Trumps actions puts Kurds at risk
By Conor Kelly
On Wednesday, the Turkish military waged an offense against the Kurdish people, an ethnic group that is spread throughout southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria, Northern Iraq, and South-Western Armenia, according to the BBC. Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, with about 35 million people counted among them. They have been seeking statehood since World War I, when the idea of Kurdistan was promised to them by Western powers in the Treaty of Sevres, as reported by Encyclopedia Britannica. Unfortunately, this promise was not kept by the Western powers, as they abandoned the Kurdish plea for nationhood with the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. The Kurds have a painful history with betrayal and unkept promises. It would seem this history is repeating itself, but this time, it is the United States and only the United States that serves to repeat this shameful history.
Because the Trump administration began pulling troops out of Northern Syria, the Turkish government sent in its forces to eliminate the Kurds, whom they consider terrorists. Indeed, the Turkish government has never been fond of the Kurdish people and has seen them as a threat to their territory—to the extent that the Turkish parliament has banned the Kurdish language, according to the New York Times. Pro-Kurdish politicians and advocates are routinely accused of working with the militant and far-left PKK —Kurdistan Workers’ Party—for simply speaking in their mother tongue. To put it bluntly, the Turks have no concern for the Kurds, and they would tear them apart in Syria if not for the U.S. military presence there—a presence that we have now reduced. As Eric Schmitt and Maggie Habermann of the New York Times point out, the U.S. pulled back between 100 to 150 troops to allow the Turks to conduct their assault against the Kurds, and plans are in motion to remove 1000 more troops, according to NBC. These changes imply that this is not a full removal of troops from Syria, it is only a withdrawal from the North. This only serves to put the Kurds at risk and allow a dictator like Erdogan play with the sovereignty of a nation he has no business messing with. I have written routinely about my disdain for the endless wars we have fought. We must remember that peace can only be created through nuanced policy decisions, and such policy decisions must eliminate power vacuums and endeavor to prevent the enemy we fought from returning.
Those who speak in defense of Trump will argue that he had to choose between endless war with the Turks or the Kurds, but this is a false choice. Trump could have begun negotiations with the Turks and Kurds before pulling out, but instead, Trump chose to let the Turks have their way, despite the fact that the Kurds had been one of our most reliable allies against ISIS, if not the most valuable. The Guardian reports that the Kurds were holding approximately 100,000 ISIS members or suspected ISIS members, but with the arrival of Turkish forces, Kurdish forces began focusing on defending themselves. As a result, an estimated 750 suspected ISIS affiliates escaped one of their prisons in north-eastern Syria, according to the Guardian. Indeed, James Mattis has warned that we could be facing a resurgence of ISIS fighters if we don’t handle this situation carefully. As previously stated, the Kurds have been our foremost allies against ISIS, and now that we have left them at the mercy of the Turks, we have ensured that they will not trust us, nor will they be able to serve our interests, with ISIS fighters escaping. We have, in essence, betrayed one of our allies, sent Syria into further instability and have sent people fleeing from their homes. As Reuters reported, 64,000 people have fled Syria since the operations began. The same allies which we depended upon to kill Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The brutality of the Turks can’t be disregarded as a video released by the New York Times showed Turkish fighters executing a Kurdish man on the side of the rode while cheering his death, firing rounds repeatedly into his unmoving corpse. The Turks have been completely and utterly ruthless, launching 181 air strikes as of October 9th. More inevitably will follow and unless we take firm steps to prevent further carnage, it will only get worse.
The Turks will not stop until they remove the Kurds and their independent operations in Syria from the face of the Earth, and we have given them the means to do so. We have betrayed them, and their people will suffer the consequences of our malfeasance.