US President Donald Trump’s sudden decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria in December 2018 has hit the Turkish, Kurdish and international media headlines and dominates currently the public and political agenda due to the ongoing threat of the Islamic State, the continuing Iranian activities against Israel and the threat of a Turkish crackdown on the Kurds.
Powerful American political decision- makers and anti-Islamic State coalition partners criticized Trump’s decision on the grounds that the fight against ISIS is not over and the region will be exposed to the risk of further bloodshed in the absence of US forces.
The Kurds, too, reacted to Trump’s decision with astonishment that has placed them at the center of political and media discussions, which concluded that they had once again been betrayed by a great power.
Their fate is in doubt once more, this time because they are exposed to the lethal threats posed by Turkish president, who is renowned for his dislike of the Kurds and his hate speeches against them, in which he threatens that Turkish forces could hit them at any time without warning. He continues to threaten to invade the comparatively stable region of northern Syria, and the Kurds have taken these threats seriously and express their concern about the hostile intentions of the Turkish state. This concern stems from their prior experience of repression within Turkey as well as in Iraq and Syria.
The Turkish government claims that the Kurds are not represented by their own Kurdish groups, but instead by a delegation appointed by the Turkish state. This draws on similar parallels to the historical situation after World War I, which determined the Kurds’ fate and left them open to political persecution and human rights abuses since that time. Under the Erdogan government, the Turkish state aspires to delude the international community into thinking that Kurds are “terrorists” who must be defeated.
The anti-Kurdish campaigns of the Turkish government substantiate the historical approach of the Turkish state toward the Kurds by rejecting any political and cultural inclusion of the Kurdish minorities in the political and legal processes and withdrawing any protection from them. The Kurds in any shape or form are a thorn in the side of the Turkish government.
All Kurdish groups are considered by the Turkish government as “terrorists” who do not represent the Kurds in any way, and the Turkish state ironically sees its duty as one of controlling the Kurds.
To eliminate any form of collective representation, the Turkish government uses the ideological discourse of terrorism for Kurdish groups. Terrorism – which generally lacks a theoretical or conceptual definition – has been set up by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan as an ideological notion that has discursive meaning that he uses arbitrary to legitimize his undemocratic, repressive and hostile policies, consolidate his structural power, and delegitimize the demands of Turkey’s citizens for democratic reform. By using the notion of terrorism, he undermines Kurdish voices and Kurdish demands for democratic rights and implements national and regional interests of the Turkish state.
THE TURKISH government under the AKP follows Islamic-nationalistic agendas and strategies of its own to promote territorial expansion and revive the Ottoman spirit in the form of neo-Ottomanism, taking on the leadership of the Muslims through the reconstruction of Muslim identity, which is considered as integral element of “Turkishness.”
Erdogan’s statements questioning the Lausanne Treaty in attempt to draw “Turkey’s new maps” of the Ottoman reinforce the fact that the Turkish state is aiming to reshape the Middle East and is not interested in a sustainable peaceful solution in Syria, in particular, and the Middle East in general.
Instead it supports new terrorist causes. It sees, rather, the Kurds as an existential threat to its policies of territorial expansion and its Islamic vision of Turkishness.
Consequently, the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq and Syria have constantly faced xenophobic, repressive and discriminatory treatment at the expense of Turkish nationalism, and as a result of a distinct Kurdish ethnicity and national characteristics, as well as the radical secular model of grassroots democracy introduced by the Kurds, none of which accords with Turkish narratives or Turkey’s strategic vision and which are therefore perceived as destructive.
In contrast, Erdogan has argued that the various jihadist groups which are labeled as the Free Syrian Army are actually National Turkish forces which are fighting to eliminate disloyal forces, such as the Kurds and fulfill the Turkish dream of neo-Ottomanism.
Thus, the Turkish presence in northern Syria does not seem to be related to the fight against the ISIS, which is absent from the region governed by the SDF. ISIS and other dormant Islamic factions, which present serious threats to the civilized world, concern the Turkish government much less.
The government has closed its eyes to the global flow of radical Islamists across its borders into Syria, and has provided weapons to these Islamic elements as revealed from a leaked audio recording between Turkish senior officers in 2014.
The international community is entitled to dynamically intervene in this conflict and support the Kurds since it is responsible not only for legal and moral aspects of Kurdish casualties in the continuing battle against ISIS, but also in terms of ending instability and eradicating sources of terrorism of such as religious fundamentalism. The Kurdish groups under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces, according to US military officers, have proved themselves to be reliable and effective forces in Syria to fight the IS on the ground.
Meanwhile, autonomous Kurdish structures are opposing jihadist ideology as, they are, next to Israel, the closest defenders of Western values owing to their secular characteristics and gender equality in Syria in particular and in the Middle East in general. Consequently, this model can be perceived as bulwark of military and cultural protection of civilized values within the framework of a “clash of civilization” in opposing “jihadist archaism” in the quagmire of the Middle East.
The writer is a research associate at the Free University of Berlin.
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