Washington Kurdish Institute
February 7, 2018
The campaign of aggression initiated just over two weeks ago by the Turkish state against Afrin is shining a light on some of the many dirty realities of the nature of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reign as well as the Turkish state’s intense focus on persecution of the Kurdish people, a policy intrinsic to the existence of the modern Republic of Turkey that far predates the rise of the country’s increasingly autocratic Islamist president.
Since the outbreak of the war in Syria, Turkey has openly and eagerly played a major role in supporting various armed groups, backing a variety of Sunni Muslim groups who violently oppose Kurdish efforts to assert their own identity and have a say in their own future (regardless of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Kurds are, in fact, Sunni Muslims). Turkish assistance to these groups has included weapons, training, and assisting in transport and other logistics. Nearly all foreign fighters who have travelled to Syria have transited through Turkey, and many captured fighters have spoken candidly about this help, which ranges from turning a blind eye to illegal border crossing to coordination on the battlefield against Syrian regime’s forces or Kurdish forces.
In Afrin, while Turkey is eager to use its high-tech air force, tanks, and long-range artillery indiscriminately to target Kurdish fighters and civilians, there is less appetite for exposing ground troops to danger. On the ground, Turkey is employing a number of proxy forces, including a handful of various Islamist jihadist groups, including, as recently reported by the New York Times (elements of the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaida (now part of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS) and the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement. Al-Qaida is a group that needs no introduction – after September 11, 2001, it has spread like a cancer, with affiliates in various geographies from the Africa to Syria to the Indian subcontinent. The Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, on the other hand, will forever be known for a video from 2016 where members of the groups capture a wounded boy, cradle his head in their arms while taunting him, and then slowly cut off his head with a long knife before holding it in air and celebrating.
If it weren’t so obvious, it would be difficult to believe that a NATO army which is supplied by the United States is openly working hand in hand with the likes of al-Qaida and the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement against the predominantly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the most dependable and effective military ally of the US within Syria in the war against ISIS. It is inconceivable that the US and the rest of the world are content to sit idly by while Turkey empowers the very type of groups that the US and its allies are trying to destroy. The Turkish state and its armed forces have long demonstrated that they will employ any means necessary to subjugate the Kurdish people, even those outside of Turkey’s borders. Erdogan’s government, which vocally embraces an Islamist ideology, is now all too happy to join forces with likeminded jihadist groups in Syria in an attempt to destroy and occupy Afrin in Syria.