From Sykes-Picot to Afrin, the ease of abandoning Kurds

by Gokcan Aydogan    


A great injustice is taking place in northern Syria, that's how it feels. The Turkish president Erdogan has been attacking Syrian Kurds for almost two weeks, the same ones who have done an incredible job pushing back against the Islamic State. 

As a goodwill gesture, we now let Turkey attack Afrin with the remnants of the so-called Free Syrian Army, jihadist organisations that Erdogan has been supporting for a long while. 

Afrin Attack in a Nutshell

Very briefly; the West had happily accepted a second-tier position in the Syrian Civil  War when the "moderate" forces they supported against Bashar al-Assad turned out to be jihadists. The US deliberately looked aside from the reports on its support for the same jihadist groups and declared themselves as the fierce enemy of the jihadist Salafists. Russia got on the Syrian Civil War stage as the prince charming. 

First, the West praised the Kurds for their brave fight against the jihadists and are now abandoning them.

Welcome to the 'real world' where practical and strategic interests are weighed against moral interests. And then the moral interests usually quickly go down.

How could it change so quickly? 

On the one hand, Erdogan is regularly hit by a barrage of criticism from European Union, but on the other hand, that very same European Union turns a blind eye to the cynically named "Olive Branch operation" against Afrin which has the ultimate objective of consolidating Erdogan’s dictatorial regime.

Erdogan's Plans

A fight against the hated Kurds always dissolves Turkish nationalist feelings and Erdogan can use them well in the run-up to the elections in 2019. His Islamist-conservative party has, after all, dropped in the polls. The incursion into Syria bolsters Erdogan’s nationalist and religious credentials. He’s learned from past elections that playing the national security card boosts his popularity. By presenting the Afrin operation as a campaign to remove a potential national security threat, he accomplishes two things. First, he unites Turkey under a nationalist banner of fighting Kurds; second, he diverts attention from the growing criticism levelled at his style of governance, which is proving dictatorial. 

History repeats itself time and time again. A hundred years ago, in the last years of WWI,  Britain and France drafted the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement. The agreement defined their mutually agreed spheres of influence and control in Southwestern Asia. The agreement is the source for a majority of the struggles in the Middle East over the past one hundred years. The borders drawn in the Sykes-Picot agreement were signed into law with the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920. The Treaty of Sèvres failed when the Turkish national movement came out victorious. Following the collapse of the Treaty of Sèvres, the Treaty of Lausanne settled the existing conflict, and the Kurds were locked into Turkish, Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian states where they experienced continued attempts at assimilation, denial of identity and genocidal attacks.

Today, we see a similar impassible approach. The UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson backs Turkey's Afrin attack under the name of "border security" and "counter-terrorism" while French President Macron confines himself to making just a warning to Erdogan. To crown it all, "Made in Germany" tanks and arms are used by the Turkish army in the assault. 

It should not be forgotten that the system created in northern Syria including Afrin represents direct democracy, women's rights, multiethnic diversity, ecological life and more just economic system.