Chris Stephens MP: Attacks on the Kurdish population will not achieve peace in Syria
The US has made the wrong decision to withdraw military support from Syria. We must intervene and support our Kurdish allies, writes Chris Stephens MP
As the MP for a constituency with a growing Kurdish population, I have seen the positive contribution they make to our society. I know from my own experience that they volunteer for many local charities and help cook at the local community kitchens – preparing meals for asylum seekers, refugees and those seeking state support.
But right now, that Kurdish community is angry – and they have every right to be. The Trump administration’s decision to instruct the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to abandon defensive fortifications in northern Syria leaves the area open to destruction and ethnic cleansing at the hands of Turkish forces.
It gives none of us who warned that this had the potential to be a catastrophic decision any pleasure to be proved correct.
As I made clear to the Government, pleas to Turkey in the past have been ignored. Turkey made no secret of its determination to drive the Kurds out of northern Syria and replace them with Syrian Arab refugees – it even announced this at the UN.
Evidence suggests that Turkey assisted ISIS fighters. Now the people fighting alongside Turkey include many former members of Isis, Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups who have shown unrestrained barbarity.
These same groups turned Afrin into a land of warring gangs, with civilians raped, kidnapped and killed.
Kurds have endured a long struggle for freedom to express their cultural identity. Persecuted in Syria, many were denied Syrian nationality. Civil war gave them the opportunity to form an autonomous area. They used this opportunity to attempt to build a democratic system, with policies promoting women’s rights, recognition of different cultures, and care for ecology.
Soon after, they faced attack by Isis/Daesh, but successfully turned the tables on their attackers at the border town of Kobani. This defeat was possible through US air support. The Kurds don’t have an air force or air defences and need a tactical alliance with those who do. As the SDF commander said: “If we have to choose between compromise and genocide, we will choose our people.”
The Kurds always knew the US was there for its own interests, but couldn’t have predicted Trump’s actions.
This is a test for the so-called international community, and so far it has failed.
There are a number of required actions. First, a no-fly zone; then sanctions that actually hit the Turkish economy, and an arms embargo to stop the sale of arms going to Turkey.
That is what brought more than 70 MPs together to sign a letter to the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, demanding action to stop the Turkish military invasion of northern Syria.
The letter calls on the UK to intervene and seek diplomatic efforts with Turkey and the US to reverse their current policies which are causing the destabilisation of the region.
The letter is supported by MPs from all political parties. Many of us have Kurdish communities within our constituencies and we share the very real concern that the actions of the US and Turkey will lead to a resurgence of Isis/Daesh in the region.
Twice the House of Commons has met to discuss northern Syria, with MPs across the House expressing legitimate concerns over the actions of Trump and Turkish authorities.
The actions by Trump represent a gross betrayal of the Kurdish people, our allies in Syria. His actions have led to a catastrophic situation.
The coming weeks will be a test for the international community in how it treats the Kurds. The US won’t stand up for the Kurds. The Syrian government won’t stand up for them, and neither will Iran or Russia. That is why every single person with a heart reading this must raise their voice now.
There’s an old Kurdish saying: “No friends but the mountains.” We can do better than this, and it is time for the international community to protect the rights of the Kurdish people who have been mistreated for far too long.
Chris Stephens is SNP MP for Glasgow South West