BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
On the first day or two of the current mess, we could watch, wait, and even snicker as the two biggest egomaniacs on the world stage, Erdoğan and Trump, proceeded to pretend to do verbal battle while making fools of themselves, yet again, for all to see.
We could hope that just as happened last December, Erdoğan’s preparatory moves to invade Syria would end up being nothing more than bluster for internal political consumption (remember Turkey’s municipal elections were looming, in March, and he had a lot riding on those, ultimately taking a good beating).
We could enjoy the schadenfreude of the bind Trump put himself in by green-lighting Erdoğan’s long-sought invasion.
The foolishness runs unabated. First Trump announced that in his “great and unmatched wisdom” if Erdoğan crossed any (undefined) lines of acceptable behavior during the invasion, Trump would “totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey”! Then, after even his most die-hard, brown-nosing, Senatorial and Congressional supporters savaged him with criticism for turning on the United States allies, the Kurds of northern Syria, he came up with another doozy.
Picking up an utterly ridiculous line from Kurt Schlichter, a retired U.S. Army colonel, who writes for a right-wing website, Trump rhetorically asked if the Kurds had helped the U.S. at Normandy. Incredible! He’s going back three-quarters of a century to a time when the world’s greatest powers were locked in massive battle while the Kurds had just been massacred by the hundreds of thousands (in Turkey). Comparing the Kurds with the U.S. is ludicrous on the face of it: A stateless nation dwelling in four countries whose governments have a history of persecuting them is to a country on the verge of becoming the world’s leading power as a common modern lizard is to a tyrannosaurus rex!
Alas, even though the ridiculous pronouncements continue, the bloodshed has begun with the NY Times reporting Friday morning that 23 Kurdish fighters had already been killed. The pictures of bomb-amputated children and families fleeing the invasion are also available for all to see. Naturally, video of Ankara moving its forces to and beyond the Syrian border are also up, presumably permitted by Sultan Rejep (Recep) to bolster his standing among the electorate (early polling for Turkey’s 2023 presidential election shows his standing at 39.1%, a significant drop from the 52.6% with which he won office a little more than a year ago). Analogously, there are those arguing that Trump allowed Turkey’s invasion in a “wag the dog” move to distract people from his looming impeachment and to shore up support among his core constituencies.
All of this describes the ugly, political, and pathetic aspect of the situation. The coming consequences are far more dire on a human level on the ground.
Turkey will no doubt exhibit its usual behavior and massacre some Kurds. Many people will be displaced as a result of war. Ethnic cleansing, or more precisely reconfiguring, will follow Turkey’s likely win over the much smaller Kurdish forces because Turkey plans to resettle Syrian refugees it has housed in the 20 mile (30 kilometer) “buffer zone” it wants to create along the Syrian border. This will negatively impact Kurdish hopes of one day having a comprehensive national state.
Wider war could ensue. The PKK could mobilize against the Turkish armed forces, opening up a second front for Ankara. If the Cypriots are bold enough, they might also move to try to expel Turkish troops from their country. A little bit later, once Turkish forces have softened up Syria’s Kurds (which suits the interests of Damascus), Syria might move against Turkey under the very legitimate rationale that the latter has violated its borders. Iran would probably quietly support Syria in this endeavor (if you don’t believe this, consider that Iran is allowing Kurdish demonstrations already). Meanwhile, Daesh/ISIS, which has been getting eliminated slowly, might get a second wind with the likely escape/release of 12,000-15,000 of its members who are currently in jails run by Syria’s Kurds. Remember, they were the main force on the ground (other than the Syrian army) fighting those Islamic fundamentalists, serving the interests of the West and armed/supported by a minimal number of American troops (about a thousand), which is why the U.S. betrayal of the Kurds looms so large.
Whose side will Israel take? It faces a difficult choice since it is on poor terms with Turkey, has Syria as a neighbor which is an enemy, and having Daesh/ISIS on its borders would not be a desirable situation. Historically, it too has used and betrayed the Kurds (of Iraq in the 1970s). Russia, too, may have a somewhat difficult choice to make. While it has been improving relations with Turkey which is still a NATO member and U.S. ally, it has a very strong alliance with Syria and likely wants the U.S. to come out of this mess embarrassed, and, if possible, weakened. Unfortunately, the Republic of Armenia is in no position to use this opportunity to retake some of its occupied lands. Nor are Greece and Iraq up to the task of taking Turkey on at this time.
Is it possible that Turkish bases/facilities outside its borders might come under attack through Kurdish guerrilla groups? There are two in Azerbaijan, Northern Cyprus is of course littered with them, twenty-one in Iraq (the Kurdish zone of all places), one in Qatar, one in Somalia, and six in Syria.
The invasion also has a direct impact on one of our communities. Many Armenians remain in Qamishli/Ghamishli in northern Syria, home to a fairly large Christian population enjoying the relative calm of the Kurdish-controlled region over the last few years.
Regardless of what you think of Trump, this is bad news for the U.S. and probably for Armenians in general. Demonstrations are already being organized. For those who see this piece soon enough online, you can make it the ones scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, October 12 and 13. Be sure to go. I will be at the one in Los Angeles, noon, October 13 at the Turkish Consulate, 6300 Wilshire Boulevard. An extensive listing is available for the U.S. and Canada. If you’re in Boston, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, and even other, smaller citeis, check it out and go.