News & Politics

Is Turkey's ISIS Attack a Smokescreen to Hit Kurdish Forces?

Buildings which were damaged during security operations and clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants, are seen in Yuksekova in the southeastern Hakkari province, Turkey, May 30, 2016. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar - RTX2ETOX

For the first time, the Turkish military has sent troops into Syria ostensibly to fight the Islamic State (ISIS), but according to some reports this is merely a pretext to fight Kurdish efforts in the region. According to Germany’s Deutsche Welle, Syrian-Kurdish military forces were advancing to the border town of Jarablus following a victory against ISIS in Manbij. The New York Times has also reported that Turkey’s operation “also appears aimed at preventing Syrian Kurdish forces … from expanding further across northern Syria.”

The Kurds “are definitely marginalized in Turkey … I call it cultural genocide,” Kani Xulam, a Kurdish activist in America and director of the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN), told PJ Media in an interview at the Republican National Convention last month. Xulam alleged that Turkey was actually working with ISIS, allowing its border to become “a Jihadi highway,” in order to frustrate the Kurds.

Xulam’s remarks highlight what may be Turkey’s real objective in finally invading Syria. ISIS forces have held parts of northern Syria for months, and they only now are invading to take Jarablus as Kurdish forces close in. On Monday, Turkey launched artillery strikes on ISIS and on Kurdish sites in northern Syria, and it sent tanks into the country Wednesday ostensibly to fight ISIS in Jarablus.

Here’s the problem, Jarablus is empty. According to the “Syrian Rebellion Ops” Twitter account, ISIS forces left the city “since a long time now, maybe weeks.”

https://twitter.com/Syria_Rebel_Obs/status/768450507086127104

The account posted pictures of the town, completely empty.

https://twitter.com/Syria_Rebel_Obs/status/768454493755305984

A Turkish official announced that Kurdish YPG (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, the military arm of the Democratic Union Pary or PYD) targets were hit 20 times. Indeed, following the joint attacks on ISIS and the Kurds, the president of the PYD threatened Turkey, warning that after the Turks entered the “Syrian Quagmire,” they “will be defeated as Daish” (the Kurdish form of DAESH, the official Arabic acronym for ISIS).

In Syria, the YPG is allied with Yazidis, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, Alawites, and secular Arabs fighting radical Islamist groups like ISIS. This broad coalition helps strengthen the Syrian Kurds, making their group the most likely victor of the war in Syria.

In Turkey, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) advocates for a separate Kurdistan, and has launched a string of attacks and car bombings against security forces in southeast Turkey. The Washington Post‘s Ishaan Tharoor described the conflict there as “a low-running civil war between state forces and Kurdish separatist militias.”

In the wake of the failed coup attempt ostensibly led by Fethullah Gulen, pro-government media and officials in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) have attempted to pin some of the blame the PKK for the coup attempt. Tharoor described this claim as “highly dubious, in part because the Gulenists [the coup leaders] are also accused of attempting to sabotage Turkey’s fledgling peace process with the Kurds.”

After a suicide bomb at a Kurdish wedding killed 51 people (about half of whom were children) in the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep last weekend, AKP officials blamed the attack on ISIS, but the Kurdish victims blamed Erdogan and his party. At the funerals of victims the following day, angry relatives and onlookers threw water bottles at police and called President Erdogan a “murderer.”

In announcing the movement of troops into Syria, Erdogan said the operation is aimed “against terrorist groups that constantly threaten out country,” referring to both ISIS and YPG forces whom the AKP views as in league with the PKK.

The American Kurdish activist Xulam spoke from the other side. He explained that the Kurds are “definitely marginalized in Turkey.” He emphasized the state-enforced ban on education in the Kurdish language as one of the key factors driving unrest.

We cannot speak our language. There are 20 million Kurds in an 80 million country called Turkey. 60 million Turks enjoy their preschools, high schools, universities. There isn’t even one preschool in Kurdish — it’s against the law. For a long time, we were actually punished for speaking Kurdish in public. So it was a suppressed language, a suppressed culture. For 80 years, we have been blocked from exercising our birthright to speak our mother tongue. I call it cultural genocide — Turkey is guilty of it.

Turkey, of course, is guilty of Armenian genocide, too. They crippled a nation of Christians, they decimated 82 percent of that nation in the name of living space, if you will. Turkey shouldn’t really be an ally of the United States.

Xulam said he “has issues” with “fundamentalist Sunni states who want to dominate,” specifically Saudi Arabia and Turkey. He alleged that “they have an expansionistic point of view, and that should be curbed.”

Next Page: Does Turkey get this expansionism from Islam?

He emphasized the religious motivations behind such expansion: “Islam is not the religion of peace, Islam is a religion of expansion, Islam is a religion of domination,” Xulam argued. He acknowledged that American leaders “have to deal with these countries” and “have to be careful in terms of their language,” but he insisted that “they shouldn’t whitewash it either.”

“For Obama to say Islam is a religion of peace tells me that he doesn’t know the religion, he hasn’t read Quran,” the Kurdish activist declared.

He did emphasize, however, that Muslims can indeed be peaceful. “They should learn by the American example, you know church and state are separate. I don’t mind people practicing their faith, what I do mind is their shoving it through my throat or other people’s throat, or saying that the other people don’t deserve to live.”

Many Americans might not understand what this means. In his forthcoming book, No God But One: Allah or Jesus?: A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity a Muslim-turned-Christian Nabeel Qureshi demonstrates the truth of Xulam’s fears. Qureshi describes a dinner with one of his old friends, who is a Sunni Muslim. During the dinner, his friend looked him in the eyes and said if they were in a Muslim country, he would kill him right then.

My friend did not budge. “Leaving other religions is fine, but people should be killed for leaving Islam. Yes, there is freedom of worship here in America. Since it is illegal to kill apostates, American Muslims are bound by the law of the land and cannot kill former Muslims.” …

I could not believe what my friend was saying. I ahd to challenge him just a little more to see how serious he was. “So if we were in a Muslim country right now, would you kill me?”

Matter-of-factly, without malice or sarcasm, he responded, “Yes, I would kill you right now. It is the command of the Prophet [Mohammed].”

While states like Turkey are run by Sunni Muslims and most Kurds consider themselves Sunnis as well, the division of mosque and state divides regimes like President Erdogan’s from the Kurdish way of doing things. Due in part to this division, America has been aiding the Kurds in the fight against ISIS, but not enough for Xulam’s liking. In fact, Vice President Joe Biden just convinced the YPG to withdraw from an area across the Euphrates River by threatening to remove U.S. support for the Kurdish army.

The Kurds are in a very unfortunate position in the region, being opposed by ISIS, Shiite states like Iran, and Sunni states like Turkey and Saudi Arabia. This latest move by Turkey merely confirms that the Kurds need more help from the U.S., just as America seems to mistrust their forces on the ground.