ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Turkey Invades Syria

Great power games and regional calculations have trumped Syrian Kurdish aspirations.


United States (US) President Donald Trump gave Turkey the green light to invade Syria. The Turks fired on the Syrian Kurdish positions from the air. Their ground forces were irregulars, the kind of reactionary jihadi militias that had been created by Saudi-funded mosques inside cities such as Aleppo and Idlib, as well as by Saudi, Qatari, Turkish, and US money and logistical support. These militias wanted blood, shooting in all directions, threatening massacres of anyone whom they considered to be blasphemers. Turkey’s government said that it wanted to resettle some of the three million Syrian refugees who are now in Turkey, inside what had been known as Rojava. This “population transfer” would—in a world of laws—be seen as a war crime.

The region where Syrian Kurds are in a near majority is also an area of considerable diversity (with Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, Assyrians, Yazidis, and others). It is also an area with important agricultural resources and—to its south—whatever oil reserves remain in Syria. The ethnic diversity and the richness of the region made it hard for the Syrian Kurdish political establishment to make a case for autonomy; neither their neighbours nor Damascus would have supported such a claim.

When the uprising broke out against the government of Bashar al-Assad in 2011, the Syrian government withdrew its best troops to defend Damascus and several cities along the western perimeter of Syria. The withdrawal of the government allowed the Syrian Kurdish political parties to take control over the area from east of the Euphrates river to the Iraq border. They established Rojava, a province of the Syrian Kurds that sections of them had attempted to convert into a socialist society. There was barely a moment for this experiment to blossom because Rojava was attacked with great ferocity by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which took the key town of Kobané and other smaller towns. The ISIS emirate ate into Rojava, and threatened not only the Syrian Kurds, but other minority groups —such as the Yazidis—with extinction.

The Syrian Kurdish leaders sought political alliances from all sides. They established an office in Moscow, and opened talks with the US. As the US moved to attack ISIS, the Syrian Kurds reshaped their militia group (the People’s Protection Units or YPG) into a broader Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia. These forces—which now includes Arabs, Assyrians, and Kurds—provided the ground forces for the US attack on ISIS. Without the SDF, the US would not have been able to rout ISIS from its bases in northern Syria.

The defeat of ISIS and the victory of the SDF provided a false sense of hope amongst the Syrian Kurdish leadership. They assumed that the US umbrella would remain, and that they would be able to withstand pressure from both Turkey and Syria to disband their experiment. Turkey’s right-wing government is programmatically opposed to any Kurdish autonomy on its borders. Turkey had already invaded Syria in 2014 and 2015 to weaken the Rojava experiment. It was waiting for an opportunity to fully destroy the project. Syria’s government has said that it wants to reclaim all its territory, including the third of the country that had been in Syrian Kurdish and US hands. The Russians and Iranians—who provide support to the Syrian government—had made it clear that the Assad government must have complete territorial sovereignty. Rojava was an impediment to that.

It is unlikely that the Turkish forces moved without the full approval of the governments in Damascus, Russia and Iran. Sober-minded Syrian Kurdish politicians have known for a long time that Rojava is living on borrowed time. None of the governments in the region are willing to allow it to remain, for a host of reasons. The US withdrew its forces at lightning speed, abandoning its bases which have now been taken over by Syrian and Russian troops. Turkey has agreed to halt its advance, but only to allow the Syrians to establish their control over a part of this region. The Syrian Kurds say that they prefer having the Syrian Army in control than the Turks; their own dreams have been shelved. As the US troops left the area, the Kurds threw rocks and rotten fruit at them. US Defence Secretary Mark Esper responded to this with a clear statement of the US policy, “We didn’t sign up to fight a war to defend the Kurds against a longstanding NATO ally [Turkey] and certainly not to help them establish an autonomous Kurdish state.” All these factors have led to the abandonment of the aspirations of the Kurdish people.

Updated On : 31st Oct, 2019


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