Turkish Offensive Against the Kurds

Earlier this October, American forces withdrew from Syria, which was followed by an offensive into the northern region of the country by Turkey. The offensive targets the People’s Protection Units (YGP), a Kurdish led militia alliance. Turkey’s government views the former U.S. ally as a terrorist organization. They believe the group to be an extension of Kurdish rebel forces within their own country.

The Kurds are an ethnic group largely found in Syria, Iran, Armenia, Iraq, and Turkey. Under the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his father before him, the Kurds were widely mistreated. However, when the civil war erupted in 2011, government forces withdrew to fight rebel factions, leading to Kurdish militias taking control of areas largely populated by Kurds. In 2015, the YGP formed an alliance with a Syrian militia group called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to drive the jihadist terrorist group IS (Islamic State) out of the area.

On October 9th, the Turkish offensive into Syria began. The goal of the ongoing offensive, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is to create a “safe zone” across the border in northern Syria. The safe zone is designed to neutralize terrorist groups in the area and facilitate the return of Turkey’s Syrian refugees. President Erdogan has named the offensive “Operation Peace Spring.”

According to the United Nations, over the previous two weeks, more than 300,000 people have been displaced within north-eastern Syria. 140 civilians have been killed in the battles in the region. Vice President Mike Pence, in talks with President Erdogan, was able to negotiate a 120-hour ceasefire for the U.S. to facilitate the withdrawal of YGP forces in the area. After their withdrawal, a permanent ceasefire will go into effect.

On October 22, talks began between Vladimir Putin, who backs the Syrian government, and President Erdogan. Russian forces have been replacing many of the positions in northern Syria that have been abandoned by YGP forces due to a deal brokered between the Kremlin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an attempt to halt the Turkish offensive. These talks will be important for deciding the future of the region.

We can only wait and see what will happen to the Kurdish people after this sudden move on the part of the United States to abandon the region.

 – Sophie Linkous ’20

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