US lawmakers Can Still Undo a Wrong in Afrin, Syria

PYD_funeral_Afrin_SyriaIn an unprovoked attack on American Kurdish allies in Afrin Syria, the Turks have continued a two-month long air and ground campaign with no end in sight. The Kurds have partnered with the international coalition including United States in defeating the Islamic State in Syria, most notably in recapturing Raqqa, the capital of the so called Islamic State.

To the Kurds betrayal is ever so common, the most recent example in Kirkuk as the oil-rich city was given to Shiite militias on a silver platter. A city now outside the control of Iraqi forces and riddled with ISIS once again. Just months later in Afrin, a predominately Kurdish region is being attacked by U.S. NATO partner Turkey.

Prior to the Turkish invasion, Afrin was untouched by the Assad regime and ISIS. It acted as a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Arabs, including Kurdish Yezedi refugees from Iraq. Today Turkey is targeting not only the indigenous Kurdish population in Afrin but Christians and Yezedi minorities as well.

The Trump administration has failed to react to Turkish President Erdogan’s aggressive actions against a staunch U.S. ally. The State Department has been cautious, hesitant to step on Erdogan’s toes while Turkey ignores all international laws including a U.N. Security Council cease-fire. But it is not too late for US lawmakers to act on this humanitarian crisis caused by America’s supposed ally. Eight members of Congress have previously signed a letter to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his recent trip to Ankara, urging to convince Erdogan to stop the incursion due to civilian deaths and injuries.

This was ignored.

Afrin is a humanitarian crisis. As Turkey continues to advance towards the center of the city, the number of civilian deaths will increase. Afrin is a bipartisan cause which demands Turkey to act within international laws and norms. Erdogan has threatened U.S. soldiers in Manbij positioned a little more than a hour away east of Afrin by stating he will “bury and strangle” anyone siding with the Kurds. Erdogan has called on his 90,000 mosques inside Turkey to recite the verse of conquest from the Quran, calling on Jihad aimed at Kurds.

Erdogan is not behaving as an ally of the U.S., but rather is shifting east in partnership with Russia and Iran. Russian president Vladimir Putin, soon set to win another term in office, is more than happy to welcome Erdogan into his sphere of influence if it means creating a rift between the NATO alliance.

If Afrin falls, two likely scenarios are to occur. The first is that Turkey will annex the territory. Turkey’s history of failing to return land to its rightful owners is a negative one. Cyprus, an EU partner, has been occupied by the Turks since 1974.

Second, if Erdogan is convinced by the Russians to not annex Afrin, he will be satisfied with forcing the Kurdish population out of their historical lands and allowing the Assad regime to move in, thus legitimatizing the regime furthermore.

It is critical that lawmakers on Capitol Hill fill the void of the administration and the State Department on their failure to act accordingly to Erdogan’s aggressive behavior. The longer the U.S. waits to respond, the more civilians deaths will occur.

Originally published at The National Discourse on March 16, 2018.

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