Just days after reports that the Turks are using chemical weapons against the Kurds — including Kurdish civilian populations, President Trump announced that the US will lift the sanctions on Turkey he imposed over Turkey’s operation against the Kurds in northern Syria due to the promise of a “permanent” ceasefire. Multiple sources have reported that the chemical weapons were dropped in the border town of Ras al-Ayn after images and video surfaced of civilians, including children, suffering gruesome chemical burns, reports Newsweek. This would not be the first time that Erdogan has been accuesd of using projectiles carrying poisonous gas in Syria.
To date, the US has not held the Turks responsible for the reported use of white phosphorous, a devastating burning agent prohibited by Protocol III of the Convention on the Prohibition of Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, much less violations of previous ceasefires. Not to mention, the American government also refuses to acknowledge the Armenian genocide under the Turks during Word War I. Is this just merely something of the past? Has Erdogan been observing humanitarian norms? It would seem quite the contrary as to his Ottoman-style of ethnic cleansing.
In June 2017, under the surveillance of President Erdogan, the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs (the Diyanet) seized control of at least fifty Syrian churches, monasteries, and cemeteries in the Mardin province. This liquidation committee, established in 2012 with the task to confiscate and redistribute property of institutions whose legal entity had expired, denied that it had carried out the aforementioned raid as a result of religious discrimination. Such enforcement of norms, however, reflects the same jihadist system imposed by the Ottoman Turks.
Erdogan had already permitted foreign jihadists to cross into Syria at the start of the war in 2011. It was also reported in 2015 that his daughter, Sumeyye, ran a hospital located in the southeastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa to help injured ISIS militants. Since last year Erdogan has also employed al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants along with his troops in the 2018 takeover of Afrin, where 300,000 Christians, Yazidis, and Kurds were displaced. According to a high ranking member of the Syriac Democratic Federation, Abdulrahman Hassan: “Our heritage was attacked, the city was destroyed. Villages were plundered, women and girls were taken hostage, men are missing. Also several churches were destroyed and church members arrested.”
Returning to the current situation of the Kurds, the Voice of America — a US government-funded state owned multimedia agency which serves as the United States federal government’s official institution for non-military, external broadcasting — reported on January 23, 2019, of Erdogan’s plan was to resettle three million or more refugees from other parts of Syria in this “security zone” extending twenty miles deep into Syria. Twenty miles may not sound much, but — the VOA omitted to mention — almost all the Kurdish towns of northeastern Syria lie within that area. So Erdogan’s intention to annihilate the Kurdish presence in that area and replace it with others has been manifest ever since the beginning of 2019.
The substance was reportedly dropped in bombs by Turkish forces on the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ayn. Instead, Trump announced that because Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised a “permanent” ceasefire, the sanctions would be lifted.
The above photo unfortunately shows what a ceasefire means to Turkey, as the man in the picture was injured entering Ras al-Ayn during an agreed upon “ceasefire.” Although Trump said the sanctions would be reinstated if “something happens that we’re not happy with,” it remains to be seen if Turkey will comply. Moreover, will the Turkish-backed Syrian militias who joined the Turks in their operation against the Kurds will be held to the same standard? The Turkish-sponsored militias also failed to adhere to previous ceasefires and were responsible for horrific war crimes against the Kurds, including the murder of well-loved Kurdish-Syrian politician Hevrin Khalaf, 35, who they pulled out of her car and shot at point blank.
As with the first ceasefire that the Turks celebrated as a victory — since they were able to accomplish all of their goals (i.e., taking over a 30-kilometer (19-mile) “safe zone” inside Syria and cleanse the area of Kurds, who they view as their nemesis) — the lifting of American sanctions imposed on Turkish ministers will be seen as complete vindication of their actions.
That the Turks were able to strongarm the United States into abandoning its Kurdish allies and withdrawing from the area to facilitate a Turkish takeover of such a large swath of Syria is astonishing — especially considering the pretext of Erdogan’s offensive: to cleanse the area of “terrorists.” It must be noted that:
- the Kurds have not launched a terror attack from the Syrian area that borders Turkey since 2012;
- the Trump administration could lift its sanctions on Turkey with the awareness of Turkish war crimes in unconscionable.
The same day the sanctions on Turkey were lifted, US Special Representative for Syria Engagement Jim Jeffrey told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the America was aware of acts of war crimes in northern Syria.
Using the classic technique of doublespeak, when asked if the US is “aiding and abetting ethnic cleansing,” Jeffry answered, “We haven’t seen any widespread ethnic cleansing in that area since the Turks have come in. Many people fled because they’re very concerned about these Turkish-supported Syrian opposition forces.
“We’ve seen several incidents which we consider war crimes, but we have, as part of the agreement with a Turkey, specific language on the proper care of civilians and our monitoring responsibility that we have to work with the Turks to ensure that exactly that doesn’t happen in that area.”
Why cannot the “agreement” apply to those who “chose” to flee or the men, women, and children who were already bombed, shot at, and burned by the use of chemical weapons? Much has been made of the fact that the number of the American troops Trump withdrew from the area (which made way for the Turkish invasion) amounted to only between 50-100 individuals. Yet, those special forces, who were not specifically in harm’s way, were enough to hold back Turkey’s fanatical Islamist ruler Erdogan from sending in his army to decimate the Kurds.
It is tragic to think of the death, permanent injuries, and displacement of both adults and children — steadfast American allies that fought by our side defeating ISIS — that could have been prevented had Trump made a different decision. The point to be made is that the American presence in the northeast Syria served as a “buffer-zone” to prevent any Turkish incursions — Trump fails to recognize the role of US maintenance of worldwide peace. Notwithstanding that the past that cannot be changed, it is still not too lated for Washington to take serious measures against a Turkish tyrant who seeks only to reinstate a sharia-based society that even calls for our own extermination.
N. B. The reader, unless otherwise noted, is advised that substance of this article relies almost exclusively on Meira Svirsky’s Trump Lifts Sanctions on Turkey Despite War Crimes published by the Clarion Project on October 24, 2019.