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Ukrainians love the drones that kill Kurds. Can we blame them?
Once again, one man's oppressor is another man's protector. The world is morally complicated.
Brazilian president Lula da Silva recently blamed the United States for prolonging the war in Ukraine by supporting the Ukrainian resistance. The comments set off a familiar debate: why doesn’t the Global South support Ukraine’s cause? Think tanks and politicians have put out many explanations for the seeming lack of global consensus behind Ukraine, from Russian “disinformation” to ineffective Western “narratives” to historical traumas of colonialism.
The simplest explanation, of course, is that standing with Ukraine just doesn’t serve those countries’ material interests. For many, sympathy with a small nation facing destruction is not enough of an incentive to stick their necks out fighting Russia. On the flipside, few are willing to stick their necks out to support Russia, either.
For some, the Western alliance supporting Ukraine is their very recent oppressor. Someone like Lula, who was jailed by a U.S.-backed military dictatorship in his youth and jailed with the help of the U.S. government more recently, has no reason to view U.S. weapons as the shield of the oppressed.
A few months ago, I wrote about “tankies,” the Western leftists who support repressive enemy states. As I argued, it’s not really a “Western leftist” problem. People around the world, including some who are very oppressed, are willing to pin their hopes on powerful foreign states and even excuse those states’ oppression. The sword often cuts in multiple directions.
Nothing drives this dichotomy home like the Bayraktar drone. The unmanned Turkish aircraft has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, a nimble high-tech weapon to counter the lumbering Russian war machine. There are songs, merchandise, and even tattoos dedicated to this little bird that burns Russian tanks and helped sink the warship Moskva.
Yet the Bayraktar was developed as a tool of repression, a weapon the Turkish army could use to finally penetrate the mountains of Eastern Anatolia and crush the Kurdish rebellion there. More recently, Bayraktars have allowed the Turkish government to terrorize populations across the border in Syria and Iraq, and have assisted Azerbaijan’s ethnic cleansing campaign against Armenians in Karabakh.
Nobody has really covered put the two perspectives together, so human rights journalist Dan Storyev and I wrote an article for the Kurdish Peace Institute about the Bayraktar’s contradictory uses. Many people we spoke to didn’t think much about the “other” side, or didn’t want to. But a few had some interesting thoughts.
Read the whole article for yourself.
By the way, while writing up this Substack post, I found a pretty striking series of images. The European Pressphoto Agency did a report on a Ukrainian children’s toy factory making plush dolls of various military hardware: Bayraktar drones, Javelin and Stinger missiles, Antonov transport planes, et cetera. It was seen as a way for Ukrainian children to support their nation’s struggle against a genocidal invader.
This image would be disturbing to any civilian who lived under Bayraktar bombardment, or who lives with the constant buzzing presence of those war machines. And many of those civilians, in northeast Syria or Karabakh, may depend on Russian peacekeepers to avoid the same fate that Russia is inflicting on Ukrainians.
As one Ukrainian woman told us: “everything depends on the one in whose hands the weapon is and against whom it is used…c’est la vie.”
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