Opinion |

Erdogan’s Cynical Slaughter of the Kurds – and the West’s Silence – Must End

All of Erdogan’s actions, including his charm offensive toward Israel, are meant to improve his electoral situation. In his view, only an external war against the Kurds will save him

Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, last month.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, last month.Credit: ADEM ALTAN - AFP
Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky

The Kurdish people are being massacred. Last Saturday night, the Iranian and Turkish regimes began a coordinated slaughter of Kurdish civilians. These civilians’ main “crime” was wanting to live and to be equal, and equality for women in particular.

In Iran, the Kurds are the driving force behind the ongoing uprising against the regime. The uprising was sparked by the police’s murder of a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, known to her family by her Kurdish name, Jina.

It’s no accident that the slogan spearheading the uprising throughout Iran, and even at the World Cup, is something she said – “Woman, life freedom.” For years, this has been a Kurdish political slogan.

American President Joe Biden, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talk during the G20 Summit, earlier this month.Credit: POOL/Reuters

In Iran, Turkey and Syria, the Kurds have a policy of joint leadership – one man and one woman jointly hold every post. The Kurdish leadership realized years ago that the oppression of women was the region’s fundamental problem, and that changing it was the key to broader change.

Consequently, female Kurdish fighters played a significant role in the defeat of the Islamic State – a defeat that saved the West and cost the lives of 20,000 Kurds. The Kurds paid this price as the frontline fighters of the U.S.-led coalition. Now they feel betrayed, and rightly so.

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Iran’s police force has been facing off against protesters throughout the country. But since last Saturday, the situation has changed in Kurdish areas. The Iranian government is now employing the military against them – tanks and heavy weaponry against innocent civilians. There are reportedly many civilian victims. How many is unknown, because social media and electricity have been completely shut down in Kurdish cities.

It’s no coincidence that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began his slaughtering of the Kurds at the same time. Iran’s interior minister spoke openly about how the two countries coordinated with each other.

Erdogan has been saying for months that he wants to invade the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in Syria, known as Rojava. Until now, the Americans have stopped him. But now, Erdogan has found a pretext – the terror attack in Istanbul two weeks ago, which he blamed on the Kurds in Syria.

Syrian Kurds attend a funeral of people killed in Turkish airstrikes in the village of Al Malikiyah, northern Syria, in November.Credit: Baderkhan Ahmad /AP

But the chances that it was perpetrated by the Syrian Kurds are roughly equal to the chances that I did. The Syrian Kurds have never attacked any Turkish target across the border. Nor have they ever attacked civilians. Erdogan’s blood libel was sewn with crude stitches. The suspect he prepared, arrested and immediately flaunted, Ahlam al-Bashir, is an Arab woman who doesn’t speak Kurdish and has ties to the Islamic State.

The truth is utterly different. Next June, Turkey will hold elections. Turkey still isn’t Vladimir Putin’s Russia; the results there still align closely with reality. And Erdogan is poised to lose.

Turkey has an inflation rate of over 80 percent, and there is enormous public anger. The party that Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, leads lost the last local elections in Izmir, Istanbul and Ankara. He is expected to lose the general election, as well.

All of Erdogan’s actions, including his charm offensive toward Israel, are meant to improve his electoral situation. In his view, only an external war against the Kurds will save him. But to conduct one, he needs the West’s silence. He is trying to gain this silence through extortion – hinting that absent such silence, he may interfere with Sweden and Finland joining NATO. Israel’s silence is also essential for him.

But Israel’s and the West’s geostrategic interests are just the opposite. The conquest of Rojava and the ethnic cleansing of its Kurds would put northern Syria in Iranian hands, and the hands of jihadists, including the Islamic State.

A smoke rises from an oil depot struck by Turkish air force near the town of Qamishli, Syria, in November.Credit: Baderkhan Ahmad /AP

Such a mortal blow to the Kurds, alongside the massacre of Kurds by the Iranian regime as it tries to quell unrest, is quite likely to crush the protest all over Iran, because the Kurds are its driving force.

But morality must be considered before strategic interests. Kurdish autonomy in Syria is what defeated ISIS, at a tremendous cost. And it is the most progressive and feminist actor in the entire region. How can they be abandoned and allowed to be massacred? By Erdogan, of all people – a significant element in the rise of ISIS, when his emissaries helped and continued to help the jihadists with money, logistics, and by turning a blind eye.

The silence of the West is disgraceful. How can we abandon a nation of 40 million, a regional leader in the practice of equality in general and that of women in particular, to be massacred by regimes that are the enemies of democracy and human freedoms? Why reward the jihadists, who will become stronger, and the Iranian extremists? The United States and the rest of the West, where women’s rights are in retreat, will pay the price of this folly.

Erdogan’s Turkey does not act according to NATO’s values. During the Iraq War, it did not allow the U.S. to operate from its territory. And since then, the suppression of democracy there has actually intensified, with tens of thousands of journalists, social activists and civilians imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit.

Why help Erdogan continue to rule? And Iran? How can we ignore the acts of slaughter by a regime that is an enemy of all human liberty? Silence is destructive. The flowers of evil grow in the dark.

From a historical perspective, the silence of the West and its cooperation with these murderous dictators by turning a blind eye, is not “just” strategic foolishness. It is also an incomprehensible moral disgrace. This silence must end. The U.S. and the West have the power to stop such a strategic disaster. They have the power to stop the invasions, and the massacre.

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