Thursday, October 6th | 11 Tishri 5783

October 20, 2019 4:27 am

When the Dust Settles in Syria…

avatar by Fiamma Nirenstein /


Turkish and US soldiers are pictured during a joint US-Turkey patrol in a Syrian border village near Tel Abyad, Syria, September 8, 2019. Photo: Turkish Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS. – To speak about Kurds has suddenly become a cry in favor of human rights and self-determination by the Western press, and rightly so: The assault they are suffering is lethal and may become genocidal. More frightening is that it is being perpetrated by the Turks, who are already stained by the Armenian genocide and led by a leader who considers himself an almighty sultan. And it’s really odd that Europe is only now discovering who he really is.

How can this be? Didn’t Europe know that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during these last 16 years in power has been possessed by a vicious fundamentalist Islamic and imperialist dream, repeatedly displayed unprecedented arrogance (he has closed newspapers and thrown more than 150,000 dissidents in prison), and expressed extreme ideas that have systematically dismantled the precious Kemalist heritage that once made Turkey the hope of a bridge between the Islamic world and the West? Didn’t Europe see that he inundated the world with slogans and antisemitic standpoints corroborated by his friendship with Hamas? That he supported former Egypt President Mohammad Morsi as leader of the Muslim Brotherhood — a man he praised being himself the greatest Muslim Brotherhood politician in office? Is it coincidence that Erdoğan allowed the passage from his country of thousands of Islamic fundamentalists in possession of whatever passport to boost ISIS, which many claim he supported through trade and furnished with weapons?

His hatred of the Kurds, identifying them all with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), is one of the signs of the dangerous character of the man who hasn’t hesitated — and won’t hesitate again now — to threaten Europe with opening Turkey’s borders and flooding Europe with millions of refugees.

The Kurds are a divided population, disillusioned and sometimes even struggling with each other, often split by multiple geographical and political divisions (Abdullah Ocalan was certainly a leader, but also a Communist and a terrorist). Still, they are also a persecuted, courageous, and special population with respect to their yearning to aim for equality between the sexes and to practice it as much as they can. Moreover, the Kurds are in favor of democracy and a positive relationship with the West and also Israel, whose citizens in these days — in opposition with US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria and abandon its Kurdish allies — are demonstrating in their favor on the streets. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also lent words of support to the Kurds.

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What is happening is that the media now assigns Erdoğan an omnipotence that he doesn’t have and a long-term outlook he lacks, demonstrated by the fact that within his own country, he no longer enjoys half of the support he once did in the past. Erdoğan has embarked on a path full of unexpected, dangerous events. How will the Turks now see his use of the army and Arab extremist militias against a civilian population far from Ankara? And how will its population, which is already in financial difficulty, react to additional American sanctions that already affect the defense and energy sectors, as well as the rise in tariffs, including European ones that will now be determined? And it will be Turkey’s fault if the bloodthirsty zombies of ISIS are again unleashed by the thousands because of the confusion caused by this war.

In chorus, the international media argue that Trump’s withdrawal marks a total radical strategic change in the structure of power and American influence in the region, and that those who will gain are first and foremost Russia, Iran and Syrian President Bashar Assad. But we must remember that the Alawite power, since its beginning, has always leaned on Russia to dominate the country. In fact, this duo is nothing new. And that the Turks and Assad have a relationship of continuous clash-rapprochement is equally well-known: for now, instead, the fact that Assad has established a relationship with the Kurds means that the Russians tend towards the status quo without Turkish domination. As for Iran, the non-fortuitous coincidence of the beginning of Turkish hostilities with a powerful exercise along the same border by the Iranian army tells us that Tehran shows up to signal that it doesn’t like the excess of a Sunni presence in northeast Syria, and this contrasts not just a little with the photo diffused everywhere during the summit between Erdoğan, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, which took place this past September in Ankara. At this moment, the trio no longer works together, and Russia will be the “tightrope walker” between the Sunni and Shi’ite powers that seemed momentarily calmed.

The United States has — and not just with Trump, as demonstrated by former President Barack Obama’s approach vis-à-vis Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the famous failure to enforce the “red line” against Assad — left the Middle East numerous times under several American presidents. But then it, as Politico notes, returned for better or worse: Jimmy Carter with the battles at the Iranian embassy; ​​Ronald Reagan with the explosion of the barracks and the massacre of soldiers at the hands of the Hezbollah in Beirut; and George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks with the invasion of Afghanistan and later Iraq.

Now the field correspondents write that a mass of Arab militias armed by the Turks commit atrocities on the Kurdish population with the cry of “Allahu Akbar,” against kafirs (infidels). This outbreak of Islamic fundamentalism can have great repercussions that certainly won’t leave anyone indifferent, including Trump. We will see. And for Israel, which certainly cannot afford to move armed troops considering all the problems it currently faces on its borders, we can still bet on the fact that its standing on the side of the Kurds will mean something.

It’s not the fact that America no longer wants to stay on that border that has changed things, but the war cry of Islamic fundamentalism that resounds again and again the Middle East. Perhaps Erdoğan, with Sunni and regal pride, lacks a complete vision of what he has unleashed.

Iran certainly doesn’t like this Sunni invasion and neither do the Alawis. Russia is in the middle. America is far away, but vigilant. And Europe, as usual, is absent.

Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including Israel Is Us (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Translated by Amy Rosenthal.

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