May 29, 2020

The Kurdish conundrum and disaster in the making

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 25 September 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

The Kurdish conundrum and disaster in the making

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – The nightmare that is Syria today took a new and horrifying twist this week when 100,000 refugees streamed across the border from Syria into Turkey. Turkish President Recep Erdogan promptly shut down the border, cutting off access to safety for countless numbers of additional refugees, mostly Syrian Kurds. The rationale for this is complicated, and only an understanding of the underlying rivalries can explain it.

The disparate Kurdish organizations are united only in their fight against ISIS. Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani, the ailing leader of the Patriotic Union Party (PUK) and recent president of Iraq, control the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), a Western-oriented democratic movement that governs Kurdistan, the autonomous northeastern area of Iraq. Its army is the Peshmerga.

Abdullah Ocalan, residing in a Turkish jail since 1999, is the leader of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), originally a communist organization that conducts an ongoing insurgency in eastern Turkey. The PKK is labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S., Turkey, and their NATO partners. The PKK is closely aligned with the leftist Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD) and its army, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), that control the northern portion of Syria known as Rojava (West Kurdistan), apparently with the acquiescence of the Syrian government.

Focusing only on the military organizations, the Peshmerga has joined with the PKK and the Iraqi Army to fight ISIS in Iraq, while the PKK and YPG have joined forces to fight ISIS in Syria. Meanwhile, the PKK continues its anti-government campaign in eastern Turkey, though apparently at a greatly diminished level since the rise of the ISIS threat. Meanwhile, although the YPG has sent fighters to aid the PKK in eastern Turkey, it maintains an uneasy peace on the Syrian (Rojava)-Turkish border while it concentrates on ISIS – or, more to the point, while ISIS concentrates on the YPG. Hence, the flood of Kurdish refugees into Turkey.

As a result, Erdogan’s closure of the border has him flirting with a humanitarian disaster on a huge scale if ISIS subjects the people left behind to the same brutal tactics it used in northern Iraq. Women and girls are enslaved and sold into the sex trade while men who refuse to convert and pay allegiance to ISIS are slaughtered.

If Turkey does not relent, a situation could develop similar to what occurred in Iraq when 10,000 Yazidis, members of a pre-Christian sect, were trapped on top of a mountain. U.S. air drops of water and food helped them survive, and air strikes aimed at ISIS in Iraq alleviated the crisis, while the YPG, PKK, and Peshmerga cooperated and came to their relief. But in northern Syria (Rojava), the people who are coming under ISIS domination do not have a mountain haven, and their numbers greatly exceed those of the trapped Yazidis.

Until Erdogan took over as prime minister several years ago, democratic Turkey was a secular state, balancing its majority Muslim population with a government that kept religion at bay. Erdogan changed all that, bringing Islam into the public square. Playing a double game, he denounced extremism while letting ISIS terrorists cross with ease between Turkey and Syria, even for a time allowing wounded ISIS fighters to receive medical care in Turkish hospitals. Suddenly, he awoke to the threat ISIS posed, but this only left him with another enemy, since he already condemned Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government as well as the PKK and YPG Kurdish leftists.

This is why Turkey faces a quandary. The U.S. expects this one Muslim NATO country to join in the campaign against ISIS, but that would mean allying its forces with the Kurds while indirectly aiding Assad. It is no wonder that Erdogan is vacillating. Yet, if he does not quickly act, a catastrophe will ensue when ISIS begins massacring the Kurds.

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© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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