The Kurds in eastern Syria are in panic mode after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that an estimated 2,000 soldiers would soon be removed from the country.
“Many Kurds feel betrayed by the U.S,” said Kamal Sido, a Syrian Kurd who works at the Middle East desk for the Society for Threatened Peoples, a German human-rights NGO. “The Kurds and other ethnic groups are very afraid of the Turkish military and Syrian Islamists.”
He said, “The Kurds must decide between total annihilation by Turkey or the [Bashar] Assad dictatorship,” implying that the Kurds would choose Assad.
Perhaps their worry is exaggerated, but it has for the time being led the Kurds to quickly consolidate their relations with the Russia-Iran-Syria axis in order to counter the threat from a coming Turkish military operation, along with their Syrian rebel allies.
Kurdish officials went to Moscow last week and plan to return, “hoping Russia will push Damascus to ‘fulfill its sovereign duty,’” a top Kurdish politician Aldar Xelil told Reuters.
“Our contacts with Russia, and the [Syrian] regime, are to look for clear mechanisms to protect the northern border,” said Xelil.
The Kurds are also banking on France and its small presence in Syria to bolster them against a possible Turkish attack.
Gallia Lindenstrauss, an expert on Turkey and research fellow at the INSS think tank in Israel, told JNS that American forces did deter Turkey from operating in the areas in which they were deployed in Syria.
“It was not so much the number of soldiers, but the fact that there was a fear of accidentally harming them. There was also American control of the airspace, which would have forced the Turks to fight a ground operation without air support if they had chosen to attack,” she said.
Asked about the Kurdish perspective, Lindenstrauss responded that the main Kurdish force in Syria, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), clearly feels betrayed.
She added that from a regional perspective, this is another major setback for the Kurds after the United States failed to support the Kurdish referendum for independence in northern Iraq.
“I don’t see Trump offering the YPG any protection, and the YPG now has a dilemma over whether to approach the Syrian regime and Russia to reach understandings, which will require major concessions that would limit the level of autonomy in Kurdish regions,” said Lindenstrauss.
However, such concessions may be necessary to counterbalance the coming Turkish incursion, she added.
As for Turkey, the Israeli expert does not see Ankara backing down from its plans for a major operation in Syria, which could be countered if the Syrian regime and its allies back up the Kurdish YPG forces.
‘National destruction of Kurdish culture, identity’
Ari Aram, editor of the Kurdish news website Ekurd.net, explained that the Kurds “feel abandoned; it is a big difference not having U.S. forces in Syrian Kurdistan.”
First, he explained that psychologically, when U.S. forces treat a people as a friend and ally, it has a huge emotional impact on the general mood and atmosphere of accompanying fighters.
Furthermore, Aram continued, the Kurds get advice, intelligence information and logistics from America—all of which play an important role in the fight against Islamic terrorists.
Asked if he would expect the U.S. Air Force to protect the Kurds if Turkey attacks them, Aram dismissed the idea, adding that the U.S. ground forces had prevented Turkey from entering the area.
“Now the Kurds must face the giant Turkish army and its advanced machinery with well-trained fighters,” he said.
The editor went on to say that “the Syrian Kurds have no friends around, and Iraqi Kurds are led by the pro-Turkish Barzani family, which has created a pro-Barzani and Turkey-financed Kurdish Rojava forces.”
Sido, who periodically travels to Syria, said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “anticipates the national destruction of the Kurdish language, culture and identity, and other minorities.”
The Kurdish forces in Syria have no chance of winning a war against the Turkish army, he emphasized, and thus are in need of immediate aid.