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Israel, Turkey and the Kurdish Question

“I am not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader who bombs Kurdish villagers in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran get around international sanctions,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments on the US relocating its embassy to Jerusalem.

Are these genuine comments from the Israeli side? Many Kurds feel bitter at Israel, rightly so despite many common interests. The Kurdish sentiment is legitimate. They feel the Israeli government only speaks out when it benefits its own national interests and does not really care about the Kurdish cause. Whatever the motive may be for the Israeli government to speak up, it is certainly time to alter its policy toward Turkey, as Ankara is gradually adjusting its policy toward the Jewish state.

Erdogan’s harsh rhetoric against Israel went as far as comparing the Jewish State’s response to recent Gaza protests to that of Nazi Germany.

“There is no difference at all between the persecution inflicted on the Jews in Europe 75 years ago and the brutality faced by our brothers in Gaza.”

He further added, “the children of people who were tortured in concentration camps in every way during World War II unfortunately today resort to methods against innocent Palestinians that are in no way inferior to those of the Nazis.”

But do these words mean anything to the governments on both sides? Economic ties say otherwise.

Turkey was in fact the first Muslim country to recognize Israel as an independent state in 1948. What followed was a series of gradual economic agreements, which still dominate the relationship between the two states today. Economist Hatice Karahan said Turkish exports to Israel have continued to grow over the last several years. They were at about $2.5 billion in 2016, and in the first 10 months of 2017, Turkish exports to Israel went up another 14%. Turkey’s state air carrier, Turkish Airlines, is also the second most popular airline out of Tel Aviv after El Al, Joseph Dana reported in an opinion piece written for The National.

Due to the lack of hydrocarbon resources in Turkey, the Turkish government has heavily relied on Iraqi Kurdistan for its supplies, and of course is working with Israel to build a pipeline through Cypriot waters. From 1995 to 2015, Turkey’s exports to Israel was on average 4.26 times of its share in the world export, as described in the International Journal of Commerce and Management. Furthermore, chairman of the Turkish Exporters Assembly Mehmet Buyukeksi called for a tripling of trade volume between the two countries in the next five years. This is after in 2017, Turkish exports to Israel increased by 20% and Israeli exports to Turkey rose by 45%, and trade volume was set to grow to $10b. from $3.9b., wrote Sharon Udasin.

Israel was the only country to recognize the Kurdish independence referendum held in September 2017, which failed miserably due to the lack of strategy on the Kurdish side and the absence of hard support from the international community.

It seems Israeli support for the Kurds does not have teeth similar to Turkish support for Palestinians. The Palestinians are surrounded by 22 Arab states that all call for an independent Palestinian state in addition to Turkey and Iran. The Kurds on the other hand are left to find partners anywhere they can to push ahead with their aspirations for self-determination, even if it means resorting to Israel’s tiptoeing statements.

If the Israeli government is firm about supporting the Kurds, and truly envisions the Kurdish people as a common ally with common interests in a Middle East rapidly shifting toward Islamist authoritarian governments, it must act quickly.

This can be done by supporting the Kurds in Iraq, dominated by Iranian influence, and in Syria, a fractured state that continues to be dictated by President Bashar Assad and his brutal allies, which include Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and holds over 3 million Kurds who have been the only successful force fighting Islamic State while facing a military campaign from Erdogan’s army.

The more than 20 million Kurds living under the Islamist Erdogan regime in Turkey, and the 12 million Kurds being governed by the dangerous Iranian regime for nearly four decades, are key to Israel’s security in the region. But if Israel continues to accommodate Erdogan’s regime through trade ties, then it may risk losing Kurdish support too.

Originally published at: https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Israel-Turkey-and-the-Kurdish-question-559446

Photo: Al Jazeera

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America Cannot Afford to Lose the Kurds

Kurds have a saying, ‘no friends but the mountains.’ This stems from a sense of betrayal by the international community since the end of World War I and a promise that saw no traction in creating an independent state called Kurdistan. In the 21st century the Kurds once again fear they will be given the cold shoulder in Iraq and Syria, this time by the United States.

The US has developed a historical relationship with the Kurds in Iraq, following the first Gulf War. Under President George Bush, the US set up a no-fly zone which allowed the Kurds a space to govern themselves protecting them from Saddam Hussein. Soon after, in 1992 the Kurds established the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) which set the stage for self-determination, from the Kurdish perspective at least. Fast forward to the 2003 Iraq War, the KRG became the most important and reliable ally of the US inside Iraq. Let’s not forget that not one American life was lost in the Kurdistan Region during the entirety of the war.

On September 25, 2017 the Kurdish government decided to make a unilateral decision and pushed forward a referendum calling for independence. As warned prior to holding the vote, the entire international community, and the US included took a hard stance against the Kurdish decision. Perhaps the Kurdish decision stemmed from the idea that the US and the rest of the world would finally reward them with a state after successfully disintegrating the Islamic State (IS) while the Iraqi army collapsed. But this hope was short lived and what followed was a disaster. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRCG) general Qassim Soleimani visited Sulaimania province to warn the Kurds against calling for independence. Iranian backed Shiite militias, specifically the Popular Mobilization force (PMU) overran Kurdish held oil rich Kirkuk, a disputed territory under the Iraqi constitution. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened military action. Iraqi Prime Minster Haidar Abadi warned of consequences, and he kept to his word.

With all this, in the eyes of the Kurdish regional government, the US was nowhere to be found. The Kurds found themselves isolated and alone.

In Syria, the Kurds in the northeast sense betrayal is looming, again from the United States. Prior to the rise of IS, the Kurds in Syria played a defensive role as Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad pounded his opponents. The Kurds neither took the side of the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) (which today is fractured, unreliable and fighting Turkey’s war against the Kurds), or the Assad regime. The Kurds were simply protecting their historical territories in the north of the country. As IS rose and declared Raqqa to be its capital, the tides turned against the Kurds. IS saw all as its enemy, including the secular and “atheist” Kurds. Despite the push from the terror organization, the Kurds successfully organized fighters both men (People’s Protection Unit YPG) and women (Women’s Protection Unit YPJ). In alliance with the United States which later established the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a military force made up of the YPG, YPJ and Arab populations of north Syria. The SDF swiftly brought IS to its knees, liberated Raqqa and the rest of its territories east of the Euphrates River with less than 5% territory remaining.

Today there are about 2,200 US troops in northern Syria aligned with the SDF. The US plays many pivotal roles with its presence, which include but not limited to training and equipping the SDF, continue the fight against IS, prevent Russia, Iran and Assad forces from crossing the Euphrates river, help in reconstruction efforts in liberated areas and to patrol the Turkish-Syrian border to prevent Turkey from triggering a war against the Kurds, in what President Erdogan views as terrorists. However, President Donald Trump is adamant about withdrawing from Syria, a move if implemented, would be parallel to President Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq in 2011.

A hasty US withdrawal from Syria would leave a giant gap for Russia, Iran and Turkey to fill and would ultimately leave the Kurds abandoned forcing them to make amends with Assad. This would undermine all progress made by US forces with the SDF and would further legitimize Assad’s dictatorship over all of Syria. The withdrawal is unnecessary as the Americans are welcomed by Syrians east of the Euphrates.

In Iraq, the United States risks losing the Kurds to Russia and Iran following the independence referendum due to lack of reliable US backing. US presence in the Kurdistan Region is critical as Iraq finds itself deeper in Iranian regimes sphere of influence.

The Kurds have proven to be reliable, honest partners time and time again both on the battle field and in the political arena. It is long overdue for the United States to distance itself from the status quo policy of keeping failed states of Iraq and Syrian intact. The US must implement a policy in the interest of our Kurdish partners so that we don’t lose them to the dangerous regimes in the unforgivable neighborhood that is the Middle East.

Originally published at: https://securitystudies.org/guest-opinion-america-cannot-afford-lose-kurds/

Photo: James Gordon

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Capitol Hill

EMET on Capitol Hill hosted Congressman Gus Bilirakis, FDD scholar and former Turkish parliament member Dr. Aykan Erdemir, the pro-Kurdish opposition US representative of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Giran Ozcan, and EMET’s Director of the Kurdistan Project, Diliman Abdulkader. The panel was moderated by EMET founder and president Sarah Stern. Our panel analyzed the implications of the June 24th Turkish elections called by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Leading Turkey since 2002 with the Justice and Development Party (AKP), internally Erdogan has tilted state institutions to further solidify his position, he has targeted political opposition groups, academics, journalists, and the Kurdish minority all while labeling those speaking against his rule as “terrorists.” Erdogan has distanced himself from his short-lived “zero problem with neighbors” policy as he has made more foes than friends in the region. He has threatened Greece with military action while continuing to have a foothold in Northern Cyprus. His incursions into Syria targeting US-backed Kurdish forces has created a diminishing of relations with the United States. Under Erdogan, Turkey has pivoted towards Russia by purchasing Russian missiles incompatible with NATO defense systems. The panel examined the outcome of the elections, what Turkey’s future holds under Erdogan and how this will affect US-Turkish relations.

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Assad’s Bluff May Double as a Gain for Syria’s Kurds

Bashar al-Assad’s regime might soon be targeting northeastern Syria. This oil rich region is primarily composed of Kurds, and is secured predominantly by the Syrian Democratic Forces. The Kurds control over 28 percent of Syria and are backed by the United States.

In an interview last month with RT, Assad highlighted his intentions for the northern Kurdish held territory: “The only problem left in Syria is the SDF. We’re going to deal with it by two options. The first one, we started opening doors for negotiations. Because the majority of them are Syrians, supposedly they like their country, they don’t like to be puppets to any foreigner.”

He added, “we have one option, to live with each other as Syrians. If not, we’re going to resort to liberating those areas by force.”

If Assad decides to resort to forceful tactics, it is unclear whether he will receive backing. It is unlikely that Russia will allow a full military campaign. This move would not only be costly, but lengthy as well, and may risk weakening the advances made by the regime.

Furthermore, an assault on the Kurds could give a basis for the U.S. to move beyond the Euphrates river and into regime territory, forcing Russia into a position it does not want – direct confrontation with the U.S.

Assad is also aware that the Kurds are highly organized and battle hardened, unlike other groups he’s been able to easily defeat within weeks, like in eastern Ghouta. In addition, opening up a new front line along the Euphrates valley could cost billions and will surely prolong the 7-year civil war. In 2016, Assad said that the war had cost $200 billion, but acknowledged that only stability will allow Syria to recover, saying “economic issues can be settled immediately, when the situation stabilizes in Syria.”

Iran has also been protecting the regime since 2011, and is also unlikely to move beyond its current position as they are facing immense pressure from the international community to leave Syria. The Iranian regime has banked on the destruction of Syria since 2011 and has been able to expand, institutionalize its presence, and even threaten neighboring Israel. Most recently, Israel is reported to have convinced the Russians to move Iran away from its northern border, although this was later denied by Assad.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Europe in order to gain significant support to pressure Iran to leave Syria. He visited Germany, France and the United Kingdom and said his goal for the trip “was to a large extent, achieved.”

So, if Russia is not willing to move against the U.S.-backed Kurds, and Iran is facing pressure from Israel and the international Coalition to leave Syria altogether, this only means that Assad is bluffing and his threat towards the Kurds is nothing more than the same authoritarian rhetoric he’s been spewing for the last seven years.

Ultimately what matters for Assad is to remain president of Syria. He may be able to succeed if he agrees to give the Kurds greater autonomy, similar to that of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. It is critical to recognize that the Kurds have the upper hand here: Assad is only portraying resilience, when in reality he is eager for negotiations only to normalize his rule.

In response to Assad’s threat, the governing body of the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Council sent a delegation to Damascus to pave the way for talks with the regime. Assad’s threat was really a reaching out to the Kurds, and the SDC is embracing the opportunity.

Despite being the most reliable and successful force against the Islamic State, Syrian Kurds are perceived as secondary actors, and are often isolated and excluded from major peace talks including the U.N. sponsored talks in Geneva. Despite this, they have strategically negotiated with Russia, Assad, the U.S., and at one point even Turkey, who the Kurds assisted in moving an Ottoman tomb that was under threat inside Syria.

The Kurds in Syria have approached the situation pragmatically, which has helped them succeed.

There is still much uncertainty on whether the negotiations will have a positive outcome, but one thing is definite – Assad will not have the same control over Syria as he did pre-civil war.

The areas liberated by the Kurds in Deir Ezzor province hold large reserves of oil and gas, which is the primary source of revenue for the region. In 2017, the SDF captured the country’s largest oil field, al-Omar, from Islamic State. Al Omar produced 75,000 barrels per day in 2011 and brought in billions in revenue for the regime.

The SDC has the opportunity to negotiate not only territory but access to the Euphrates river via the Tabqa dam, or Euphrates dam, which is the main source for fresh water for the region, and was previously a major ISIS command center for its nearby capital, Raqqa. Prior to its liberation, a U.S. Central Command statement called the Tabqa dam “a key element of northern Syria’s economy, agricultural and way of life,” and warned that its destruction by ISIS “could lead to a severe humanitarian crisis.”

However, the tip-toeing policy of the U.S. towards the Kurds could be a source of concern. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned during the recent Turkish incursion into Afrin, a predominantly Kurdish region, that the reason for Turkey’s actions in Syria was because “Washington carries out open, and discreet delivery of arms to Syria for transfer to those groups that cooperate with them, especially to the SDF.”

U.S. President Donald Trump also threatened to withdraw from Syria, a move that would hinder the progress made in the war-torn country against ISIS, and would leave a vacuum for Iran and Russia to fill. This would leave the Kurds alone once again. The unpredictable policy of the U.S. towards the Kurds could play into Assad’s hands by giving him the power to claim that the Kurds are unwise to trust the Americans.

The Kurds realize that sooner or later the U.S. will give in to the demands of its NATO ally Turkey. A recent example of this was Manbij, a town near Afrin where U.S. and French forces are positioned along with top SDF military advisors. The town is secured by the Manbij Military Council, a force made up of local Arabs. Turkey demands that the SDF move east of the Euphrates river or they will attack. As expected, the U.S. gave into Turkish pressure and forced the withdrawal of SDF advisors from Manbij under a Turkey-U.S. deal.

Therefore, the Kurds have refined their alliances based on short term gains that will allow them to create a long-term presence, even if it means negotiating with a dictator like Bashar al-Assad.

Originally published at: https://thedefensepost.com/2018/06/21/assad-bluff-syria-kurds-opinion/

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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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