Danny Isham

Last Friday, chemical weapons inspectors from the United Nations stated that they were gathering information over the alleged use of white phosphorous by the Turkish military on Kurdish civilians. This investigation comes after several patients were shown to have unusual burn trauma.

On Oct. 9, Turkey began an invasion of northeastern Syria, with the justification of creating a buffer zone between itself and Syria. However, looking at the bloody and oppressive history of Turkish action against the Kurds, it may seem that their true intentions are part of a much darker agenda.

There is strong evidence that this invasion is an attempt to end Kurdish separatism by pummeling the entire ethnic group into submission under the fists of the Turkish military.

Throughout the history of the Republic of Turkey, the Kurdish culture and language have been oppressed by the ethno-nationalistic policies of the Turkish state. For decades, the Kurdish language was banned in both public and private life, and is still prohibited in official courts and institutions within Turkey.

This program of forced assimilation in Turkey gave Kurdish nationalists plenty of justification to seek the creation of their own state, though numerous openly pro-Kurdish parties have been banned in Turkey.

Seeking liberation beyond the constraints of Turkish law, a socialist militant group known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was formed in 1978 in order to overthrow their Turkish oppressors by force and create an independent state known as Kurdistan.

From 1984 to the present, they have waged an insurgency campaign against Turkey for the liberation of the Kurdish people, though Turkey has only used the existence of the PKK as an excuse to further terrorize the Kurdish minority. For example, the latest banned pro-Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party (DTP), was officially disbanded due to its alleged connections to the PKK.

Rather than give in to the demands of Kurdish nationalist forces, Turkey has doubled down on defending its current grip on its Kurdish population as well as the territory that would comprise a section of Kurdistan. After decades of battling PKK insurgency within Turkey, the Turkish government turned to a growing area of Kurdish nationalism: northeastern Syria.

In the complicated and diverse arena of the Syrian Civil War, a Kurdish autonomous region known as Rojava formed as Kurdish nationalists in Syria found an opportunity to gain ground for the creation of Kurdistan. They even gained U.S. support as they waged war against terrorist elements in the region.

However, its expanding influence and territory in Syria had grown to such an extent that Turkey feared that Rojava’s presence would embolden its own Kurdish population to seek independence with greater fervor.

After Rojava annexed the city of Tal Abyad into its administration in October 2015, Turkish forces opened fire against Kurdish forces, officially beginning Turkey’s open hostilities against the Kurdish autonomous region. Though Western powers attempted to broker a ceasefire between the two, Turkish attacks have continued against the umbrella organization for Rojava-affiliated militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), throughout the civil war.

However, Turkey knew it would be unable to successfully eliminate the SDF as a potential threat so long as the United States was in the region as a supporter of the Kurds. On Oct. 6, 2019, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met by phone call with American President Donald Trump over the necessity of a so-called “safe zone” to “neutralize the threat stemming from [the] PKK-YPG.”

The next day, the United States announced that it was withdrawing its troops from Syria now that terrorist activity had been defeated in the area, allowing Turkey to begin its invasion of northeastern Syria while not openly supporting it. Two days later, the operation officially began with airstrikes and artillery targeting the cities of Ras al Ain and Tal Abyad, with ground forces invading soon afterwards.

By looking at its persecution of the Kurds in its recent history, Turkey’s calls for a “safe zone” between it and Syria are little more than a smokescreen for it to pulverize Kurdish nationalism in the region, with the end goal of forcibly assimilating Kurdish culture underneath Turkish culture.

However, whether it will achieve any substantial ground in its conquest against the SDF now that the United States has withdrawn from the region is yet to be seen, as numerous factors underneath the surface of the Syrian Civil War still hold prominent influence in the outcomes in the region.

Denounce Turkey and its hate-fueled invasion! All peoples have the right to determine their own destinies. Long live Kurdistan!

P.S. Just to clarify the point I’m trying to make, I am not in favor of the United States staying in Syria to continue its military support of the SDF, for which many in Washington are calling. What I am in favor of is an international denouncement of the Turkish invasion and the pursuit of economic sanctions against it if Erdogan wishes to continue his warmongering.

Danny Isham is a freshman majoring in political science. He can be reached at disham@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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