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Erdogan's Ethnic Cleansing of the Kurds Is Still Happening
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Mass expulsion or the physical extermination of an entire ethnic or religious community – ethnic cleansing – is usually treated by the media in one of two different ways: either it receives maximum publicity as a horror story about which the world should care and do something about, or it is ignored and never reaches the news agenda.

It appeared at first that the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey after its invasion of northern Syria on 9 October would belong to the first category. There was angry condemnation of the forced displacement of 190,000 Kurds living close to the Syrian-Turkish border as Turkish soldiers, preceded by the Syrian National Army (SNA), in reality ill-disciplined anti-Kurdish Islamist militiamen, advanced into Kurdish-held areas. Videos showed fleeing Kurdish civilians being dragged from their cars and shot by the side of the road and reporters visiting hospitals saw children dying from the effects of white phosphorus that eats into the flesh and had allegedly been delivered in bombs or shells dropped or fired by the advancing Turkish forces.

People wonder why armies with complete military superiority should resort to such horrific weapons that are both illegal under international law or, at the very least, guarantee the user a lot of bad publicity. The explanation often is that “terror” weapons are deployed deliberately to terrify the civilian population into taking flight.

In the case of the Turkish invasion of Syria last month, the motive is not a matter of speculation: William V Roebuck, a US diplomat stationed in northeast Syria at the time, wrote an internal memo about what he was seeing for the State Department. The memo later leaked. It is one of the best-informed analyses of what happened and is titled: “Present at the Catastrophe: Standing By as Turks Cleanse Kurds in Northern Syria and De-Stabilise our D-Isis [sic] Platform in the Northeast.”

Roebuck, with access to US intelligence about Turkish intentions, has no doubt that Ankara would like to expel the 1.8 million Kurds living in their semi-independent state of Rojava. He says: “Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria, spearheaded by armed Islamist groups on its payroll, represents an … effort at ethnic cleansing, relying on widespread military conflict targeting part of the Kurdish heartland along the border and benefiting from several widely publicised, fear-inducing atrocities these forces committed.”

Later in the memo, Roebuck notes that the SNA irregulars had formerly been allied to al-Qaeda and Isis and that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had openly broadcast, in a speech at the UN, Turkey‘s intention to fill depopulated Kurdish areas with Syrian Arabs from other parts of Syria who are currently refugees in Turkey. Roebuck’s reference to the extreme jihadi links of the SNA is certainly correct since its members have videoed themselves denouncing Sunni Muslim Kurds, Yazidis and Christians as infidels, along with threats to kill members of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which lost 10,000 fighting Isis in a coalition with the US.

None of this made much difference to Erdogan’s visit to Washington and his meeting with President Trump on Wednesday. He even handed back a letter sent at the time the invasion in which Trump had famously told Erdogan: “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”

In practice, Erdogan’s military assault does not look so foolish as he balances between Trump and Vladimir Putin and rides a wave of hyper-nationalist enthusiasm at home. Complains about Turkish brutality and that of its proxies are common but focus on the overriding aim of the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds from Turkey’s border is becoming blurred and less spoken of, though it is still ongoing. Making life impossible for a civilian population can take other effective but less dramatic forms than the use of white phosphorus or roadside killings.

An example of this type of compelling pressure is the deprivation of drinking water for about 400,000 people, mostly Kurds, who rely on the Alouk water station near Ras al-Ayn, which was damaged in the fighting at the time of the invasion and is under the control of Turkish proxy forces that prevent it being repaired. The UN has been making desperate attempts to restore the water supply from Alouk, but has so far failed to do so. It points out that even before 9 October, 900,000 out of the 3 million living in northeastern Syria were in acute need and since then the situation has gotten worse.

Sceptics say that all the publicity given to the Turkish ethnic cleansing of Kurds in northern Syria since the invasion does not seem to be doing the victims much good. But the price that Turkey pays in international obloquy counterbalances, to a substantial degree, what it has gained through getting its way through close personal relations between Erdogan and Trump. Mass expulsions and killings by al-Qaeda proxies are more difficult to carry out when they have become a factor in the political battles between the White House on one side and a large part of congress and the US media and foreign policy establishment on the other.

We know that Turkey’s pressure on the Kurds to leave Rojava could be a lot worse because this has already happened in Afrin, the isolated Kurdish enclave north of Aleppo that Turkey invaded and occupied in early 2018. This is an example of the type of ethnic cleansing mentioned earlier that never gets reported. Much of the original 200,000-strong Kurdish population are now refugees and those that stayed are being harassed by the same Syrian Arab militia groups that formed the vanguard of the invasion force east of the Euphrates in October.


Information from Afrin is difficult to obtain, but what news does emerge tells of Kurds losing their houses, land and farm machinery and being at the mercy of predatory Syrian Arab militia proxies under Turkish control. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, one of the few organisations with informants in Afrin, reports that in one village, on the day that Erdogan and Trump were meeting in Washington, six local people were kidnapped and taken to a private prison by militiamen. Earlier this year, local media reported that a 10-year-old boy with Down’s syndrome was kidnapped together with his father and grandfather. All three were later killed when the remainder of the family was unable to pay a \$10,000 ransom.

Such atrocities are ethnic cleansing in action and are what Trump greenlit when he opened the door to the Turkish invasion of Syria.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Kurds, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Syria, Turkey 
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  1. El Dato says:


    Dead people you say?

    As long as Israel is happy, none of this is a problem. Also, Assad must go.

    Such atrocities are ethnic cleansing in action and are what Trump greenlit when he opened the door to the Turkish invasion of Syria.

    Mental illness is reducing a very long story with much evil to the latest hiccup.

  2. Lot says:

    “Trump greenlit”

    Failing to meddle in Syria any further is not “greenlighting” anything.

    Americans should stay out, but Cockburn can polish his rifle and join the fight if he wants.

  3. Quoting the SOHR is downright rude of Mr. Cockburn.

    Such an ill-mannered display of contempt for his readership’s intelligence is unwarranted.

  4. This so-called “Rojava” is only 30% Kurdish, as I’m sure this lying author knows. This author would also have you believe that the SNA simply materialized out of thin air and bad humors, but it’s ranks are filled with Syrian Turkmen and Arabs (who are human beings, despite this author’s Judaic-like dismissal of their humanity), many of whom were expelled from their homes by US-backed Kurdish gangs (the YPG/SDF). The Kurdish civilians who took residence in those emptied homes are crying crocodile tears.
    The US/Kurdish occupation of Syrian Arab territories will not even have the semi-permanence of Israel in the region. The Arabs who predominate in the oil-rich area will settle in for a bloody insurgency rather than allow their mineral wealth to be plundered before their eyes.
    Watch for those insurgents to be smeared with the ISIS label in Western media as the world’s second most moral army (the US) and their Kurdish gang allies attempt to ethnically cleanse the dehumanized Arabs in broad daylight with the support of compliant and ambitious propagandists like Patrick Cockburn.

    • Replies: @Sean
  5. Trumps’ actions to greenlight the murderous dictator Erdogan is due to business (read hotel and oil) arrangements made between their respective sons-in-law (and you thought Jared has just slithered back into the wormword)… Trump is all about Trump always has been always will be… ethnic cleansing and genocide be damned. Of course his other passion is Zionist Israel, but that is more out in the open as his base buys that Christian zionist bullshit hook, line and sinker. whereas they have no idea what a Kurd or and Armenian is

  6. Sean says:

    If Assad had been overthrown the Turks would have came just the same or even worse, and Arab Syrians would have helped. They’d probabally have joined in against the Kurds. It is sad, but unless the US is willing to occupy the relevant regions of Syria the Kurds were never going to benefit from a Sunni majority uprising any more that Syria’s other ethnic and religious minorities.

    • Replies: @Druid
  7. Sean says:

    Their “mineral wealth” is of little value to anyone in era of fracking.This whole thing started because Assad the Younger put up the price of diesel. A truly disastrous failure of judgement.

  8. zimriel says:

    Is ethnic cleansing of Kurds good or bad? I need Unz posters to ‘splain to me.
    On the one hand it’s genocide of Aryans which is bad. On the other hand it’s a thumb in the eye of American Empire which is good. So Paul Craig Roberts and that guy with all the consonants keeps telling us.
    I am very confused.

    • Replies: @Denis
  9. Druid says:

    The Kurds are Sunni themselves. Their pro lid that their desire for an independent country makes them repeatedly do stupid things like support any foreign power/outsider who will imply a promise of such and the stab them in the back. Chumps!

    • Replies: @Sean
  10. OCGOKTAS says:

    The shameless and immoral US has armed an ethnic group who had been dreaming of a own state. That is OK, but Turkey is protecting its borders that is Ethnic Cleansing.

  11. Sean says:

    The Arab minority in Iran are Shia but that does not stop the Sunni Saudis espousing the cause of the Arab minority in Iran.

    Any price is worth paying for a nation state of one’s own. The Kurds were right to do what they did, it was certainly worth a try.

  12. Bianca says:

    It is really absurd to think that Kurds are victims here.

    Kurds have ethnically cleansed large areas of Arab population, not a peep from anyone. But when they were forced to leave their loot — this is ethnic cleansing.

    Majority Kurdish city of Kobane is under Syrian Government protection, not under Turkey. Kurds were explicitly told not to leave areas within security area.

    Kurds have so far twice tried to embroil Syrian Army into engaging Turkish Army, twice became clear how was it done. And recently , Kurd attack on Al-Bab was a message — Kurds have no intention of peacefully resolve any issues in Syria. They prefer targeting Turkey. There will undoubtedly be a retaliation

    Kurds are no innocents here, they will milk all sides for arms and money. But expect Damascus to babysit their population centers! Sweet, for as long as there are fools to fall for it.

    • Replies: @Cato
  13. Cato says:

    In America, the whole scene is badly misrepresented, and Cockburn, who often is insightful, is not helping, perhaps because the only people willing to lead him around the battle zones were Kurds, and he has succumbed to their perspective. Anyway, you are right: the Kurds have been happily victimizing for a few years, and now they get to be the victims. Crocodile tears just pouring down my cheeks.

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