Speaking after last week’s summit in Brussels European Union Council President Donald Tusk called on Turkey to to put a permanent end to its military action in Syria immediately, to withdraw its forces and respect international humanitarian law. The EU also enacted last week an arms embargo against Turkey.
President Erdogan of Turkey unilaterally invaded northern Syria last week in a colonial grab for land, power and control of oil and gas resources following the withdrawal of US Forces from the area.
A key strategic objective of Turkey is to close down the existing border crossing between Syria and the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, and build a new crossing between Turkey and Iraq that will be under Turkish control. But with the aggression comes a sinister element of ethnic cleansing against Kurdish people.
The ethnic Syrian Kurds currently defending the residents in Northern Syria are the YPG (the Unit Protecting the People). Erdogan brands their troops as terrorists, when in fact they are forces that have fought alongside NATO allies to defeat IS. The disloyalty shown by the USA to their former allies has exposed them to unexpected attack from another NATO member, Turkey. Syrian Kurds are treated as stateless by Syria and have hitherto sought to oppose the Assad regime, but the betrayal by NATO caused by the US-Turkey stitch-up has left them with no alternative but to reach out to Assad and to Russia, calling on the Syrian Army to defend the frontier against invasion, whilst they concentrate their efforts on defending civilians.
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It is not clear what motivated this erratic foreign policy move by the USA, but for certain the only beneficiaries will be Russia and President Assad.
Collateral damage caused by the unprovoked war instigated by the Turks will be the weakening of YPG defences in Syria and the inevitable escape of IS prisoners of war and their families to restart their terrorist operations against the West.
In the neighbouring Region of Kurdistan (KRG) in Iraq, they are bracing themselves for a wave of up to 250 000 refugees from this new theatre of war. KRG is already home to some 350 000 Kurdish refugees from the war in Syria, and a further 1.5 million Sunni Arab IDPs from previous conflict with IS in Iraq. Crisis centres have been activated and local NGOs are mobilised, but the reality is that this region is heavily stretched and starved of budget to deal with an emergency of such a scale. They are doing their best to provide camps with shelter, clean water, and the provision of health and education services for the existing refugee and IDP population but they will struggle to deal with these extra numbers without help.
If Europe is to avoid another refugee migrant crisis this winter, it is important to take urgent measures to:
a) call a permanent halt to Turkey’s military aggression against Syria and Syrian Kurds;
b) find a peaceful solution to the current conflict, which is in everybody’s interest;
c) involve the Syrian Kurds in consultation about the redesign of the Syrian constitution that enfranchises them and gives them a fair say in their future;
d) urge Turkey to review and improve its treatment of its own Kurdish minority.
e) call for international efforts to increase the resources needed to look after refugees in Iraq, Syria and the KRG – it is in the West’s interest that the refugee crisis is dealt with as closely as possible to the original homes of the innocent victims – otherwise the migrant crisis that Europe faced two years ago will be repeated.
The situation calls for the appointment of a Special Envoy either by the EU or by the UN who should be tasked to secure a peaceful solution to the current crisis, such as perhaps the negotiator Melhem Riachy, the former communications minister from the Lebanese Forces party, who helped to reconcile seemingly intractable differences and bring opposite parties together to resolve conflict in Lebanon. This style of intervention of parachuting in an impartial and experienced third party negotiator could be a useful component in unlocking the prolonged regional crisis in Northern Syria.