WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D, Maryland), speaking on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, reaffirmed his determination to pass legislation to impose sanctions on Turkey and “hold it accountable” for its unprovoked assault on northeast Syria, as well as Ankara’s purchase of the advanced Russian air defense missile system, the S-400.
Militias supported by Turkey include individuals with ties to al-Qaida and al-Nusra, and they are carrying out ethnic cleansing, Van Hollen stated. He noted that Amb. James Jeffrey, US Special Representative for Syria Engagement and Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, recently testified to Congress that the State Department was investigating war crimes for which they were responsible.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R, Tennessee) also spoke at the event, which was organized by the Washington Kurdish Institute. She noted that despite the sharp polarization that now characterizes Washington, “support for the Kurds is a bipartisan issue.”
She stressed that it is important that “we remember who our allies are in this fight, and the Kurds have been our consistent ally.”
Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said he would not attack Kobani, but she warned that he just might do so. “It’s important for Turkey and Russia to know that the US is watching,” and “their actions are unacceptable.”
Blackburn also explained this “is not just a Syrian or Syrian Kurdish issue,” but involves the whole of the Middle East, and even beyond.
“I was in Djibouti and Mogadishu last weekend,” she said, and “as you look at how ISIS has metastasized and how they are using proxies,” it is vitally important to ensure that prisoners held by the Syrian Kurdish forces do not escape.
Sen. Mark Warner (Virginia), the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, complained that “one phone call” had “undermined our Kurdish allies, completely caught the American military, the American intelligence community totally off-guard, and threw the area into chaos.”
This “will be a disaster for American foreign policy for decades to come,” he warned.
“How do we go back to allies, or potential allies, in a very troubled region and say, ‘if you align with us,’ then ‘we will stand with you?’”
Ilham Ahmed, President of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), which administers northeast Syria, explained that their region was the most stable and peaceful part of the country. The rest of Syria is controlled by the Assad regime or Islamic extremists.
Citing the ethnic cleansing in northeast Syria, she called on the US to designate as terrorist organizations the Turkish-backed groups responsible for those attacks.
Ahmed also called for representation at the UN peace talks on Syria. The administration of northeast Syria, despite its success, has been excluded. “Friendly countries told us that there is a Turkish veto,” she explained. “But why does everyone accept that?”
After the event, Dr. Amy Holmes, a scholar at Harvard’s Kennedy School, described to Kurdistan 24 the serious flaws in the ceasefire that the US reached with Turkey on Oct. 17.
“The region between Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad has been essentially ceded to Turkey,” she stated. “President [Donald] Trump hailed this as a success,” because it was supposed to end the fighting.
“But it did not end the Turkish operations,” she continued. “Turkey has been violating the ceasefire” and Turkish forces “continue to expand the area under their control.”
Indeed, the agreement “has essentially given more land to Turkey,” she explained. And it “includes Ras al-Ayn, which was the second deadliest site of the Armenian genocide inside Syria.”
Holmes then described that genocide, carried out by the Ottoman Empire during World War I, when Istanbul was aligned with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire against the allied powers, including France, Britain, Russia, and the US.
“There were about 25 concentration camps.” Two of the most important inside what is now Syria, Holmes explained, were Ras al-Ayn, “where an estimated 70,000 Armenians were killed, and Deir ez-Zor.”
“This is grotesque that we have allowed, essentially, Turkey and Turkish-backed militias, to take control of this area, where a genocide happened a century ago.”
Indeed, evangelicals are an important part of Trump’s political base, and the administration has stressed that it will protect Christian minorities. However, it appears to be failing in that pledge.
Last month, Pat Robertson, one of America’s most prominent televangelists, cautioned the administration, warning that Trump was “in great danger of losing the mandate of heaven.”
Holmes also called for a US investigation of Ankara’s ties to the Islamic State. “For years, ISIS militants crossed the border between Turkey and Syria,” she said. “We asked Turkey many times to try to put a stop to this,” but nothing happened.
She also noted that “[Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi was found very close to the Turkish border,” and his second in command “was found in another region under Turkish control.” So “there should be a commission of inquiry” to investigate this, she concluded.
Another panelist, Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian and now a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explained that Erdogan’s primary motive for attacking northeast Syria was domestic politics.
Erdogan faced an economic crisis, for which his son-in-law, the Minister of Finance and Treasury, “was primarily responsible,” Erdemir said. In addition, Erdogan—who has been Turkey’s leader for the past 16 years—faced splits within his own party, with the former Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister about to establish two splinter parties
Finally, as Erdemir noted, Erdogan suffered two “embarrassing” defeats, first in the local elections in March, and then in their rerun in June, which confirmed the ruling party’s loss of Istanbul.
In an age of social media, Western democracies are witnessing how easy it is for a political figure to gain support by setting one part of the population against some other people—whether inside the country or outside of it. In its extreme form, that is fascism, although we now call it “populism.”
The Middle East has long suffered from such phenomena, and Kurds have regularly been the victim of that kind of politics.
During his presentation, Erdemir noted that he was a Turkish voice at a Kurdish event and suggested that Turkish events in Washington should do the same—include a Kurdish voice.
“I think there is only one way forward” to achieve “a sustainable peace” for Turks and Kurds, and “this is peace talks, a negotiated settlement,” Erdemir told Kurdistan 24.
“There is no end to the Kurdish problems in and around Turkey’s borders through just security measures,” he continued. Turkey has tried this “since the early 1980s,” and it has “not delivered any sustainable results.”
“There is an urgent need to go back to what was called the Kurdish peace process in the early 2010s,” Erdemir affirmed.
Similarly, the exiled Turkish journalist, Can Dundar, former editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, earlier advised Kurdistan 24 that Turks and Kurds needed to come together to fight the Islamic State (which he accused Ankara of supporting.)
Finally, Erdemir explained the impact at home of Erdogan’s visit to Washington last week.
“In Turkey’s pro-government media,” it “was presented as a huge success,” Erdemir said. “Erdogan proved that he was still welcome in the White House,” while “he was able to block, for the time being,” legislation in the Senate that would sanction Turkey for its acquisition of the S-400, as well as the Armenian genocide.
“For Erdogan, I think that’s enough of a win for the time being,” he concluded.