Pakistan Must Condemn Turkey’s Attack On Northern Syria, Not Endorse It
Prime Minister Imran Khan ‘assured Erdogan of Pakistan’s support, solidarity over Turkey’s Syria operation’ last week as the Turkish forces launched an offensive against the Kurdish ‘militants’ in northern Syria. Sidra Kamran in this article makes a solid case on why we ‘must demand a stop to Imran Khan’s selective condemnation of violence and ask him to condemn Turkey’s deadly assault in Syria in no unclear terms’.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is slated to visit Pakistan on the 23rd of October, and we can expect to see more displays of solidarity between the Turkish and Pakistani governments. Though the international community has criticized Turkey for its ongoing assault on Northern Syria, Imran Khan has expressed his solidarity for this offensive.
On October 9, 2019, Turkey launched an aerial and ground assault on Northern Syria targeting Kurdish-controlled areas. The number of casualties is increasing, thousands of people have already fled their homes, the threat of an ISIS resurgence in the area looms large, and the existence of the eco-feminist and eco-socialist autonomous region of Rojava is at risk.
In an interview with Al-Jazeera earlier this year, Imran Khan described India as carrying out a genocide in Kashmir and faulted India for mobilizing the discourse of “terrorism” to obfuscate the violence of its actions in Kashmir. In a hypocritical move now characteristic of his government, he turns a blind eye to the Turkish government’s ethnic cleansing of the Kurds and invokes terrorism to confuse what’s happening on the ground.
Both Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Imran Khan frame this as a fight against terrorism and a solution to the refugee crisis in Turkey. Yet, it was precisely the Kurds, now being attacked by Turkey, who organized under the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and joined the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to defeat ISIS with the help of the US. Why is a group that was fundamental in the win against ISIS now being framed as terrorists?
Labelling the Kurds as terrorists is a strategy of the Turkish state to combat the decades-long Kurdish national liberation movement which it considers to be an insurgency. The Kurds, who were separated out into Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey after World War 1 organized as the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in Turkey in 1978 to demand an autonomous Kurdish state.
In the wake of this Kurdish movement, the Turkish state has intensified its repression of Kurds by introducing food embargoes, destroying Kurdish villages, offering covert to carry attacks against the Kurds, carrying military offensives in Syria, and preventing Kurds from speaking their language and expressing their identity. In the last 5 years, in a bid to secure his authoritarian rule Erdogan has also intensified the repression of any supporters of this movement inside Turkey and of those critical of his government in general.
The PKK has been labelled a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the US but it continues to draw broad support from the Kurds. Despite considering the PKK as a terrorist group, the US has allied with Kurdish groups such as the YPG in the war in Syria. The Turkish state, however, sees the YPG as having close ties with the PKK and aims to destroy them in this offensive in Northern Syria.
Why should Pakistanis contest Imran Khan’s endorsement of this violent offensive against the Kurds?
One, all wars bring death, violence, loss, and more refugees. It is not just the Kurds who are suffering but also the Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, and Armenians who populate that region. The Turkish state claims that this offensive is meant to resolve the refugee crisis by clearing an area where the refugees currently in Tukey can be resettled. But thousands of people are fleeing their homes in Northern Syria and undoubtedly, will go on to become refugees.
Two, instability to the region is likely to lead to a resurgence of ISIS which has only recently been defeated. At the moment, there is a significant number of ISIS prisoners in detention camps run by the SDF and it is unclear what war in the region will mean for them. It is reported that hundreds of ISIS affiliates have already escaped from a detention center where fighting is taking place and the Kurdish administration has declared that they must focus on staving off Turkish forces and hence, cannot dedicate efforts to guarding ISIS prisoners.
Lastly, the escalation of this conflict threatens the ecological, feminist, and truly democratic governance in Rojava. A region of around 2 million people in Syria, Rojava is surrounded by violent conflict but is also the site of one of the most revolutionary women’s movements of our time. It declared itself an autonomous region in 2014 and since then, has developed non-hierarchical systems of grassroots democracy at the core of which lie self-governance, an emphasis on women’s equality and power, and ecological sustainability. In a time of growing fascism, patriarchy, and climate crises, the success of this alternative democratic arrangement in developing a model of ecofeminism and ecosocialism has been an ongoing inspiration for many across the world.
Not only did female militias of YPJ participate in armed conflict against ISIS but they have also played an instrumental role in everyday politics in Rojava including helping to create an all-female village by the name of Jinwar.
Meant to be a place for women who have suffered violence and conflict, it is an autonomous commune where people can build with each other along with the revolutionary and feminist principles of freedom, community, and self-sustainability. Such successful political experiments that feed our imagination and give us hope are rare in an era dominated by capitalism and patriarchy.
The escalation of the war in Syria which directly threatens the sanctity of Rojava must be an immediate cause of concern for all feminists and progressives.
Imran Khan’s support of Turkey’s aggression makes it clear that he endorses the violent processes of state-building, not justice or peace. He tours the international arena speaking against India’s aggression in Kashmir but does not mention the right of self-determination of Kashmir because Pakistani ownership of Kashmir is integral to the idea of a Pakistani state. He sits in China with President Xi without questioning China’s oppression of Uyghurs. He fashions himself as a pan-Islamist leader but has time and again ignored the plight of Muslims in China, in Yemen, within the borders of Pakistan, and in Kurdistan.
Erdogan has threatened to open Turkey’s borders and send refugees currently in Turkey to Europe if EU countries describe Turkey’s military offensive as an “occupation” and he is also targeting journalists in the country who use the word “occupation” to describe Turkey’s aggression. At this crucial time, we must demand a stop to Imran Khan’s selective condemnation of violence and ask him to condemn Turkey’s deadly assault in Syria in no unclear terms.
The author is a PhD candidate in Sociology at The New School for Social Research. She writes about gender, class, politics, and work.