We Must Condemn Turkish Atrocities in Syria
For decades, Turkey and the Kurdish people, an ethnic group native to Kurdistan, have shared a history of tension and violence. This longstanding history has significantly influenced relations between the two sides and is still visible in the socio-political sphere of the region today. For example, Turkey’s presence in northern Syria has largely been informed by its prejudice towards the Kurds and has left the minority suffering under its stranglehold. Over the past several years, evidence has emerged indicating Turkey’s responsibility for committing numerous human rights abuses in Syria, many of which have been against the Kurdish people. These grave crimes cannot go unpunished. The international community must step in and hold Turkey accountable for this violence and abuse.
Turkey’s involvement in northern Syria, and its subsequent human rights abuses against residents of the area, is primarily motivated by its historical policies of suppressing the Kurdish people. Following World War I, the allied nations signed the Treaty of Sevres, which laid out the Ottoman Empire’s terms of surrender and paved a path for the Kurdish people to establish a sovereign state. However, Mustafa Kemal (later known as Ataturk) rallied the remaining Ottoman army in resistance to the Treaty, intending to save the sultanate and caliphate. Ataturk promised the Kurdish tribes recognition and self-governance, and as a result, Kurdish forces allied with Ataturk during Turkey’s War of Independence. However, after the war, when the Treaty of Lausanne was inked in 1923, Ataturk went back on his word and instead only provided recognition to religious minorities in the country.
Further, as part of his effort to create a singular Turkish ethnic identity, Ataturk also outlawed expressions of alternate ethnicities in the country. As a result, expressions of the Kurdish identity, including the Kurdish language and culture, were prohibited. Since then, the government has violently cracked down on numerous Kurdish uprisings and instituted policies to marginalize the ethnic minority group further. This has resulted in bitter relations between the Kurdish people and the Turkish administration.
In 2018, the Turkish government invaded and occupied Afrin in northern Syria, sparking significant outcry across the globe, intending to suppress Syrian-Kurdish groups aligned with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This military and political movement aims to achieve autonomy, political, and cultural rights for Kurds in Turkey and is, therefore, considered a major threat by the government. Turkey stated it had invaded and occupied northern Syria in order to establish “buffer zones” and prevent such attacks. This has resulted in substantial and recurring violence against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.
Ongoing Turkish presence in northern Syria has resulted in numerous human rights atrocities against the Kurdish people. Most recently, Turkey cut off the water supply to tens of thousands of Kurds living in north-east Syria. The consequences of this are profound, given rising summer temperatures, and it is expected to result in numerous illnesses, such as diarrhea, which could prove fatal. The lack of access to clean water makes maintaining suitable hygiene challenging, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission in a region that has sparse access to health care resources. According to local water authorities, this is the eighth time that Turkish forces have cut the water supply since it assumed control of the border area near Allouk.
The U.S. State Department has also expressed concerns that Turkish forces have been carrying out human rights atrocities in Syria. According to the U.S. government, these abuses include extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions which have seen Turkish forces transfer prisoners across the border into Turkey, ransom-based kidnappings, especially of Yazidi and Kurdish women, and the unjust looting, vandalizing, and seizing of lands and archaeological sites. This is in addition to the continuous airstrikes and artillery barrage that Turkey has carried out against Kurdish forces.
In September, the United Nations Human Rights Council published its latest biannual report on Syria which alleged that Turkey and its Sunni rebel allies had engaged in serious violations of international humanitarian law during the nine-year-long conflict. Despite these ongoing atrocities, the Syrian Interim Government, a political body operating in Turkish-controlled regions of northern Syria, has not rushed to arrest, prosecute, or hold any authorities who have carried out these human rights violations accountable.
Turkey and the Kurdish people share a tenuous and bitter history that has been informed by decades of socio-political and economic policies. Today, this rivalry has influenced both party’s geopolitical activities, sparking conflict in the region. As the atrocities continue, the international community must step forward and condemn Turkey for its mistreatment of Syrians, particularly the Kurdish people. Evidence has shown repeatedly that Turkey is carrying out human rights atrocities and violent crimes in northern Syria, and these actions cannot go unnoticed.