The Turks and Kurds have fought for two centuries. So, today’s war should not have been a surprise to President Donald Trump when he, according to Fox News, went “off script” and withdrew U.S. troops from northeast Syria. Here’s my take.
The Ottoman Empire, aka the Turkish empire, controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. Their final mistake was siding with Germany in World War I. Afterwards, their land was arbitrarily divided into separate states to dissipate power, resulting in today’s Middle East.
The Kurds lived in the rugged mountains of northwestern Zagros and eastern Taurus, but weren’t a nation, as such. After World War I, their territory was severed into four parts: southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq and northern Syria.
Today, they comprise nearly 20 percent of Turkey, 20 percent of Iraq, 10 percent of Iran and 9 percent of Syria. However, they form majorities in regions within all four countries and are universally discriminated against.
Perhaps discriminated against nowhere more so than in Turkey. There, they’re not only forbidden to speak their language, dress like Kurds or acknowledge their folklore, but even certain baby names are prohibited. Fact is, the word “Kurd” is banned, as they are called Eastern Turks.
Then there was the ethnic cleansing led by the Young Turks against the Kurds and Armenians during and after World War I. That’s where the word “genocide” was coined, although Turkey, to this day, denies that’s what they did.
As for the Kurds, according to Ottoman military records, they rebelled against the Turks two centuries ago. “Modern” rebellions occurred in 1922, 1925, 1930 and 1937. Large-scale armed conflict between the Turkish armed forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) occurred throughout the 1980s and 1990s, leaving 35,000 dead.
Turkey has long cited the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, and the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces as terrorists with links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The PKK is a Turkey-based rebel group that has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and Turkey.
Meanwhile, the Syrian civil war grew out of the 2011 Arab Spring anti-government protests, uprisings and armed rebellions in response to oppressive regimes and low standards of living. In Syria, protests for President Bashar al-Assad’s removal were violently suppressed, and civil war commenced on March 15, 2011.
Internationally, the Syrian armed forces are allied with Iran and Russia and are friendly with China, North Korea, Cuba and like-minded authoritarian nations. Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011 and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2012 as bad actors.
Opposing Syria, as well as each other sometimes, were domestic and foreign forces including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS. That’s who we fought during the Iraqi civil war (2014-17) where we, along with others, beat them back from 22,000 square miles of Iraqi territory (slightly smaller than West Virginia), while suffering 4,424 casualties.
Many surviving ISIL fighters fled into Syria.
The United States first became involved in Syria in 2011. However, it wasn’t until the 2017 U.S. missile strike on Shayrat Airbase that the first direct U.S. action was taken against the Syrian government.
Unlike Iraq, in Syria, we deployed U.S. special operations forces to train and support the Syrian Kurds who directly fought and defeated ISIL. Thousands of ISIL prisoners are in the custody of the Kurds in makeshift prisons.
Which brings us to President Trump’s Oct. 6 telephone call with President Erdogan of Turkey. There, it appeared to many like me that Trump turned his back on the Kurds.
The Pentagon said the attack by Turkey wasn’t given a go-ahead. Rather, “they did all they could to dissuade Turkey before finally ordering American troops out of the way.”
Whatever the truth, let’s hope Trump’s reluctance wasn’t to divert attention from his impeachment investigation.