ANALYSIS - How the US killed the Kurdish autonomy project

Trump's pullout from Syria and green light to Turkish invasion is latest US betrayal of Kurdish efforts to achieve autonomy, independence.

Yochanan Visser,

Kurdish YPG fighters
Kurdish YPG fighters
Flash 90

US Special Forces were pelted by angry Syrian Kurds with rotten vegetables and fruits on Monday when they retreated from their positions in Rojava the Kurdish autonomous region along the Turkish border in Syria.

The Kurds accused the US for abandoning them after President Donald Trump suddenly decided to pull out American military forces from Rojava.

By doing this Trump effectively gave Turkey’s strongman Tayyip Recep Erdogan green light for launching his long-anticipated assault on the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) along the Turkish border.

Erdogan wasted no time and sent his military and their Syrian Sunni Islamist allies into the remaining two Kurdish cantons of Rojava where they already have caused a humanitarian disaster when more than 300.000 people fled their homes.

The Turkish autocratic leader agreed to a temporary ceasefire after a US delegation led by Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State visited Ankara and made clear Trump would unleash heavy sanctions if Erdogan continued his aggression against the Syrian Kurds which he justifies by using trumped-up charges such as “terrorism” by the Syrian Kurds.

The Kurdish YPG militia, which forms the backbone of the SDF, has no history of terrorist activity in Turkey and was the main force responsible for the defeat of the ISIS Caliphate in Syria.

In fact, it was Turkey which launched 35 cross-border attacks against the Kurds in Syria in contrast to one cross-border attack emanating from Rojava since the beginning of this year.

Under the US-brokered ceasefire agreement, which came into effect last Friday, the SDF had five days to vacate the so-called ‘safe zone’ which would go 32 kilometers into northern Syria and according to Erdogan is needed to resettle the bulk of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

The Turkish dictator has now decided that the ‘safe zone’ will run along the entire 440 kilometers-long border between Syria and Turkey and not only the north-western region.

During a press conference in Ankara on Friday, Erdogan claimed he will set up ‘observation posts’ in northwest Syria but a map used during the meeting with reporters showed that these posts will stretch from the Iraqi border along the 440 kilometers-long Turkish-Syrian border.

If he follows-up on his decision, Erdogan will breach the ceasefire-deal and risks a confrontation with the Russian-Iranian-backed Syrian Army which has already started to invade US/SDF vacated areas and has set its sights on the oil fields in eastern Syria.

After the US decided to abandon their former ally in the war against ISIS the Kurds were forced to strike a deal with the Assad regime which will most likely mean the definitive end of Kurdish independence dream in Syria.

Back in 2012, the Syrian Kurds used Assad’s unilateral withdrawal from the area along the Turkish border to establish an autonomous entity but had to fight for their lives from the very beginning.

“They are no angels,” Trump wrote in one of his many Tweets about the Syrian Kurds in which he defended his controversial decision.

Maybe they weren’t in the eyes of Trump but many experts who actually worked with the SDF or are familiar with the situation in Rojava say they were the only sane and disciplined local military force acting in Syria during the now more than 8-year-old civil war.

Take, for example, Jonathan Spyer an Israeli Middle East expert who went to Rojava multiple times during the Syrian war.

Spyer says the Kurds have been betrayed by “their allies” and claims that the moment two Syrian Army divisions will cross into Rojava supported by Russian warplanes the Kurdish autonomy project in Syria will be over.

“The last six years were in vain” a Kurdish SDF fighter told Spyer after the Kurdish autonomous government was forced to strike a deal with the Assad regime to frustrate Erdogan’s attempt to carry out ethnic cleansing in Rojava.

Trump calls this ethnic cleansing “the resettling of the Kurds” while he made clear that his new policy for Syria is to “save the oil” (fields) in eastern Syria.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last week also warned the Turkish government not to carry out ethnic cleansing of the Syrian Kurds and a Kurdish SDF official on Monday called upon Israel to intervene military.

“The State of Israel must work to put an end to this war that is killing women and children and expelling civilians from their homes,” the official wrote in a text message to Israeli media.

Chances Israel will militarily intervene or send weapons to the Kurds are extremely low, however.

The Israeli government has always been careful not to openly intervene in the Syrian war and limited itself to airstrikes on Iranian-related targets in Syria which formed a threat to Israel and sometimes aided anti-Assad rebel groups with ammunition and weapons for tactical reasons.

Israel and Jordan now reportedly asked the Trump Administration again to keep some US Special Forces in Syria but it’s fair to assume these forces will be kept in eastern Syria to prevent Iran from taking over the whole of the Syrian Iraqi border and to protect the Syrian oil fields.

The US has a long history of betrayal of the Kurdish nation of roughly 40 million people most of them living in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

The history of the largest betrayals goes back to 1975 when the US cut-off aid to the Kurdish Peshmerga militia who were fighting the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

During the First Gulf War in 1991, the Bush Administration encouraged the Kurds to rise up against Saddam Hussein but when they did the US failed to give them military aid. Thereafter the uprising was crushed by the army of Hussein sending thousands of Kurds into the mountains where they got stuck until Western countries created a no-fly zone in northern Iraq.

The US also allowed Turkey to launch massive crack-downs on its own Kurds which killed more than 40.000 of them many during the reign of Erdogan.

At the end of 2017, the Iraqi Kurds were again betrayed by the US after they supported the Peshmerga militia for years in the war against ISIS.

When 93 percent of the Iraqi Kurds voted for independence in a referendum, the Obama Administration choose the side of the Iraqi Government of Haider Abadi who issued an ultimatum to the Kurds and then shut down all border crossings before attacking Kurdish positions in northern Iraq.

‘We have only the mountains to trust in’ goes an old Kurdish saying.

“We sent our children with them to fight ISIS, and they abandoned us. Betrayal is hard to get over, and I hope we’ll remember this for the future,” a Syrian Kurdish shopkeeper told The Guardian.

Many of the 300.000 Syrian Kurds who abandoned their homes are now trying to reach Iraqi Kurdistan while in Rojava fighters of five different armies are now active in the dying autonomous Kurdish region in Syria.




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