Politics & Policy

NATO Must Help the Kurds Now

The Kurdistan National Assembly makes an impassioned plea to America and the world.

Kurds are valiantly defending themselves from annihilation in Kobani while America and Turkey busy themselves declaring what the other party should do. Ultimately, America must understand Turkish motives in order to implement a clear policy. America must stop “following from behind” and start leading the free world against the burgeoning threat of Islamo-Nazis.

As the Islamic State (IS) continues to launch barbaric attacks in Kobani — and elsewhere — Turkish tanks remain idle, just over the horizon. Turkey, a member of NATO, has the world’s sixth-largest military, but it hasn’t stirred to stop the carnage because the Islamic State has not yet desecrated the tomb of Suleyman Shah, located in Syria. In August 2013, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, singled out the tomb’s site for special commendation, declaring that it — along with surrounding land — was Turkish territory. Thus, the lives of hundreds of thousands of Kurds are a lesser priority than protecting a monument to a man who drowned while trying to cross the Euphrates River in 1236; Erdogan cited article 9 of an agreement signed with France on October 20, 1921, to honor the memory of the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire.

Some observers fear that Erdogan reached a compromise with the Islamic State on September 20 this year when he swapped 180 jihadists in return for the release of 49 Turkish consulate staff captured in Turkey’s consulate in Mosul, Iraq. Yet he delayed implementation of a motion passed by Turkey’s parliament that authorized deployment of Turkish armed forces into Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State, and that allowed foreign forces to conduct anti-IS operations from Turkey. Why? Because he equated the Islamic State with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), with which he had supposedly reached a rapprochement.

Much of the conflict between Washington and Ankara has focused on whether to establish a buffer zone between Turkey and Syria and, if so, how it might be policed; Erdogan wants the Unites States to establish a no-fly zone, claiming that the two nations have a shared interest in defeating the Baathist regime led by Bashar al-Assad; Obama, however, wants to minimize direct American involvement. Much of the territory that would be in the buffer zone now is home to Kurds. Allowing Turkey to assert hegemony over this region would jump-start a radical demographic shift, eliminating the spirit of Kurdish nationalism in western Kurdistan and undermining efforts to ensure non-Islamist influence within any future Syrian government. Creating a “Turkish belt” above the “Iranian belt” (linking Tehran to Lebanon) would essentially supplant Kurds from land they’ve inhabited for millennia. Kurds would justifiably oppose establishment of settlements by Turkish Turkmen that, along with those built by Arab Baathists, would infiltrate this region with peoples who predictably would harbor fealty to Ankara or Damascus.

That’s why America and the international community must not place the fate of the Kurdish people in the hands of the Turkish government, which has stood by passively as the Islamic State has slaughtered Kurds. All three parties — America, Turkey, and Kurdistan — share enmity against Assad (and, assuredly, the feeling is mutual) along with his supporters in Tehran and Moscow. It’s only reasonable to predict that Baathists in Syria would exhibit the same level of anti-Kurdish racism as Saddam Hussein displayed in Iraq (particularly given that his former followers now populate the leadership of the Islamic State). But Assad’s overthrow must not be followed by the creation of a puppet government controlled by Erdogan instead of the ayatollahs.

America must honor its unique history of protecting the human rights of oppressed people worldwide. Journalists — bravely covering this multi-party conflict — have exposed the degrading, immoral, and brutal treatment of Kurds by the Islamic State, but they have not reported adequately on the deaths of wounded Kurds who, escaping to the Turkish border, were refused entry by Turkish security forces (the army and the gendarmerie). These are tough days for Kurds and other religious and national minorities who live among them — people from all over Syria. They face genocide, with no end in sight and, thus far, no help on the way.

Kurds are not trying to parlay sympathy for their plight — fearing slaughter — to manipulate American foreign policy, although Kurds feel they were robbed of a homeland after World War I, as multiple ironclad agreements were abrogated. But this is hardly the time to relitigate prior betrayals, because it is essential to create a real buffer zone immediately to protect Kurds from a Holocaust, a Shoah against Kurds and other peoples.

Unfortunately, given that Russia can veto any U.N. Security Council provision deemed to undermine Assad, it is unlikely that the U.N. will act to protect the Kurds. It’s therefore preferable that NATO play a larger role in this conflict, the same way that it worked with Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq. Also, few people recognize the ongoing danger of arming the Free Syrian Army — its leadership has professed views that are unequivocally anti-Kurd and anti-Israel.

The Kurdistan National Council of Syria therefore calls upon NATO to establish a joint force with the Pesh Merga (which, by the way, translates as “those who confront death”). Functioning as temporary protectors against a common existential threat, this force would also serve to undermine Iran’s ability to influence the Kurds and the Yazidis. Rather, the population could be shielded from Islamism through the shared efforts of NATO, the Kurds, and Syrian militias that the Kurds can vet so as to preclude providing arms to Islamic terrorists. Their mission would be, initially, to protect the population and, subsequently, to facilitate the return of refugees from neighboring countries, particularly Turkey. Ultimately, this entity could provide the catalyst for the creation of a democratic and pluralistic Syrian government that would accommodate the civil rights of all indigenous people.

Kurds simply want to be empowered to choose their own destiny and to live in freedom with others who share their desire to create security and stability. Kurds can protect themselves via the Pesh Merga in South Kurdistan and by severing the corrupt “belts” envisioned by Iran and Turkey. In conjunction with this initiative, all Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq will need to cooperate closely. As much as we envision an independent Kurdistan with Erbil as its capital, we must focus now on reaching consensus about what is happening to Erbil’s west. At a time when common enemies confront us, we need unity among the Kurdish militia and between the Kurdish community and the myriad moderate members of the Syrian Free Army. To stop the carnage in Syria, NATO must intervene.

— Sherkoh Abbas is a human-rights activist, a leader of the Kurdish Dorkian tribe, and a founding member of Center for Democracy in the Middle East​. He served as president of the Kurdish-American Committee for Democracy in Syria and is currently the chairman of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria. Robert B. Sklaroff is a physician-activist and supporter of Kurdish self-determination.​ This article constitutes the policy of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, conveyed to America and the world on behalf of the Kurdistan National Council of Syria. 


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