Turkish attacks on Syrian Kurds must be condemned

2 February 2018

Turkish attacks on Syrian Kurds must be condemned

Under the name 'Operation Olive Branch', Turkish troops, with the support of a range of militias, including Jihadists, have attacked the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria. According to Ankara, the attacks are aimed at the Kurdish YPG militia, which it views as an ally of the PKK, which is fighting in Turkey for a Kurdish state. The attack left as many as hundreds of civilians dead. The United Nations estimates that at least 5,000 people have been forced to flee.

by Sadet Karabulut

Syria has been drawn into a new war, before the last one is even over. The Syrian Kurds, allies of the West in the fight against ISIS, have been weakened by this. Despite the war, this area was stable, with a democratic and diverse self-government of Kurds, Arabs and Christians. There is every reason for the Netherlands to condemn the Turkish attack on Syria, which is in no way contributing to peace and stability. When Russia interfered in eastern Ukraine and illegally annexed the Crimea, the Netherlands immediately condemned this and supported EU sanctions against the Russians, on the grounds that international law was being violated.

Why is Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra refusing to condemn the invasion by NATO ally Turkey? In Parliament last week the minister maintained that Turkey could have legitimate reasons for the military operation. In doing so he justified a war which is in no way justifiable. There is no mandate under international law, no invitation from Syria, nor has there been an attack on Turkey from Afrin which would justify a Turkish reaction. That makes this war illegal, an act of aggression, bringing more aggression, more chaos, violence, deaths and instability.

The lenient attitude of the Dutch government towards its Turkish counterpart isn't new. Although nothing indicates a change in the Turkish policy of aggression both domestically and outside the country, Zijlstra is set on normalising the relationship. The despot Erdogan continues with his repression of the opposition, of journalists, of anyone who sees things differently to him.

More than three hundred journalists, members of the opposition party HDP, and even doctors have been arrested because they failed to support Erdogan's action in Afrin, yet more reasons for stern demands for the restoration of democracy and human rights. Unfortunately Foreign Minister Zijlstra still appears to be allowing himself to be shackled by the 'refugee deal' of 2016, under which Turkey, in return for better relations and billions in European money undertook to prevent refugees from entering the EU.

In a time of rising tensions, grave violations of human rights and dirty wars, the Netherlands and the EU must show in practice what they claim to stand for: democracy, freedom for all, peace and security. No-one will benefit from a fresh conflict in Syria, neither the Turkish people nor the Syrians, because the peace process will be badly hit and the jihadists will have the last laugh. And in the end the Kurds don't deserve this latest betrayal to add to the long list in their history.

What should then be done? Roundly condemn this attack. The Dutch government and those of other EU member states should not supply any more arms to Turkey and instead should pressure the Turks to withdraw from Syria. It's important from every point of view that a durable peace is established in Syria. The Kurds deserve their own place, which is difficult enough without the Turkish occupation of part of Syria.

Zijlstra mustn't dance to Erdogan's tune but should instead demand democracy, human rights and an end to military aggression and cooperation with jihadists as conditions for the restoration of normal relations. This would contribute to a durable peace and stability.

This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, in a national newspaper (NRC Handelsblad) on February 2nd. Sadet Karabulut is the SP parliamentary spokeswoman on international affairs.

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