WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - State Department Spokesperson, Morgan Ortagus, in a press briefing on Wednesday, criticized Turkey’s action two days before in ousting Kurdish mayors from their positions in the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakir, Van, and Mardin.
“In general, anywhere in the world, it’s always concerning when you see the removal of elected officials and then their replacement by unelected officials,” Ortagus said, in response to a question from Kurdistan 24.
“That’s obviously concerning, right?,” she continued. “So what we hope is to see that Turkey resolves this matter in a way that is consistent with their commitment to democracy.”
Responding to the suggestion that renewed negotiations between the Turkish government and Turkey’s Kurds might be a better alternative, Ortagus said, “We, of course, always encourage a broad approach in Turkey’s engagement with the Kurdish communities.”
Giran Ozcan, Washington representative of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish, People’s Democratic Party (HDP), welcomed Ortagus’ statement, saying it is “the first time the US has criticized Ankara’s actions against Kurdish mayors”—although earlier dozens were similarly removed from their posts and even jailed.
But Ozcan also suggested the State Department “could have gone further and been more forceful” in its comment.
“Human rights abuses against the Kurdish people in Turkey have gone on for years,” he continued, and “we look to the US to uphold its values in dealing with Turkey in a principled way.”
Another informed observer of Turkish affairs similarly characterized the US response as “weak.” He noted that all three mayors had been vetted by the Turkish government, before they ran as candidates in the local elections last March, and each had won his position by a significant majority.
He suggested that the Turkish government might be compensating for its apparent failure to get the US to accede to its demands in northeast Syria, which the US, in partnership with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), liberated from the so-called Islamic State.
Ankara wanted the SDF cleared from a 20 mile-wide “safe zone,” in northern Syria, along its border with Turkey. Ankara also wanted Turkish forces to conduct independent patrols in that area. But it does not seem either objective is likely to be realized.
Turkey faces increasing economic problems and political opposition to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is increasing, this observer said. “He needs a national security issue to maintain tensions and rally support.”
“Since Erdogan can’t oppress the Kurds in Syria,” he suggested, speaking with a sad wryness, “it seems that he opted to oppress Kurds in Turkey.”
US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, and Turkish Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar, spoke by phone on Wednesday. According to the Pentagon readout of their discussion, the two officials “welcomed the implementation of a security mechanism in northeast Syria.”
They “affirmed this mechanism as a viable way to secure and stabilize the border in a sustainable manner.”
They also agreed the mechanism would “ensure campaign continuity in the Global Coalition’s efforts to defeat ISIS.” That seems to suggest the SDF-led administration will largely remain in place. It is firmly established US counter-insurgency doctrine that an area freed from an organization like the Islamic State needs a stable, functioning, locally-accepted administration—or else the terrorists will simply return.
And, finally, in apparent reference to Turkish threats of a cross-border attack, the two officials agreed that the security mechanism will “limit any uncoordinated military operations that would undermine this shared interest.”
Editing by Nadia Riva