Great Spirits and Mediocre Minds

Evin Cheikosman

By Evin Cheikosman:

Following Turkish President Erdoğan’s defeat in the June 6th parliamentary elections, on June 16th the Kurdish YPG/ YPJ took over the Syrian city of Tel Abyad, initially controlled by ISIS. Fortunately, this capture prevents ISIS from having a direct route for importing recruits and supplies, and puts more pressure on its de facto ‘capital,’ Raqqa. Unfortunately, it puts Erdoğan in a vulnerable position resulting in overly dramatic tantrums as evidenced in the following statement made on June 26th: “[w]e will never allow the establishment of a state on our southern border in the north of Syria… [w]e will continue our fight in that respect whatever the cost may be.” He went on accusing Syrian Kurds of ethnic cleansing in Syrian areas under their control.

Immediately afterwards, word went out that Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu were planning to deploy up to 18,000 soldiers to militarily intervene in Syria, as well as establish a 60-mile buffer zone between Jarablus and Aazaz which would allow it to combat ISIS and prevent Kurdish forces in the East and West to link together. At this point, such plans seem unlikely to occur but nevertheless illustrate the emotional hazard that Erdoğan has become amidst an already heated conflict.

Erdoğan’s reversion to accusing Kurds of ethnic cleansing is something I find the most amusing out of all his ranting given a statement made by Rami Adulrahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, “[t]here’s no ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Tel Abyad against the Turkmen and Arabic population… [t]he Turkish government is hostile towards Kurds in Turkey as well as Syria. It fears a strengthening of the Kurdish position in the region. … [I]n autumn 2014 at least 300,000 Kurds have been expelled by IS. At that time, the Turkish government did not speak of ‘ethnic cleansing’ against the Kurds. Quite the contrary, the Turkish government has co-operated with IS.”

The real victims of ethnic cleansing are the Syrian Kurds at the hands of the Syrian regime. According to Jordi Tejel’s “Syria’s Kurds: History, Politics and Society,” it was in 1973 that the “Arab belt” policy, also known as the “Arab cordon”, in the Kurdish Cezire region, along the Turkish border, aimed to put into practice ethnic cleansing and the dispossession of Kurds, who were classified by Syrian state authorities as “non-national” elements, and the transfer of their land to Arabs, who were regarded as “national” elements. To highlight this point further, in 1963, lieutenant Muhammed Talab al-Hilal, former chief of the Secret Services in Al-Hasakah, published a report on the Kurdish province of Cezire in which he claimed that Kurds did not exist because they possessed neither “history nor civilization; language nor ethnic origin.” He also called for more repressive policies in all domains in order to abolish from Cezire all signs of Kurdish identity because the Kurds were “their enemies” and “there is no difference between Kurds and Israelis, for Judistan and Kurdistan, so to speak, are of the same species.

Local groups on the ground have sadly inherited this distorted mentality, as well as share Turkey’s fear that Kurds are strategically consolidating key areas for their own political gain. I came across a quote by a Syrian activist from Raqqa that emphasizes this point: “[t]heir goal is to change the demography of the area and create a state of Kurdistan, and the reality is that this is happening under the cover of American airstrikes.” Another activist says: “I’m secular and I am an apostate, but if I have to, I will carry a weapon and join ISIS…I will not allow the demography of this area to change.” Some are even saying that the fight will go from ISIS vs. non-ISIS to Arab vs. Kurds.

This is the complicated reality on the ground, Turkey’s actions in regards to such is both damaging to its out reputation, as well as to the worldwide effort to help the Iraqi and Syrian people recover stability and peace in their homelands. It is a mistake for Turkey to revert to the Ottoman way of foreign policy at a time when collaborative action is necessitated. Turkey needs to stop pitting ISIS against the Kurds in the name of national security because they are endangering the Kurdish initiative that Erdoğan started while prime minister.

Even more, down the road Ankara will find it less feasible to negotiate with the Kurds as we witness a psychological boundary emerging between the new, young Kurdish generation and Turks today. As Ahmet Turk, mayor of Mardin, reported recently “we could be the last generation that you shake hands with.” And indeed if Turkey continues on this route, Turkey may as well have no hands to shake as Turkey’s support for ISIS grows more obvious to its neighbors, provoking revenge for the distress it is causing across the region. Like it or not, the YPG is securing Turkey’s border with Syria… would Erdoğan really prefer ISIS there, or even worse, inside Turkey? Well just as we have seen from one ISIS overhaul to the next- whether Arab, Christian, Iraqi, or even Turkish, everyone will eventually run to the Kurdish militia for safety. I like to look at this situation through Albert Einstein’s famous quote: “[g]reat spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” I’ll leave it at that.

Evin Cheikosman is a Kurd living in Los Angeles, CA, A recent graduate in International Politics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, she has studied abroad in Berlin, Germany and will soon be traveling to Zhuhai, China on a teaching assignment. Thereafter she will be pursuing a masters degree in foreign affairs. During her free time, Evin posts facts and opinions concerning Kurdish politics on her blog: Minority Politico

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