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Killing Kurds

Turkey’s latest assertion to eliminate any Kurdish fighters who may still be in the zone where the Russian deal gives it direct control, is arguably the outcome of a tacit alliance between Russia and Turkey in Sochi in addition to the grave betrayal of the Kurds by Russia. The movement of Russian troops initially created the impression that it would protect Kurds from Turkey. In reality, however, Turkey turned to be more ruthless in its offensive against Kurds.

Santanu Basu | Kolkata |

It has been a double blow for the Kurds. The first was Donald Trump’s betrayal, and the second Vladimir Putin’s outbursts and virulent attacks against the Kurds, demanding that they vacate the areas held by the Kurds fighters in northern Syria and that too more or less in line with the ceasefire agreement concluded by Mike Pence , the US Vice-President, and Recep Tyip Erdogen, Turkey’s President. This is totally confusing. Trump’s decision to withdraw the US forces in northern Syria was construed as an act of betrayal and gross sabotage of the Kurds who had defeated and fought back the dreaded ISIS from Syria with the help of US.

Hence the US abandonment was a major setback in its fight against ISIS. Even Erdogan’s operation that killed more than 2000 Kurds and displaced lakhs immediately after the pullout by the US forces in the second week of October pales into insignificance, if Russia’s latest stance after the Sochi meeting between Putin and Erdogan are taken into account. Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. Hence Erdogan attacked the Kurds with greater vengeance and the US withdrawal pave the way for unfettered killings of the Kurds by Turkey. Syrian forces, Russian military advisers and military police are being deployed in a zone 30 kilometers deep along much of the north-eastern border, under an agreement reached by Russia and Turkey.

They have been tasked to ensure that Kurdish fighters leave that area. Russia and Turkey will begin joint patrols along a narrower strip directly on the Turkish-Syrian border. When Turkey started butchering the Kurds to create a ‘safe zone’ amidst total betrayal by Trump, there were reports that Russia, the Syrian government led by Assad and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) of the Kurds formed an alliance to take on Turkey leading a blood sucking operation in northern Syria and Russia stepping into the embattled zone instilled a belief in international circles that given Russia’s credentials of being a dependable ally of Bassar Al Assad in containing the complex civil war in Syria apart from defeating the ISIS, Russia would again prove its mettle to rein in Erdogan in northern Syria.

But the alliance of three forces somehow compelled Trump to send his Vice-President, Mike Pence, to Turkey for brokering a ceasefire with Erdogan which proved to be nothing more than a facesaving measure of Trump who was bitterly condemned for a suicidal decision of abandoning the Kurdish allies. The agreement, hailed as a great victory for ‘civilization’ by Trump, required Kurds to vacate a swathe of territory that largely ensures Turkish dominance in the semi-autonomous areas held by the Kurds. The deal actually included a conditional halt to American economic sanctions and no apparent long term consequences for Turkey for its bloodthirsty operations. According to Phil Gordon, an Obama administration official now with the Council on Foreign Relations , the United States essentially agreed to everything Turkey was seeking: a green light to invade, the creation of a huge ‘safe zone’ that Kurdish fighters have to leave, and the end of Kurdish autonomy notwithstanding the claims of US officials that Trump did never signal the approval of Turkey’s invasion, the so-called truce endorses nearly all of Turkey’s stated objectives.

The country’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said that the US has accepted the idea of a safe zone to be controlled by Turkish forces. Turkey, he feared, will not stop at a previously limited zone. And again the truce would achieve all major points that Turkey announced at the time of launching the operations ~ control of a strip of Syria more than 30 km deep. Turkey wanted to drive the U.S.-allied Kurdish forces out of a “safe zone” along the border after President Trump pulled out American troops from the area. The US-Turkish joint statement confirms that the safe zone will be primarily enforced by Turkish armed forces.

With such bartering away of Kurdish interests, the disenchanted section of Republicans and the Democratic senators accused Trump of brushing aside the humanitarian costs resulting from Turkey’s operation and also being outwitted by Ankara. The ceasefire is nothing but a pause to allow Kurdish fighters to withdraw. It was so damaging to US credibility not just because Trump betrayed the Kurds, but it once again made Trump look like a paper tiger, so dubbed by Gordon. Turkey’s latest assertion to eliminate any Kurdish fighters who may still be in the zone where the Russian deal gives it direct control , is arguably the outcome of a tacit alliance between Russia and Turkey in Sochi in addition to the grave betrayal of the Kurds by Russia.

The movement of Russian troops initially created the impression that it would protect Kurds from Turkey. In reality, however, Turkey turned to be more ruthless in its offensive against Kurds. It is now very clear that the trio ~ the US, Russia and Turkey ~ are determined to crush the Kurds. The lines of that safe zone have not been publicly defined, however, and the location of the reported attacks suggested that Turkish troops could be trying to gain new ground on its edges with Russian help. The Russian control in the erstwhile Kurdish areas left by the US forces emitted an unnerving signal across the globe. This can further squeeze both the Kurds and their territory, now in the hands of Russia.

The new agreement with Russia allows Turkey to keep sole control over that area. For the rest of the north-eastern border, Russian and Syrian government forces will move in to ensure the Kurdish fighters leave. Then after the deadline runs out within the next few days, Turkish and Russian forces will jointly patrol a strip 10-kilometers deep along the border. Accordingly a convoy of military police had crossed the Euphrates River and has been deployed in the Syrian border town of Kobane. And to add salt to the injury of the Kurds, Mevlut Cavusolgu said that Turkish forces would “neutralize” any Syrian Kurdish fighters they come across in areas that Turkey now controls. With the blessing of Russia, President Erdogan seemed to be vying with his foreign minister in planning the renewed offensive against the Kurds , which will resume if the Kurdish pullback does not materialise.

“Whether its our agreement with the United States or with Russia, if the promises given are not carried out, there will be no change concerning the steps we need to take,” said Mr Erdogan. By this time Kurdish forces completed the process of withdrawal from a stretch of territory 120 kilometres wide along the border and 30 kilometres deep between the towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad. That pullback, allowing Turkish-backed forces to take over, was required under the US -Turkish accord.

So, the ceasefire brokered by the US or the Sochi agreement between Putin and Erdogan complimented each other, specifically vacating the zone that was held by the Kurds. This is what Turkey has been demanding for a while. It is, however, redundant to discuss if Russia was able to impose its grip further in northern frontiers of Syria. though it is propagated that with the US withdrawal , Russia and Iran are in a far stronger position in Syria. It is equally meaningless to say that the clumsy reversal of US stand has further weakened US position. The basic point is Kurds have been defeated by its own long-term ally ~ the United States of America.

(The writer is Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Chanchal College, Malda, in West Bengal)