The Sumerians called it Buranuna 5000 years ago, and it held for them a magical quality. There empire centered roughly between the Buranuna, or Euphrates and the Tigris, a fertile delta running from Basra just north of Kuwait, running through the hearts of Iraq and Syria into eastern Turkey. This is the cradle of civilization, the place where humanity sought settlement over nomadic existence. This is where our collective ancestors settled into those furtive first communities and invented farming. It was not by happenstance. This was the only place it could have happened some 9700 years ago. This is the crossroads, the natural and sustainably survival path north into Turkey and Europe, or into the Russian Steppes, or east into Asia. The Tigris and Euphrates is indelibly imprinted upon the human soul. Our history is in those rivers. The legacy of that murky and convoluted history still reverberates and intrudes upon the illusion of our modern pretense that we have severed those primitive ties to our ancient selves.
This was the seat of power of the Persian king Darius III before he was defeated by Alexander the Great at the Battle of Gaugamela, just outside of modern day Mosul. Mosel sits astride the Tigris River, where Kurdish forces fended off ISIS last month. In fact, the history of this land is key to understanding ISIS. That the Pentagon, Republicans and Democrats and the media have failed to note that is, in my opinion, a fundamental miscalculation in confronting ISIS. Two weeks ago the Syrian towns of Al Tabqah and Ar Raqqah on opposite banks of the Euphrates fell to ISIS. This week they are pressing assaults for Baghdad. As of this writing the northern Syrian town of Kobane on the Turkish frontier was close to falling. The capture of the town neutralizes Kurdish resistance in the region, on the road to Jarabulus, consolidating their control over the Euphrates and Tigris delta clear to Baghdad. That control makes them an entity to be reckoned with and a state to be recognized.
Once they ISIS has solidified control over the region the rest of Iraq will fall, and it it is likely that ISIS will turn south to Kuwait for a warm water port and access to the Persian Gulf. ISIS is Sunni. This largest sect of Islam believes itself the closest adherents to the Prophet Muhammed and his heir Abu Bakr. But what sect of any religion doesn’t believe that it holds the fast track to God or a prophet? The Seljuk Turks, which raged across the middle east in the 10th and 11th centuries used these lands as their base of operations, moving up the Euphrates and into Turkey. The land ISIS now covets mirrors the Seljuk expansion to a frightening degree. There are powerful historic connections for ISIS to the region. History tells us much.
South of Baghdad and just west of the Euphrates, on the edge of the river’s fertile extent lies the city of Karbala. It was the site of the Battle of Karbala in 680AD. The city is considered holy by Shia. Loss of the city to the Sunni ISIS would represent a spiritual and historic calamity within Islam. Over the last several years Sunni militants and ISIS sympathizers have continually attack Shia pilgrims to the city.
In both the Bible and Koran there are references to the river as well:
“The Prophet Muhammad said: “The Hour will not come to pass before the river Euphrates dries up to unveil the mountain of gold, for which people will fight. Ninety-nine out of one hundred will die [in the fighting], and every man among them will say: ‘Perhaps I may be the only one to remain alive’.”
“Soon the river Euphrates will disclose the treasure of gold. So, whoever will be present at that time should not take anything of it.”
In fact ISIS has been only to happy to sell their black gold, or oil on the black market for pennies on the dollar to fund their operations. Like the rest of us ISIS is perpetually caught between history and tomorrow. That history bends our reason as we craft illusions of freewill in our reach for tomorrow. Mankind like a racer shadowed at the shoulder by a competitor is constantly forcing itself to look forward while look back at its own history. ISIS is just as crippled by that dichotomy as the rest of us. Their burden is living too much in an idealized past. Here in the West, we are burdened by a lack of historical perspective and the realization that our collective history remains a shared lesson and curse.
WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. He is currently working on a new book “Shoot Down: An unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com