Turkish Attack Highlights Syrian Kurds' Isolation and Reputation
After Turkey assaulted a relatively peaceful Kurdish enclave of northern Syria, regional leaders fear the world will abandon them even though they provided the ground troops who beat the Islamic State group.
For the past four days, Turkish troops and allied Arab Islamist fighters have been battling their way into Syria's Afrin canton, which is defended by the American-backed Kurdish YPG forces.
Afrin residents insist that those forces have not taken arms against Turkey or the Turkish border. Their focus they say has been self-defense and fighting ISIS.
U.S. leaders from President Donald Trump on down have appealed for restraint, but appear to have little influence over their NATO ally when it comes to its battle against the Kurds.
Now the Kurds, whose unofficial national motto admits they have "no friends but the mountains," fear they will be the forgotten victims as Turkey, Russia and the United States maneuver for influence.
The region is reeling at the injustice. Despite providing the backbone of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who gifted Trump his first military victory -- the fall of the Islamic State capital, Raqa, international leaders have done no more than ‘express concern’ and ‘call for constraint.’
Sinam Mohamed, chief envoy of the "Rojava self-ruled Democratic Administration" which runs several cantons in the Kurdish-majority north of Syria, said she fears for her family in Afrin.
"For us, the United States has a moral obligation to protect the democracy in this area," Mohamed told reporters in Washington.
For local leaders, the self-ruled Rojava area is a successful experiment in democratic federalism that could serve as an example for the rest of Syria to follow as it emerges from civil war.
But Turkey sees the Kurdish-led regions of northern Syria as a supply corridor for "terrorists" and a rear base for the banned PKK movement, which has waged a three-decade insurgency in the Turkish southeast and is blacklisted as a terror group by Turkey and some Western allies.
In the U.S. this is the same list that included Nelson Mandela of South Africa until from 1989 to 2008.
This is the same list that included the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) until 2014.
The media, led by Turkey consistently reminds the public that PKK are considered “terrorists” but rarely do we read that the United Nations, Russia, China, India, Egypt and 2/3’s of all countries do not consider the PKK as a terrorist organization.
For at least the past four years, many government leaders and academics have argued to remove the PKK and its affiliates from the international terror list as a case for building regional peace.
Unfortunately, the voice of the Turkish regime as a NATO member has influenced the U.S., E.U. and most western media to the extreme, blinding most to the critical role of Syrian Kurds to establishing peace and co-existence among Syrians Kurds, Christians, Yaziidis, and various Arab groups.
And blinding them to the critical role of Syrian Kurdish forces fighting alongside non-Kurds to stop ISIS in Syria.
Moreover, Sinam Mohamed from Rojava, insists "not a single bullet" has been fired from Afrin towards Turkey and that if Turkey has a problem with the PKK it is a domestic issue and not a cross-border one.
More than 2,000 U.S. Special Forces, backed by air power, work with the Kurdish YPG under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) east of the Euphrates to fight the Islamic State jihadist group.
But, the YPG in Afrin, an isolated pocket west of the river, have no overt U.S. military backing and -- after Syria's ally Russia apparently gave Turkey the green light to attack -- they are under siege.
The closest U.S.-backed YPG and American troops are in Manbij, about 120 kilometers from Afrin.
In the YPG-controlled areas on the other bank of the Euphrates, but still exposed to the long Turkish frontier, fighters are increasingly bitter about the U.S. role.
"The Kurds fought Daesh, to defend the whole world, they coordinated with the U.S.-led coalition," said Omar Mahmoud, a 35-year-old civilian, using an alternate name for ISIS.
"Now the U.S. is silent, and it's disappointing."
Another civilian, 34-year-old Massoud Baravi, and many of his friends fear Turkey will be emboldened to attack Kurdish areas east of the Euphrates, where the YPG has routed the Islamic State group.
"We fought Daesh from the beginning, it was us who liberated the land from Daesh and now we're the target of Turkish injustice," he said.
"Now Turkish planes are bombarding Afrin, killing women and children on the pretext that we're separatists, but we're part of Syria! We can see the international silence. No one speaks for the Kurds."
In Washington, there is some sympathy for the Kurdish plight, but little action.
Trump was scheduled to call Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday to express concern, officials said, and State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert spoke out for Afrin.
Nauert said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had a series of "serious and frank" conversations with his Turkish counterpart Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
But whatever diplomatic noises Washington makes now that an apparently long-planned Turkish offensive is underway, Erdogan's decision to go ahead underlines the limits of U.S. influence.
Turkey may not have heeded the counsel of its NATO ally, but it could not have acted without the go-ahead from Russia's President Vladimir Putin, chief backer of Syria's Bashar al-Assad.