Rosa Burç is a political sociologist in the Centre on Social Movement Studies in Florence, where she is researching the political imaginations of stateless people. For research purposes, she has spent time in different parts of the Kurdish region. She is the author of numerous articles in professional journals, anthologies and international media outlets such as The New York Times.
Rosa Burç for Zeit.de
Fighter jets and howitzers are deployed there, that are bombarding civilians who are being killed and injured. In the shadow of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Turkish fighter jets and armed drones are flying over Kurdistan again. After days of non stop air and ground attacks, the Turkish army launched a large-scale offensive entitled Operation Claw-Lock in Southern and Western Kurdistan on the night of Easter Monday. Any outrage from the international community? None. Officially, the offensive is an “anti-terror operation”. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesman Ömer Çelik cited the U.N. Charter Article 51, which defines the “right to self defence”, and would mean that the national and territorial integrity of Turkey was under threat.
The fact that there are no reports of actual attacks or any military provocations against Turkey is obscured. In the media there are brief reports here and there, and talk of an ‘operation’ and ‘PKK positions’. It is once again silently accepted that Turkey, a NATO member state, is attacking the Kurds and violating their human rights.
While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been rightfully and quickly condemned and sanctioned, Turkey’s aggression against Kurds has been tolerated by the ‘Guardians of Western Values’ for decades. The German government regularly meets with Turkish officials, underlining the importance of the German-Turkish partnership. Turkey is an important mediator, now that Russia is leading a war ‘against us’.
In Ukraine, the dying are Ukrainians, in Kurdistan ‘PKK terrorists’
There is no discussion on sanctions against the NATO ally, nor can Kurds hope for safe escape routes and basic protection when they flee besieged cities or Turkish bombings. While the borders are -rightfully- open for Ukrainian refugees, Kurds fleeing the same country are either stuck at the Polish-Belarusian border, drowning in the Mediterranean, or have their asylum applications rejected in Germany and face deportation: A double standard that is difficult to bear.
Russian war crimes in the course of the illegal invasion of Ukraine -the massacres, mass graves and shelling of entire cities- have caused a moral shock that Europe has not experienced in a war for a long time. But instead of conducting a debate about the importance of a policy to uncompromisingly prioritise human rights rather than soothe autocrats, the first step is military upgrades. Declaration of unconditional militarisation as a moral duty surely pleases gun lobbyists around the world, but more importantly warlords like Turkey, who use this discourse for their own ends. Supported by regular arms deliveries and new technology from Germany, Turkey is doing in Kurdistan what Russia does in Ukraine: Fighting an entire population continuously and across several national borders.
These two situations are called the “Russian invasion of Ukraine” and the “Turkish presence in Syria”. The same aggression practices constitute war in one case, and a military operation in another. Ukrainians are considered victims of war, but in the cases of attacks on Kurds, people talk about terrorists and PKK positions. These simultaneous situations convey to us that wars that violate international law are legitimate as long as they are led by our NATO allies.
Turkish bombs do not hit civilians randomly
The Turkish government has always been able to fly drones and fighter jets all over Kurdistan and bombard the region with no issue, just as they are currently doing in the Metina, Zap and Avaşin regions and in the western Kurdish town of Kobane. These attacks do not only target the Kurdish guerilla fighter’s positions as it has always been said, but also civilian settlements. This is shown by numerous examples of Turkish drone attacks in violation of international law in recent years. Whether in August 2011 in the southern Kurdish region of Kortek, four months later in Roboski on the Turkish-Iraqi border, or Southern Kurdistan’s Zergele region in 2015. In none of these cases did Turkish bombs hit civilians randomly.
Turkey’s aggressive foreign policy against its neighbouring Kurds has been either directly supported, or in the least tolerated by the western allies during the Syrian war. As Kurdish forces territorially defeated the Islamic State (ISIS), and the Kurdish feminist movement accomplished emancipatory and democratic achievements, the Turkish army -the second largest in NATO- cooperated with Islamist mercenaries for a large scale offensive. In 2018, the multicultural city of Afrin, which had been spared from conflict until then, became a scene of a brutal war with air and ground attacks, expropriations, expulsions and occupation. The city has been under Ankara’s control since then, in colonial fashion and in violation of international law.
Such war crimes or the execution of Syrian-Kurdish local politician Hevrin Xelef in another offensive by Turkey in 2019 could have been prevented in the best case scenario, or at least been condemned and sanctioned. In the end, with the EU-Turkey refugee deal, it became clear that the European side had not simply been negligent but its actions were based on a political calculation. In order to ensure that Turkey kept refugees away from Europe, the Turkish government was criticised sporadically -if at all- and carefully. Above all, concessions were made regularly. These ranged from generous arms deliveries to Ankara, to the prohibition of Kurdish associations in Germany and deportation of Kurds to Turkey, where they would face long prison sentences.
Where is the German government’s “feminist foreign policy”?
Now that the war on Ukraine has brought forth questions of morality and obligation again, it is time to label all the wars as they are, regardless of whether they are waged by “us and our allies” or “the others”. A “feminist foreign policy”, as the new German government likes to take the pride of, would have already condemned Turkey’s attack on Kurds, discussed sanctions, advocated for the release of political prisoners in Turkey, met with the pro-democracy opposition party HDP, initiated a socio-economical alliance with the feminist movement in the country and the revolutionary women in Kurdistan, established a diplomatic relationship with Kurdish proxies in the region, conveyed a political resolution for the so-called Kurdish question and stopped the criminalisation of Kurds, their associations and publishing houses in Germany.
And most importantly, all the refugees would have had the same protections guaranteed, just as the refugees of war from Ukraine. As long as this does not happen, the German government will lose their morality claims and lose all the credibility, including on their assessment of the Russian war against Ukraine.
Original text published in Zeit.de