Turkey’s war in northern Syria

More than a week since Turkish troops invaded northern Syria, leading to the displacement of thousands of Kurds, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has remained defiant. He insists that he would not agree to any cease fire as urged by the international community. Erdogan said the military action is meant to sack the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, from controlling the territory because of the activities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Kurdish separatist group linked to the YPG, which Turkey considers to be a terrorist organization.

Turkish military action in northern Syria is a distasteful way of paying back the Kurds for their role in decimating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda remnants. The Syrian Democratic Front, make up of Kurds and Arabs, bore the brunt of the war against ISIS, as it lost 11,000 men in the conflict. There is now a setback as it is reported that thousands of ISIS and Al-Qaeda fighters held in prisons in northern Syria have escaped when Turkey attacked the territory.

This renewed war in northern Syria has brought to the front burner the question of Kurds in the Middle East. Since 1920, after World War 1, when the West partitioned the region, the Kurds have been scattered across the borders of five countries namely Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Armenia. They are a minority in each of those nations. They are persecuted by various regimes and denied basic rights. For instance, Kurds are denied entry into certain professions, refused subsidies provided to others, and often forbidden to celebrate Kurdish festivals. The late Saddam Hussein’s regime was believed to have attacked Kurds with chemical weapons. In 1973, the late President Hafiz al-Assad, the father of the current president of Syria, expelled thousands of them from their villages and repopulated the Kurdish lands with Arabs.

Numbering about 40 million, the Kurds have, over the years, engaged in efforts to ensure they are given an independent state, to escape the control and humiliation they have suffered from various Middle Eastern countries. Though they have failed in that effort, the Kurds have organized themselves into an autonomous community with a measure of self-rule in northern Syria. However, Erdogan claims that the PKK, the armed wing of the ruling party, was complicit in violent agitations by Kurds in Turkey who are fighting to establish an independent Kurdish state. Erdogan has, therefore, designated PKK as a terrorist group which must be crushed. In order to halt agitations by Kurds in Turkey, Erdogan claims that the best thing to do is to overthrow the PYD regime and occupy northern Syria, which is rich in oil, agriculture and water.

The ongoing crisis is an offshoot of obnoxious Western colonial policies and the lack of the political will by the international community to address the question and fate of Kurds in the last 100 years. It seems Western powers have deliberately allowed the crisis to fester, making it a ticking time-bomb for violence in the Middle East. Incidentally, when the United States sought a coalition force to fight terrorists in the region, they aligned with the Kurds, as Turkey, a NATO member, declined to do so. The US recently withdrew its forces from the territory, leaving the Kurds at the mercy of their mortal enemies. Left with no powers to cling to in the face of the current conflict, the Kurds have sought help from the Russian-backed Assad regime of Syria.

In 2017, the Kurds voted in a referendum to become an independent state but the countries in which they are scattered used force to halt the move. Apparently, it is high time the international community, especially the United Nations, intervened to sort out the fate of Kurds once and for all. There has to be a collective action in answering the Kurdish question. We however urge the Kurds to renounce violence in their agitation because they cannot win a war against five countries.


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