The recent bombing in Istanbul, probably orchestrated by the Turkish secret services, has become a convenient pretext for Erdoğan and the AKP-MHP government as they launch their latest wave of assaults on Kurdish-led North and East Syria (NES), the Yazidi homeland of Sinjar, and northern Iraq.
As Turkey’s economy and welfare have continued their downward spiral, along with widespread unemployment and the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, the bomb has presented an opportunity for the governing authorities to take a new step in terms of their domestic security and its right to protection and self-defense against ‘terrorist groups’. They are exporting their domestic crises. Anyone who knows developments in Turkey across the last ten years and beyond knows what I am referring to: namely, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and in a broader sense, the Kurdish people. However, the false image that the Turkish president Erdoğan paints of Turkey as a victim of terrorism works incredibly well. The international community (including NATO, the UN, and the EU) seems to be swallowing whole the bait laid at their feet.
By invading and infringing other states’ territories,Turkey shows a serious lack of respect for international law. Even more shocking, though, is that in Turkey, NATO accepts and supports a central alliance member which regularly goes to war against sovereign states outside the alliance — in this case, Syria and Iraq. This clearly violates the principle of non-aggression.
One of Turkey’s biggest fears is the successful reoorganisation of society being carried out by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). The AANES is doing well in building a solid and diverse democracy both in Kurdish regions and beyond, welcoming all ethnic groups and peoples who have inhabited the area. Just the thought of this project spreading to all Kurdish areas in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran enrages Turkey’s autocratic leader. However, Erdoğan will do whatever it takes to crush Kurdish ambitions and defeat the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) before he himself plants the Turkish flag in the ruins and takes over military and political control. Erdoğan did just this after ISIS had withdrawn from the Syrian region. When the US decided to quit the region and leave its best allies in the lurch, Turkey bombed its way in.
As mentioned above, several days ago Erdoğan decided to extend his operations, claiming that the terrorist threat against Turkey had increased due to the Istanbul incident. There are already several reports, primarily from Kurdish media as well as the international press, documenting bombings in NES as well as in Iraqi Kurdistan in pursuit of the PKK’s guerrilla forces.
Across several days of ongoing assaults, Turkey has conducted 89 air strikes against Kurdish targets in the autonomous Kurdish-controlled region. Dozens are reported killed and even more injured. More deaths may be going unreported. Assaults struck villages, hospitals, the guards of ISIS detention sites, and an area near the city of Kobane which has great symbolic value for the Kurds following its leading role in ISIS’ territorial defeat. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar proudly stated that Turkish strikes have hit 471 Kurdish targets in Syria and Iraq since the country launched its operations at the weekend. He claims that 254 people, whom he refers to as “terrorists”, have been killed.
But it is not only Turkey out to crush the Kurds. Turkey and the Iranian regime, which is under heavy pressure from civil society via protests demanding comprehensive reforms in women’s and broader human rights, have now united in the fight against a common enemy. As a result, the Kurds are being attacked in several countries at the same time by the two regional powers. Iranian armed attacks against Kurdish areas of northern Iraq this weekend came just one week after the Shia clerical body in Tehran carried out the previous round of attacks against exiled Kurdish political groups. The attacks are linked to the protests in Iran, which have been strongest in Kurdish areas. Iran also accuses these opposition groups of inciting protests that broke out after Kurdish woman Jina (Mahsa) Amini died in the custody of the morality police in September.
Many people have asked: why is the international community silent? Why are so many international journalists so uncritical when it comes to news reports in Turkish media? Why don’t they turn to the Kurds, their spokespeople and representative organizations, to cover issues like Turkey’s invasion in Iraq and NES from both sides? Critical journalism should precisely aim to uncover the ‘truth’, or the facts of a given case or incident. For months there has a war going on in Europe, wherein even the smallest incidents are broadcast to the world. At the same time, a war has been waged against the Kurds for many years, but no one seems to care. Rather, all those who could prevent this have turned their eyes away.
In Norway, my own country, there has been a serious lack of protest from government circles. The only criticism has come from leader of the Red Party, Bjornar Moxnes, who urged the Minister of Foreign Affairs to answer for the government’s lack of reaction to Turkey’s completely unacceptable behavior against the Kurds.
Norway, a NATO member, has a long tradition of presenting itself as a nation of peace. It went a long way in supporting South Africa’s African National Congress during apartheid and led the peace negotiations between the authorities in Colombia and the rebel group FARC. The Labor Party, to which both the prime minister and the foreign minister belong, is also a staunch supporter of the Palestinians. So why is it so difficult to support the Kurds in their fight against a particularly oppressive and aggressive regime? On this point, all values and human rights principles seem to be thrown overboard. Instead, we learn that Norway and other similar states are almost competing to placate Erdoğan and his AKP-MHP coalition. The good old expression “they should be ashamed” fits very well here.
Turkey must be stopped. Someone must reverse the current developments which are affecting the Kurds in a particularly violent, destructive, and unfair fashion. Ethnic cleansing is underway. Since the competent international organisations do not seem to care much, the time has come for all Kurds in a position to use all channels available to them to contact the media and try to communicate better the realities of what is happening now on the ground. Every Kurd, and indeed all people, must use every possible opportunity to lobby among politicians, parliamentarians, and organisations in diaspora. It is time that the Kurds, together with their many international supporters, take matters into their own hands.
Kariane Westrheim is Professor of Educational Science at the University of Bergen, Norway. Since 2004, Westrheim has chaired the EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) which among others organise the Annual International Conference on EU Turkey and the Kurds in the European Parliament, Brussels.