Why we shouldn’t give up on the people of Afrin

On March 29th, 2018, President Macron received a civilian and military delegation from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at the Elysee Palace; an alliance predominantly  overseen by the Kurds, including both Arabs and Christians. The goal was to express French solidarity with those who supported us in our war against the jihadi enemy, a vile beast which has made inhumane violence its preferred means of expression and acts of terror as a way to spread fear on a global level.

If the Kurds had not showed support to the international coalition by intervening in Syria and in Iraq, the Islamic State would have pursued its atrocities. The Yezidi massacre in the Sinjar Mountains would have raged, cities such as Mosul, Qaraqosh, Kobani or Raqqa would probably not have been freed and the North of Syria and Iraq would have experienced many more dark hours. In particular, Kurdish forces, initially under the leadership of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), have regained many territories, allowing them to control a border area of Turkey (along the borders of what we call Western Kurdistan or Rojava).

Therefore,  how should we name those who risked their lives by engaging with the international coalition? Brothers in arms, allies… Friends? The latter is tempting but we must first go back to the fundamental principles on which such a denomination is based.

We do not abandon our allies, let alone our friends. Whatever the strategic implications, the political considerations, the current alliances, the potential coalitions… We cannot let the very people we were thanking one day, sacrifice themselves the next. Even if they had not helped us, the road to peace is led by humanism. As a permanent member of the Security Council, but also simply as human beings, beyond a sense of honor that seems less and less evident today, it is our duty to prevent any new massacre.

Today, nearly 80 000 Kurdish and Arabic civilians are trapped. In the Afrin Canton, which had up to this point been relatively spared by the surrounding civil war, the Turkish army launched Operation Olive Branch on January 20th, 2018. The day before, Russia  withdrew its troops, thus facilitating the setup of this Turkish intervention. Since then, Turkish aviation and heavy artillery have bombed the cities and the villages that had previously avoided being destroyed.

While some observers fear an ethnic cleansing operated by Ankara, President Erdogan has been asked to show “restraint”. What about international law? What about the Geneva Convention? What about the UN Charter and its legal framework of armed operations? The absence of official condemnation, especially coming from the UN, raises questions.

Turkey is illegally intervening in a territory outside of its borders in the name of a threat – non-recognized by NATO (which it is a member of), nor by the UN, nor by France – to its territorial integrity. It justifies  itself by the fear of seeing the establishment of an area possibly used as a rear operating base for the PKK, considered as “terrorist” and linked to the PYD in the North of Syria, Furthermore, in the long term, Turkey worries about the reinforcement of pan-Kurdish cross-border dynamics in a context in which on its territory, one inhabitant out of five is Kurdish.

The question here is not about the credibility of such fears. We cannot stay silent regarding the danger faced by thousands of individuals trapped in this zone.. Both their aggression and the legal violation it represents are intolerable.

The gradual (but unfinished) withdrawal of ISIS  generates a sense of relief, even if still uncertain. However, how can we celebrate this when those who helped us achieve it risk being massacred? What will people say about us in the future? We will not be blamed for our impotence, but rather for our failure to uphold a moral obligation. Either for having turned a blind eye, or for not having acted in time. As a consequence our political credibility as a permanent member state of the UN Security Council may also be lost forever.

This article was originally written by Valentine Bles – a member of the Communications Team at STAND France. Valentine is currently completing her master’s degree in international relations (specialising in Middle East and Diplomacy ) at Sciences Po Paris.

This article was then translated into English by Marion Andréani, translator for STAND France. Marion is a French student pursuing her master’s in International Relations at Sciences Po Strasbourg (France), after having lived several years in the US.

 

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