In an enormous PR victory for the country that jails more journalists than any other in the world, The New York Times performed a shocking act of journalistic vandalism, crowing “Turkish Forces in Syria Protect 5 Million People” — subsequently re-titled to a still objectionable “In Turkey’s Safe Zone in Syria, Security and Misery Go Hand in Hand.”
This exercise in pro-Ankara propaganda neatly parrots the Turkish military occupation’s script. In so doing, it sidelines the ethnic cleansing of Afrin’s genuine local population, the Kurds, the forced Turkification of cultural heritage, and an unprecedented deterioration in human rights, particularly for women — all of which is being perpetrated in plain sight by a NATO member. A must-read account of the controversy surrounding this article, as well as rebuttal of its surrealistic narrative, is most trenchantly provided by The Jerusalem Post’s Seth Frantzman in his “NYT accused of whitewashing Turkey’s Afrin occupation.”
Justice for Kurds (“JFK”) – the advocacy organization that we established in 2018 – utterly rejects the concept of Western passivity in the face of such tragedy. JFK’s riposte to Turkish aggression, therefore, has been to call it as we see it and, rather than laying down, doubling down.
As perhaps the best exclamation mark to this call to action, on the very same day as the Afrin coverage debacle, another article was published in the outlet ForeignLobby.com under the title “Erdogan-bashing Kurdish advocacy group lobbies Biden for reset with Syrian Kurds.” This piece noted that last year, to commemorate the first anniversary of the Turkish invasion of northern Syria, JFK published a two-page spread in the same New York Times, but in this instance titled “It’s Time to Break with Erdogan.” Against the visual backdrop of a bravely defiant Kurdish female soldier, we evidenced literally dozens of recent headlines from reputable publications calling Turkey to account for its malign behavior not just against the Kurdish people in Syria, Iraq and Turkey itself, but also in the Levant and broader Eastern Mediterranean, as well as North Africa and the Red Sea – not to mention its dubious, two-faced loyalty to NATO.
The problem goes beyond the Syrian Kurds’ struggle with Turkey, of course. The approximately 30 million Kurds of Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria represent the world’s largest stateless ethnic minority for a reason. As if to underscore the curse of their geography, just the day before the Times released its story, the rockets of an Iranian proxy group rained down on Erbil, the capital city of the Kurdistan Regional Government (“KRG”) in Iraq. The main target of the attack was the airport where the US-led international coalition forces are stationed, but some of the fire fell on a residential area too, causing death and destruction.
This latest concomitant media smear of the Kurds of Syria and bombardment of the Kurds of Iraq have only reinforced JFK’s resolve to carry the banner for these true and loyal allies. As the first order of business, we respectfully submit that the Biden Administration consider the following initiatives:
• Declare, as we did in our October 2019 editorial “The American Munich,” that president Donald Trump’s betrayal of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (“SDF”) was a “disgrace that didn’t represent who Americans are, or how they can be relied upon to stand by their comrades-in-arms and friends;”
• Notwithstanding last Thursday’s excellent retaliatory response, in light of the unprovoked hostilities inflicted on Erbil – soon to be the address of the largest American consulate abroad – Washington should reaffirm America’s sustained commitment to the territorial integrity and safety of the KRG; and
• Honoring the letter and spirit of the Democratic Party Platform, continue to support the SDF and the KRG’s Peshmerga in our ongoing common battle against ISIS, and provide a material increase in humanitarian assistance to the Kurds and those minorities living safely and freely under their protection.
This should not be a heavy lift politically, as a quick glance at the membership of JFK’s Advisory Council would indicate. For of all the overwhelmingly bipartisan opportunities presented to the incoming Biden Administration to demonstrate, in one fell stroke yet with considerable impact, that “America is Back” as an honorable and dependable ally – indeed, as a leader – the issue of the Kurds far and away constitutes the lowest hanging fruit.
We could not, after all, ask for more noble and reliable allies. The Kurds lost over 11,000 dead and 23,000 wounded in the brutal fight against our common enemy, the Islamic State – compared to our loss of fewer than a dozen heroic souls. Remarkably, the Kurds made this sacrifice while managing to uphold within their territories, during brutal wartime conditions, the region’s most earnest commitment to the universal values of religious tolerance, minority rights, gender equality, and an inclusive approach to refugees. Despite such colossal challenges, and in diametrical opposition to ongoing Turkish practices so extolled by The New York Times, let us all acknowledge in gratitude and solidarity that it is in fact the Kurdish regions of Iraq and Syria that today offer the real “Safe Zones” for millions.
The writers are co-founders of the nonprofit organization Justice for Kurds.