By Robert Tolan
The din of bombs falling from Turkish F-16’s and the clang of an assortment of tanks rolling into the villages of Northern Syria on October 7th marked the start of Operation Peace Spring and the America’s latest betrayal of the embattled Kurds. The United States ought to hang its head in shame as those who won the war against ISIS, and their families, will likely be put to the sword by Erdogan’s offensive. The fault for this most recent treachery cannot be laid at the door of agreements struck in the closing days in the aftermath of World War I, because the onus lies with United States’ cowardice.
Perhaps some semblance of blame should be haltered to the haggard necks of Britain and France whose inability to realise the terms of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 enabled animosity between the Turks and the Kurds to fester for another century. If the Kurdish autonomy in this treaty outlined was enacted, there would be one less spoon to stir the cauldron of conflict in the Middle East. Nonetheless, the facts on the ground were such that maintaining US troops would have precluded Turkey’s war with the far-left Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) from spilling over the Syrian border. Yet again, America’s willingness to turn its eyes from the facts on the ground i.e. its disastrous restructuring of Iraqi society and later arming of dissident Syrian groups, created the Islamist terrorist’s’ troops where the fight portends more bloodshed.
American culpability for the debacle facing the Kurdish people dates from 1918: when Wilson’s Fourteen Points for World Peace was published. Therein, the twelfth point guaranteed autonomy for all ethnic groups within the former Ottoman Empire. This antidote to the back-handedness of Sykes-Picot offered a viable chance for the Kurds to self-govern within an economically and socially viable zone as opposed to its precursor. Of course, Wilson’s pact marks the moment at which the US became the world’s policeman- a role which cannot be relinquished voluntarily. Being the centrifugal force governing international relations can only be lost by uncontrollable economic forces as happened to the British Empire and to the Dutch a short time before that. It is a role which cannot be shirked and is therefore responsible for the territorial integrity of the Kurdish autonomous region in Syria-Rojava.
Before, the Kurds lacked the might to fight back. Tomorrow will be much different.
Turkey’s retaliation for PKK activity within its own borders cannot be used as a casus belli against the Kurds’ People’s Protection Units (YPG) of Syria. However, the more visceral nub of the problem is America’s abandonment of its main ally in the current phase of the War on Terror; something that has not happened before and bodes ill for America’s trustworthiness as factions pick sides amidst a resurgent Russia and soaring China. Of course, this is not the first time American machinations in the region have left the Kurds at risk; Kissinger primed Iraqi Kurds for rebellion against Saddam Hussein in the 1970’s prior to cutting off the flow of arms lest they got too confident. Hussein then pounced on Iraqi Kurdistan during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-89). The operation responsible, al-Anfal, killed almost 200,000 Kurds, mostly civilians.
Erdogan is eerily reminiscent of Hussein; he seeks to depopulate Turkey of its many minorities, impose fundamentalist Islamic laws and prevent the rise of pretenders to the throne. These parallels render Kurdish massacres, or even a fully-fledged genocide, at the hand of Turkish troops highly likely. Indeed, it would not be the first time the Turkish state attempted the extermination of its Kurds; the Young Turks tried their hand at this quite successfully while Erdogan has been shelling Kurdish villages in Turkey’s south-east for a decade. Undoubtedly, Turkey’s President will create facts on the ground that chokes Kurdish attempts at sovereignty into submission; it is not in his character to do otherwise.
The great unknown is how Iraqi Kurds will react to the ensuing massacres? Iraqi Kurdistan is autonomous, and for all intents and purposes, independent as Baghdad struggles to centralise control in a divided country. Hence, it is inconceivable YPG units from across the Iraqi border will not intervene. Heavily armed and with USled training, they will be capable of mounting some sort of fight against the ensuing onslaught whilst memories of Hussein’s chemical attacks on their city of Halabja linger- fresh in the minds of many although thirty years in the past will bolster their resolve.
Before, the Kurds lacked the might to fight back. Tomorrow will be much different. America will loath to reverse its decision to withdraw forces and Europe is tired from the chaos caused by Brexit. Perhaps, the only intervention will be on the side of the Turks. Russia looks set to ensure its intervention in Syria will pay off and could use its military assets there to support the Turkish offensive. One thing is for sure-there will be no peace and no spring of hope for the Kurds for a long time to come. The world should hang its head in shame.
Originally published 28.11.19 in Vol. 3 No. 1.