing the European Union with the refugee crisis and the United States with the prospect of (largely unmaterialized) support in the war on the Islamic State have proven extremely effective.
Erdogan intends to establish an Islamist empire by 2023, and if the popular support he enjoys at present is any indication, the coming empire will have the backing of the vast majority of Sunni Islamists. Turkey’s genocidal campaign against Kurds is therefore just the beginning. With time, the world will no doubt realize that Erdogan is a fatal threat to international peace; unfortunately, however, it will likely be too late. Just as world leaders were too late in putting a stop to Hitler in 1939, just as they failed to support Catalonian, Basque, and Spanish progressives, not to mention Jews, the world today stands idly by as the revolutionaries in Kurdistan confront NATO’s second largest army.