How Turkey’s Politics Worsen the Syrian Crisis
The Kurds are a group of stateless peoples, residing within Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. The group has faced historical persecution. In 1988, for instance, President Saddam Hussein killed around 100,000 Kurds and infamously used mustard gas and deadly sarin on Kurdish civilians. Due to actions like these, for years, the Kurds have championed a form of independence that would allow them to be recognized by international actors and regional allies. Yet, there was intense opposition to the recent September 25th, 2017 Iraqi Kurdish independence vote, by Iraq, the United States, and Turkey, amongst other countries. Despite mounting international pressure, almost 93% of Kurds voted in support of Kurdistan as an independent state. While the Kurds are seen as a key fighting force against ISIS, they have often been neglected when it comes to the group’s calls for independence. In fact, General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, has cited the Syrian Kurds as “the most effective force we have right now.” However, the support from the United States has often been wavering and conditional, bowing to Turkey’s urging to restrain from giving the Kurds additional support.
Earlier this year, in January, Turkey launched a full scale military invasion against Kurdish forces in Afrin, Syria. The attacks have continued and in March of 2018, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights cited that 17 people had been killed in strikes while 92 were injured. Yet, Turkish government officials have refuted claims that its military actions have targeted civilians and have additionally refused to enforce the UN Security Council’s ceasefire. As a result, a pause in the conflict becomes more unlikely for civilians. In the past few days, Turkey has ramped up its plans for a complete intervention. In the Afrin city, Turkish air raids have been launched, water has been cut off, and basic internet connection destroyed. The Turkish government has backed violent groups that have used napalm on villages and attacked dams, critical sources of water, in an effort to “give Afrin back to its rightful owners”, a warning that Kurds do not belong in Afrin. In response, Kurdish civilians have begun organizing as human shields, in an attempt to prevent Turkish forces from storming the city. Ultimately, Turkey’s siege could potentially threaten the lives of 1 million people living in Afrin. Turkey’s military actions come at a time when 2017 was the deadliest year of Syrian war for children. Military actions like Turkey’s intervention in Afrin demonstrate how children, the most vulnerable, suffer the longest lasting and most egregious offensives of the Syrian conflict.