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US Lawmakers can still undo a wrong in Afrin, Syria

In an unprovoked attack on American Kurdish allies in Afrin Syria, the Turks have continued a two-month long air and ground campaign with no end in sight. The Kurds have partnered with the international coalition including United States in defeating the Islamic State in Syria, most notably in recapturing Raqqa, the capital of the so called Islamic State.

To the Kurds betrayal is ever so common, the most recent example in Kirkuk as the oil-rich city was given to Shiite militias on a silver platter. A city now outside the control of Iraqi forces and riddled with ISIS once again. Just months later in Afrin, a predominately Kurdish region is being attacked by U.S. NATO partner Turkey.

Prior to the Turkish invasion, Afrin was untouched by the Assad regime and ISIS. It acted as a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Arabs, including Kurdish Yezedi refugees from Iraq. Today Turkey is targeting not only the indigenous Kurdish population in Afrin but Christians and Yezedi minorities as well.

The Trump administration has failed to react to Turkish President Erdogan’s aggressive actions against a staunch U.S. ally. The State Department has been cautious, hesitant to step on Erdogan’s toes while Turkey ignores all international laws including a U.N. Security Council cease-fire. But it is not too late for US lawmakers to act on this humanitarian crisis caused by America’s supposed ally. Eight members of Congress have previously signed a letter to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his recent trip to Ankara, urging to convince Erdogan to stop the incursion due to civilian deaths and injuries.

This was ignored.

Afrin is a humanitarian crisis. As Turkey continues to advance towards the center of the city, the number of civilian deaths will increase. Afrin is a bipartisan cause which demands Turkey to act within international laws and norms. Erdogan has threatened U.S. soldiers in Manbij positioned a little more than a hour away east of Afrin by stating he will “bury and strangle” anyone siding with the Kurds. Erdogan has called on his 90,000 mosques inside Turkey to recite the verse of conquest from the Quran, calling on Jihad aimed at Kurds.

Erdogan is not behaving as an ally of the U.S., but rather is shifting east in partnership with Russia and Iran. Russian president Vladimir Putin, soon set to win another term in office, is more than happy to welcome Erdogan into his sphere of influence if it means creating a rift between the NATO alliance.

If Afrin falls, two likely scenarios are to occur. The first is that Turkey will annex the territory. Turkey’s history of failing to return land to its rightful owners is a negative one. Cyprus, an EU partner, has been occupied by the Turks since 1974.

Second, if Erdogan is convinced by the Russians to not annex Afrin, he will be satisfied with forcing the Kurdish population out of their historical lands and allowing the Assad regime to move in, thus legitimatizing the regime furthermore.

It is critical that lawmakers on Capitol Hill fill the void of the administration and the State Department on their failure to act accordingly to Erdogan’s aggressive behavior. The longer the U.S. waits to respond, the more civilians deaths will occur.

Originally published at: http://thenationaldiscourse.com/us-lawmakers-can-still-undo-wrong-afrin-syria-2059/

Photo: AFP

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‘Operation Olive Branch,’ A Turkish Invasion of Kurdistan

On January 19, the Russians proposed an ultimatum to the Kurds: Allow Assad to have full authority over Afrin, Syria, or face a Turkish invasion. The Kurds of Afrin naturally rejected the offer, prompting the Russians to withdraw their troops from the enclave. The Turks invaded the very next day.

The dilemma Kurds faced could not be swallowed by the people of Afrin. For Assad to regain additional territory over Syria was not an option, and certainly a foreign entity to rule over historical lands was an unquestionable threat. Kurds feel betrayed by Russia but expect the U.S. to take a more responsible position. Kurdish official Keno Gabriel stated, “Therefore, we hold Russia as responsible as Turkey and stress that Russia is the crime partner of Turkey in massacring the civilians in the region.”

Into the second month, the fighting has been unrelenting. The second largest NATO ally, Turkey, aligned with the so-called Free Syrian Army and Al Qaeda-affiliate groups with the permission of the Russians, are fighting the very same Kurds who battled the Islamic State.

Afrin is home to some 1.2 million people, nearly 500,000 of those are internally displaced peoples and refugees who fled from both the Assad regime and ISIS. The United Nations reported an additional 15,000 people have been displaced with over 180 civilians killed and 310 injured. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that “Operation Olive Branch,” the Turkish name of the invasion, will be “complete in a very short time.”

Due to the unexpected length of the operation, the strategy shifted from penetrating deep into Afrin canton within days to establishing a security belt surrounding Turkey’s border. Turkey is now expected to conduct urban warfare, moving towards the city of Afrin.

The role of the U.S.

The Trump administration finds itself in a very difficult position, especially when it comes to Afrin. Although the Kurds are US allies in Syria, organized under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), there is no U.S. stake in Afrin. Afrin is situated in northwest Syria, while the U.S. is positioned east of the Euphrates river.

Prior to the invasion, Afrin was controlled by the Kurds as it is today, but the airspace is controlled by the Russians and had Russian troops on the ground, which later withdrew. Perhaps the mistake of the Kurds was to not invite some sort of U.S. presence into Afrin earlier.

What sparked the invasion in Afrin was Washington’s call to set up a 30,000 border force with the YPG inside Syria. The Turks deliberately attacked Afrin due to the zero possibility of U.S. confrontation, Afrin was known as a weak territory of all the Kurdish regions in Syria.

The U.S. response has largely ignored Erdogan’s harsh rhetoric by continuing to back the Kurds east of the Euphrates under the SDF. However, Erdogan vows to “strangle” the Kurds regardless of U.S. support.

Erdogan has also threatened to continue his operation beyond Afrin and deep into Syrian territory, specifically Manbij. A region with heavy U.S. personnel and outposts, Manbij is strategic to United States’ long-term goal in Syria. General Joseph Votel, commander of the United States Central Command stated that “withdrawing U.S. forces from Manbij is not something we are looking into,” further angering Erdogan.

Russia’s Role

Russia has aimed to create a rift between NATO, Turkey and the US, a successful strategy so far. Russia only profited from the Afrin attacks by further strengthening its leverage over Erdogan.

Russian president Vladimir Putin’s long-term goal is to manipulate Erdogan into shifting towards the East without fully taking responsibility for his actions, and Erdogan has taken the bate.

Russia, after allowing the Turks to invade Afrin, has now allowed Syria regime forces to support the Kurds. This strategy may be an attempt to force Erdogan and Assad to mend ties, further legitimizing the Syrian regime. The biggest losers of Russia’s scheme are the Kurds. Once again, the Kurds are bullied around by more powerful state actors.

Erdogan’s goal

Erdogan’s ultimate goal in Afrin is to push back any Kurdish presence, despite the enclave being predominately Kurdish. A Kurdish-led government near Turkey’s border is viewed as a threat according to Turkey.

Erdogan’s fundamental fear of a successful Kurdish government in Syria is a spill over demand for greater self-rule in southeast Turkey, home to over 15 million Kurds. But there are a number of troublesome outcomes to this Turkish provoked war, such as prolonging the Syrian civil war, derailing a peace solution, giving rise to new Islamic State like groups while creating an uncontrollable humanitarian crisis.

Additionally, Afrin may be a launching point for a Syrian-Turkish conflict backed by Iran.

The Kurds worry that the continued silence on the part of the United States will result in an ethnic cleansing of their lands. Erdogan has promised to replace Kurds with either Turkman’s or Arab Syrian refugees from inside Turkey similar to when he threatened to flood the gates of Europe with migrants.

If the U.S. continues to allow Russia to have its way in Syria, it will undermine its own policy and will force the Kurds to rely on the Assad regime. The U.S. cannot afford to betray their partners in Syria, a sentiment all too familiar with the Kurds.

Originally published at: http://thenationaldiscourse.com/operation-olive-branch-turkish-invasion-kurdistan-1777/

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Stand Up to Erdogan, Protect Ethnic and Religious Minorities in Syria

Turkey’s latest incursion into the Kurdish- held territory of Afrin, located in northwest Syria, is yet another provocative and illegal act by the fascist Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Afrin has historically been a predominately Kurdish region. Afrin survived the brutal Assad regime, al-Qaida affiliate groups and Islamic State (ISIS), and now Erdogan has opened a new offensive against the indigenous people in this small region.

Afrin has sheltered nearly 400,000 internally displaced peoples (IDPs) who have fled both Assad and ISIS in Adlib, Aleppo and surrounding areas. In addition to the IDPs, Afrin is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious enclave, unlike anywhere else in Syria.

Kurdish forces have valiantly defended the world against ISIS, all while Erdogan’s troops silently watched from a hilltop on the Turkish- Syrian border. It was Erdogan who aided ISIS, after realizing it was failing to defeat the Kurds. Erdogan took it upon himself to finally “bury” and “strangle” the Kurds.

“Operation Olive Branch,” the name given to Erdogan’s invasion of Afrin, only prolongs the Syrian civil war. This benefits jihadists and Islamic regimes like Iran and Turkey, all while disturbing civilians and those truly aiming for peace.

The Kurdish force, the Peoples Protection Units (YPG), has successfully thwarted any attempts at infiltration into the region since the civil war began. Isolated from the rest of the Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria, Afrin is surrounded by the Turkish military, Free Syria Army (FSA), Assad forces and a handful of terrorist organizations prepared to shake the stability of the small enclave.

Erdogan’s aim is clear: to remove Kurds from their historical lands and replace them with Turkmans. If that doesn’t work, his next step is to flood the area with Arab Syrian refugees from inside Turkey. Publicly calling for ethnic cleansing against a peaceful people seems to be the new norm for American’s NATO ally.

Just as the international community failed to protect Jews persecuted under Adolf Hitler’s brutal Nazi regime, the world is once again turning a blind eye, this time to Islamo- fascist aggression against the Kurdish nation.

The muddled US response has emboldened Erdogan’s harsh rhetoric, paving the way for continuous hostility. The Kurds look to the West, especially the US, to use its leverage with its hostile NATO partner. The Kurds in Afrin have never provoked or threatened Turks or Turkish territory, yet it is the Kurds that are being labeled “terrorists” by the Erdogan regime.

If the Kurds in Afrin truly are terrorists, would they have protected Yazidi minority persecuted by ISIS in Iraq? Would terrorists have protected Christians in the Middle East, whose numbers have dramatically decreased?

The Kurds have even taken upon themselves to defend religious minorities fearing jihadist backlash. Christian Syrian officials who have aligned with the Kurds in Afrin have stated that many Muslims have converted to Christianity inside the Kurdish regions and have not suffered any repercussions from the Kurds.

This pluralistic ideal is how the Kurds wish to govern their territories. They do not wish to enforce an Islamic-like system of government which threatens the existence of a diverse Middle East.

It is long overdue that the world finally stand up to Erdogan, protect ethnic and religious minorities in Syria, and keep the promise made to the Kurds, who have courageously fought ISIS.

Having been betrayed on many occasions throughout history by the West, the Kurds have a saying: “no friends but the mountains.”

Kurds are more than just great fighters; they desire peace and yearn for democracy in a stable, secure region with neighbors who share the same values. Unfortunately, Erdogan is the Kurds’ neighbor, and he will not rest until they are eradicated from their historical lands.

Originally published at: http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Stand-up-to-Erdogan-protect-ethnic-and-religious-minorities-in-Syria-542974
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Turkey is Coming for the Kurds

Photo by: SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

“Operation Olive Branch” is an ironic name for the aggressive military campaign carried out by Turkey against the Kurds in Afrin, Syria.

Situated in northwest Syria, Afrin has survived both the Syrian civil war and attacks from the Islamic State (IS); but when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vows to remove the “terrorists” from the region, he is referring to the Kurds — the same Kurds who have heroically fought IS and who have been allies with the U.S. in Syria; the same Kurds who have protected ethnic and religious minorities inside the war-torn country.

Afrin is home to nearly 400,000 internally displaced peoples (IDPs) who have fled the nearby provinces of Idlib and Aleppo to escape from both the Assad regime and from IS. The air and ground invasion by Turkey has also created 5,000 new IDPs since the advance began on the Jan. 20.

Erdogan has had his sights set on Afrin for quite some time, due to it being an isolated region separate from the rest of the Kurdish-held territories, and due to the lack of an American presence. Afrin is surrounded not only by Turkey, but also by the so-called Free Syrian Army, Al Qaeda affiliate terrorist groups, and the Syrian regime. Erdogan wishes to ethnically cleanse the safe enclave and either replace them with Turks or flood the territory with Arab Syrian refugees from inside Turkey. Furthermore, Erdogan has vowed to advance beyond Afrin into Kurdish-held regions east of the Euphrates River where there are American forces positioned. If Erdogan follows through on his promise, this could harm U.S. soldiers and jeopardize his ties with the U.S., and also be an act of war against a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partner.

To make matters worse, the outcome of Turkey’s aggression into Syria will give birth to new Islamic State-like groups, extending the almost seven-year-long civil war and ending any possible peace solution available to the war-torn country.

Instead of calling for an end to the ongoing Turkish aggression into Afrin, the international community has turned a blind eye. Seeing and capitalizing on this display of weakness, Erdogan has bolstered his position by threatening anyone who gets in his way, including American and European powers.

The Kurds have vowed to resist Erdogan’s destructive campaign, but are at a disadvantage due to Turkey’s air power. The Kurdish forces fighting under the People’s Protection Units (YPG) also have limited resources and light ammunition, while the Turks have unlimited means and heavy weaponry including German-made Leopard tanks. Kurds are known to be great fighters, but it is hard to determine how much longer they can hold off Turkish aggression, which has failed to penetrate deep into Afrin so far.

Erdogan’s aim is to destabilize a prosperous and stable Kurdish region. Despite the beating war drums surrounding Afrin, the Kurds have been able to put forth an inclusive and pluralistic safe haven in which both men and women are represented, ethnic and religious minorities are given a voice, and two successful rounds of elections have been implemented.

The Kurds are not asking their partners, including the U.S., to put soldiers’ lives on the line, nor are they asking for money or weaponry. The Kurds of Afrin are simply asking for an end to the unprovoked Turkish offensive into a historically Kurdish territory. Responding too late will give the world yet another humanitarian crisis it cannot afford.

Originally published at: http://www.kolhabirah.com/index.php/israel-global/op-ed/1176-turkey-is-coming-for-the-kurds

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Remembering Who Our Friends Are

In what has ironically been designated “Operation Olive Branch,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been trying to put the northwestern Syrian region of Afrin into a stranglehold. Turkey is now in its second week of bombardment over Afrin from the air and heavy tanks are now carrying out a ground offensive into the Kurdish region.

Erdogan is a brute and a thug, who has made a habit of trampling on the human rights of his own people. He used the failed military coup of July, 2016 to arbitrarily arrest and imprison anyone whom he considers to be his opposition, including dissidents, parliamentarians, journalists, and academicians. Many have been languishing in prison since the failed military coup, without right of habeas corpus, and in 2017, Erdogan further strengthened his ironclad grip on the country of Turkey by winning a referendum, so there is no longer a free and independent judiciary or a free and independent legislative branch. A former member of the opposition party in the Turkish Parliament recently told me, “Every Saturday night, my friends and colleagues gather to read the newspaper to see if they are on the list of people to be purged in the coming week.”

The late Soviet dissident, Andre Sakharov, once said, “One can always tell a nation’s foreign policy by the way they treat their internal dissident population.”

Erdogan is sensing that America is in a period of withdrawal and isolation, and his eyes are set in taking over the Afrin region of Syria. But it will not end there.

Erdogan has threatened to go into Manbij, which is an American outpost, and he is just reckless enough to try to take out American lives.

Bullies like Erdogan carefully take America’s temperature, and measure whether or not we have an appetite for further engagement. In periods such as now, when America is exhausted and war weary after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, all the world’s bullies and moral cockroaches come out of the woodwork.

Syria is the perfect battleground for many of those moral cockroaches. The Iranians want to create an uninterrupted land-bridge from Tehran through Bagdad stretching through to Beirut, and a Kurdish region would be an obstruction the road. Erdogan is pounding his chest with war chants, of course Putin, seeing a wide-open playing field, is trying to flex his muscles there, as well.

Syrian Kurds fought valiantly for us against ISIS, and they have never asked anyone to shed a drop of blood for them.

In Iraq, Kurdish forces fought alongside U.S. forces in Kirkuk, and then when America withdrew, where they allowed the Shiite Militia to control the area, and Kurdish flags are being torn down. They have been subjugated to Dhimmi laws and treated like second-class citizens there.

The Syrian Kurds therefore do have every right to remain skeptical of America’s friendship.

Russia controlled the airspace over Afrin, and Putin has given the green light to Erdogan to control the skies there. As I write this, Erdogan is battling to take over a strategic hill, and the Kurdish forces are courageously holding their own, but their losses are great.

How much longer can the Afrini Kurds hold out before being overrun when they are being attacked by tanks on the ground and bombarded from the skies? Some policy experts have told me that they might be able to hold out for only a week to 10 days.

If Afrin falls to Erdogan it would be tragic. This Kurdish region has offered a safe have to over 400,000 internally displaced persons from the brutal Syrian civil war that has been raging since 2011. These include Sunni Arabs, Assyrian Christians, Yazidis, Armenians, and Kurds from Iblib, and Aleppo and other parts of Syria who have fled to the north.

Earlier this week, all five members of one Sunni Arab family were killed. They now estimate the fatality rate to be around 100 civilians.

What is so refreshing about the Kurds is, with the sole exception of the state of Israel, this is the only region of the Middle East that offers a democratic, pluralistic paradigm for the troubled Middle East. People have actually converted to Christianity there. (Could you imagine what would happen to these people if ISIS were able to get a hold of them?)

Turkey, being a member of NATO, has a powerful military is presenting a formidable force for the Afrini Kurds. However, NATO was created to protect small countries against Russia in the days of the former Soviet Union.

Iran sees theses valiant Kurdish enclaves as obstacles to their hegemonic designs.

It is critically important that we develop some mechanism to dismiss countries from NATO when they have crossed red lines, and Turkey is the paramount example.

In the meantime, we need to send critically needed support to our friends in Afrin, or we will be empowering Erdogan and his Muslim Brotherhood friends, Russia’s Putin, and the mullahs of Iran.

I would like to believe that America is the moral compass of the world. That America is, in the words of John Winthrop “That shining city on the Hill.”

But it begins by remembering who our friends are.

Originally published at: http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2018/02/remembering_who_our_friends_are.html

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Phone Seminar: “The Turkish Invasion of Afrin, Syria”

1/30/18 – On Saturday, Islamist Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched an aggressive attack called ‘Operation Olive Branch’ on the American-backed Kurds in the territory in the northwest city of Afrin, Syria.  Erdogan threatened US troops stationed with the Kurds, stating, “This is what we have to say to all our allies: don’t get in between us and terrorist organizations, or we will not be responsible for the unwanted consequences.”  Erdogan added, “Either you [the United States] take off your flags on those terrorist organizations [the Kurds], or we will have to hand those flags over to you, don’t force us to bury in the ground those who are with terrorists.”

Before the invasion by the Turks, Afrin was relatively stable, home to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Syrians- regardless of ethnicity or religion. Afrin is 90 percent Kurdish mixed with Arabs, and the people have put forth a democratic system that accounts for equal representation for both men and women. Erdogan has labeled the Kurds as “terrorists” and aims to end their presence in Afrin. Surrounding Afrin are the so-called Syrian opposition, the Free Syrian Amy (FSA) rebels, and a mix of al Qaeda affiliated groups who have aligned with Turkey to remove the Kurds from their historical land.

By now, there have been at least 141 civilian deaths that we know of. The attacks have been concentrated on civilian areas and border villages. It is critical for the international community to immediately respond to Turkish aggression on the Kurds in what the Kurdish people call ethnic cleansing. Furthermore, Turkish advance into Syrian territory derails the Kurdish fight against the Islamic State and prolongs the 7-year Syrian civil war, likely leading to another humanitarian crisis.

Discussing the crisis is our Kurdish Project Director, Diliman Abdulkader.

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State Dept. Undermining Kurds, Our Long Time Allies

“The United States is deeply disappointed that the Kurdistan Regional Government decided to conduct today a unilateral referendum on independence, including in areas outside of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in September.

The United States State Department says what the State Department says, but what they say is usually wrong.

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The Enemies of Kurdistan are the Enemies of the US

“The Kurds have no friends but the mountains,” goes a traditional Kurdish saying. No friends but the mountains and Israel would be more accurate.

Israel stood alone when its political leadership embraced the Kurdish quest for self-determination. A “brave, pro-Western people who share our values,” is how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Kurds. The deep affinity is mutual. Israeli flags were raised during pro-independence rallies in the Kurdistan region, the US and across Europe.

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