During a press conference Wednesday, President Donald Trump mentioned that the Kurds did not join the US during the invasion of Normandy in 1944 as part of his defense for removing troops from northern Syria, providing Turkey with a clear shot to attack the Kurds.
“Now the Kurds are fighting for their land, just so you understand,” Trump said when asked if abandoning the Kurds would make it more difficult for the US to gain allies in the future. “As somebody wrote in a very very powerful article today, they didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy,” Trump said, likely referring to an article posted on the right-wing website Townhall.
Facts First: The Kurds as an entity did not assist the US during World War II or at Normandy in particular, but that’s because they couldn’t.
The Kurds are made up of many different tribes and families that primarily live in Kurdistan, a region that spans across five countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Armenia. During the Second World War there was no Kurdish government in any of these countries, so there was no way they could have assisted the US in Normandy or any battlefront.
Experts CNN spoke with said that since the Kurds were not (and still are not) a nation state, there would be no way for them to enter the war. However, because some Kurds migrated to the Soviet Union following the First World War and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, individual Kurds may have fought with the Soviets against the Axis, as noted by The New York Times.
Henri Barkey, an adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told CNN that entering the war would have been impossible for the Kurds.
“There was no Kurdish entity, or Kurdish political authority,” said Barkey. “Just like many other people who did not have a state, (the Kurds) could not have helped the United States.”
“World War II was a war among states and the Kurds weren’t a state,” Michael Rubin, an expert on the Middle East and resident scholar at the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, told CNN. “It’s such a nonsensical statement to start with,” Rubin said of Trump bringing up Normandy.
According to Bryan Gibson, an expert on Kurdistan and assistant professor of history at Hawaii Pacific University, at the time, any Kurds who were armed had no military equipment beyond rifles and perhaps older machine guns. They had no tanks, airplanes, or any sort of artillery.
“The US has long range bombers, massive artillery, tanks,” Gibson said. “At most, (the Kurds) had cars.”
Gibson also noted that many of the Kurds were cut off from larger parts of society at the time. “We’re talking about a group of people who live in a relatively remote part of the world who have contact with modernity but pretty limited,” he said.
US and the Kurds
The US never called on the Kurds to aid in the invasion of Normandy or in the war at all. The experts who spoke to CNN did say that every time, however, that the US has asked for Kurdish aid, the Kurds have come.
“When we needed them and when we called upon them, they were ready,” Rubin said, asserting that every president since George H.W. Bush has called on the Kurds to help fight a common enemy. “And they were there to answer our call.”
The SDF, a Kurdish-led military group including Arab soldiers and backed by US, British and French special forces, defeated ISIS and liberated eastern Syria in March. The SDF said it lost 11,000 “forces, leaders, and fighters” while battling ISIS.
“To justify abandoning them on the basis of them not helping during the Second World War is outrageous,” Gibson said.