Trump’s flawed Turkey-first strategy betrays Christians and Yazidis
To the contrary, the local Kurdish administration secured the Turkish border. Turkey’s proponents also twist the truth when they argue that Syrian Kurds were separatist (they sought not independence but federalism within Syria) or that war was necessary to achieve peace and security. Turkey refused for the past several years to renew peace talks with Kurdish parties inside and outside Turkey, arrested Kurdish elected leaders who challenged Erdoğan, razed Kurdish towns inside Turkey such as Cizre, Sur, and Nusaybin to the ground, and ethnically cleansed the Afrin district in Syria.
For U.S. security, Trump’s move is a disaster. It resurrects the Islamic State and al Qaeda threat, empowers the Islamic State’s greatest enabler, and gives Iran an opening to expand its reach by forcing the Kurds into Bashar Assad’s embrace. As the invasion unfolded, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on CNN Türk that Turkey would now “make a deal with ISIS.”
Turkey’s invasion of Syria may be, for the United States, a strategic error. But for Syrian Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities as well as women, it is a disaster. Northeastern Syria had its problems, but it was the freest and most stable part of the country. Yazidi temples and Christian churches dotted the landscape, and Syrians regardless of faith lived with each other, interacted in the same schools and markets, and worshiped without fear of reprisal. In the town of Amudeh this past summer, I stopped for a tea with a shopkeeper whom I later learned was Jewish. Local authorities made Syriac an official language. License plates were trilingual with Arabic, Syriac, and Kurdish, as were government offices.
The Yazidi plight at the hands of the Islamic State has been well-covered in the West, but Turkey’s warning against the free press has meant far less attention to Turkey’s active discrimination against Yazidis under its control. Erdoğan has castigated the Yazidis (falsely) for not believing in God and both the Turkish government and municipalities run by Erdoğan’s political party have refused to support Yazidi refugees in Turkey, even as they provide aid to Muslim refugees living alongside them. When Turkey previously invaded Syria’s Afrin district, it and its proxies targeted Yazidi civilians.
Within Syria, Turkey and its Free Syrian Army proxies regularly target Christians and Yazidis. In Afrin, for example, Turkey and Turkish-backed administrators have refused to register locals with Kurdish names. Likewise, the Turkish administration refuses to issue identification cards to Christian and minority women who do not cover their hair or wear conservative Islamic veils. In the latest Turkish bombardment, the choice of targets is telling: Turkish planes struck Bisheriya, the largest Christian neighborhood in Qamishli city, setting numerous houses alight and killing several civilians, even though there were no Syrian Defense Forces positions in the area.
Under Erdoğan, Turkey supported the Islamic State financially, logistically, and materially. The true basis of their solidarity, however, is a shared Islamist supremacist vision. What the Islamic State did in is five-year caliphate, Turkish and Ottoman forces did a century ago to Turkey’s Armenian and other Christian populations. Atrocities occur, and some societies acknowledge them and seek forgiveness; official Turkish policy, however, has been to deny them.
Trump may define himself as a president who stands up for religious freedom, but his latest move on Syria shows that he is instead an enabler to the enemies of religious freedom.