America’s Ally in Syria Warns of Ethnic Cleaning by Turkey

Basic Mazloum Kobani Abdi turned America’s closest ally in Syria in 2014, after a shocking blitz by ISIS sucked up a territory the scale of Indiana from Syria and Iraq for its pseudo-caliphate. Mazloum was courted, on the identical day, by the chief of the élite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and a senior U.S. navy officer. Each international locations wished an ally to confront the Sunni jihadi motion threatening their disparate agendas within the Center East. Mazloum led the Individuals’s Safety Items, or Y.P.G.—a militia then made up of scrappy Kurdish fighters and armed with classic weapons—that was holding its personal in opposition to ISIS. The Iranians provided extra. Mazloum opted for the USA.

I first met Mazloum—a nom de guerre for Ferhat Abdi Şahin—in March, as he waged the ultimate marketing campaign to rid Syria of the Islamic State caliphate. He’s a soft-spoken man; on the time, he carried solely a handgun below his fatigue shirt. He was then sharing a ahead base with U.S. Particular Forces troopers and French and British troops within the U.S.-led coalition. Mazloum’s males protected the Individuals working at bases within the northeast third of Syria. The U.S. supplied air energy, intelligence, and strategic recommendation. Mazloum led the bottom conflict; by then, he had already misplaced eleven thousand troops, female and male. Beneath U.S. urging, Mazloum expanded the Y.P.G., in 2015, to usher in Arabs and take the struggle in opposition to ISIS past Kurdish border areas into the Syrian heartland. The broader militia was renamed the Syrian Democratic Forces. Collectively, the S.D.F. and the U.S.-led coalition seized twenty thousand sq. miles from ISIS. The mission will not be but full. 1000’s of ISIS members nonetheless function in sleeper cells; their chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, can also be nonetheless free.

Mazloum, nonetheless, can also be on Turkey’s most-wanted checklist. A civil engineer educated on the College of Aleppo, he turned a Kurdish activist, in 1990. The Kurds have a tortured historical past. The world’s largest ethnic minority and not using a state, they have been promised a rustic after the First World Struggle, within the Treaty of Sévres, because the area was cut up up into new international locations. Three years later, below strain from Kemal Ataturk, the founder of contemporary Turkey, the promise was deserted within the Treaty of Lausanne. The Kurds have been divvied up into 4 international locations—Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. With a inhabitants of thirty million, they now signify a robust minority in every nation; their political actions have variously pressed for equal rights, autonomy, or independence. Within the nineteen-seventies, as Turkey tried to quash Kurdish identification, language, tradition, and civil society, Kurds mobilized within the militant Kurdistan Employees’ Celebration, or P.Ok.Ok. It launched an insurgency in Turkey that drew Kurds from the three different international locations. Mazloum was amongst them. The P.Ok.Ok. chief, Abdullah Öcalan, turned his private buddy throughout the twenty years that Öcalan lived in exile in Syria, earlier than he was imprisoned in Turkey, in 1999. A uncommon {photograph} reveals Mazloum and Öcalan swimming collectively within the Euphrates River. “For a time period, I served in P.Ok.Ok. ranks,” Mazloum instructed me. “Öcalan was working right here, and the folks right here had loyalty to him. However the Y.P.G. will not be a terrorist group.” The Syrian authorities additionally didn’t just like the Kurds. Mazloum has been imprisoned 5 instances by the Syrian authorities, he instructed me.

Because the S.D.F. absorbed the previous ISIS caliphate, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demanded a buffer zone to guard Turkey from the Kurds, although they haven’t attacked throughout the border in years. He invaded Syria on October ninth. Choosing up Erdoğan’s speaking factors, Trump claimed, on Wednesday, October 16th, that the P.Ok.Ok. was “in all probability worse at terror and extra of a terrorist risk than ISIS.” The Kurds are “not angels.” The invasion “has nothing to do with us . . . The Kurds know learn how to struggle.”

Mazloum sees it one other manner, “You’ve given up on us,” Mazloum bluntly instructed William Roebuck, an American diplomat in Syria. “You’re leaving us to be slaughtered.” I talked to Mazloum on a scratchy phone line on Saturday, concerning the five-day ceasefire brokered by Vice-President Pence final week with Turkey. The ceasefire expires on October 22nd, the day that Erdoğan meets President Vladimir Putin in Russia. The interview has been edited for size and readability.

Is the ceasefire with Turkey holding? Is that this the tip of the battle?

Up to now, there isn’t any ceasefire. The Turks are nonetheless attacking on the bottom and by air strikes. We now have casualties—fifty martyred, simply for the reason that ceasefire was introduced, and round 100 injured civilians and troopers.

Do you belief Erdoğan to ever interact in a ceasefire with the Kurds, given the a long time of pressure?

We don’t consider Erdoğan. However we’re relying on American positions. As a result of Individuals don’t present a troublesome place towards Turkish navy exercise within the Kurdish area, the Turks proceed killing the Kurdish folks in Syria.

There are experiences of using white phosphorus in opposition to the Kurds. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons mentioned final week that it’s accumulating info on the allegations. Footage and movies have proven folks affected by what look like chemical burns on their pores and skin. Have the Turks or their allies used white phosphorus or chemical weapons?

We now have some circumstances like that. Our members are nonetheless working to determine what materials has been used in opposition to our civilians. It was white phosphorus or napalm.

Will the S.D.F. transfer thirty kilometres throughout all the three hundred-mile border shared with Turkey, as Erdogan’s authorities calls for? Or will it solely pull again from the areas below assault, which is roughly 1 / 4 of the border or about sixty miles?

We accepted this idea for the ceasefire simply within the restricted space between Sari Kani to Tal Abyad, however, concerning the opposite areas, we don’t settle for.

Will the S.D.F. enable Turkey to arrange statement posts inside Syria? Erdoğan mentioned on Friday that he needs a dozen statement posts to completely monitor what he calls a “secure zone” inside Syria?

No. We don’t wish to settle for the Turks occupying all the Kurdish space and transferring Kurdish folks from their lands. What the Turks are doing now’s ethnic cleaning of the Kurdish.

The U.S. had a couple of thousand Particular Forces troopers in Syria till President Trump ordered them final week to start a pullout. What are the Individuals doing now in Syria? Are you continue to in touch with them?

The Individuals withdrew from the Kobani space [on the border with Turkey]. We nonetheless have an American presence in Hasakah. They don’t do something. They’re simply watching the ethnic cleaning of the Kurdish folks and the bloodbath of the Kurdish folks. We’re nonetheless in touch with them. And we’re nonetheless dedicated to abide by our dedication. That is our obligation. We nonetheless hope to work with them to counter ISIS.

However sadly, the Individuals will not be abiding by their dedication to defend our folks in opposition to the Turkish incursion.

What’s your feeling concerning the U.S. withdrawal—as a navy chief? And as a Kurd?

As a Kurd, I see catastrophic penalties are going to come back due to this deal. It is going to be terrible for Kurdish and American pursuits within the area. And I’m, as a Kurd, seeing that this choice will imply abandoning the Kurdish companions who’ve fought with the Individuals for 5 years in opposition to ISIS, and paving the way in which to ethnic cleaning of the Kurds, and paving the way in which for the reëmergence of ISIS once more.

What would you like the Individuals to do now?

One factor is to cease the [Turkish] assaults on the Kurds and assist Syria to have a political decision to the Syrian query or the Syrian disaster. Assist Syria to ensure a peaceable, political decision.

What we urgently want is to tell the American public opinion that the Individuals deserted their allies, their companions in Syria . . . We’re asking all Individuals to place strain on their authorities, the Administration, to cease these massacres of the Kurdish folks by the Turks.

Are the Individuals doing something in opposition to ISIS? Or have they stopped the marketing campaign in opposition to ISIS?

It has stopped for some time. To keep away from rising ISIS actions in our areas, we’re going to begin quickly a de-ISIS marketing campaign with Individuals in Deir Ezzor province. Nevertheless it’s not because it was.

Is the U.S. going to go away Individuals in Deir Ezzor to work in opposition to ISIS?

I don’t know. Ask the Individuals about that.

Is ISIS doing something to take advantage of the Turkish invasion? There are an estimated twenty thousand to thirty thousand ISIS fighters nonetheless working underground in sleeper cells within the desert, mountains, and caves alongside the border between Syria and Iraq. They’ve launched periodic assaults and automobile bombings in each international locations for the reason that Islamic State caliphate collapsed. Do you see extra ISIS exercise?

Sure, they exploit this Turkish incursion. They stand up their actions in our space. They usually have attacked our prisons and the [detention] camps a number of instances.

How many individuals have they freed? What number of have escaped?

Some incidents occurred, however we don’t have correct numbers right here. One incident occurred. After the Turks struck a jail in Qamishli metropolis, 5 ISIS members escaped. We nonetheless have twelve thousand ISIS prisoners and seventy thousand relations at al-Hawl. There have been no escapes from al-Hawl.

I consider there are about twenty American ISIS prisoners and ISIS households?

Sure, that’s right.

Russia has been the main overseas energy allied with Syria for many years. What do you assume Russia’s intentions are after Turkey’s invasion? Are you in touch with the Russians?

The Turks and the Russians are working carefully with one another. And, if the Individuals withdraw from Syria, that signifies that the Turks might be wiping out the Kurdish folks. And the Russians are going to have a task in that.

What function? Do you imply Russian troops?

Since we have been in contact with the Russians, we try to get their help to cease this incursion. However what we realized is that they’re paving the way in which for the Turks to come back in and take the Kurdish areas.

What we perceive from the Russians is that they’re permitting the Turks to maneuver in and take Kurdish areas, and the Russians want to take the Arab areas. So which means they’re dividing the S.D.F. areas—the Kurdish areas for the Turks and the Arab space of S.D.F. areas for the Russians, which suggests the Syrian authorities.

What function is the Syrian Military taking part in now? After Trump introduced the U.S. withdrawal, the S.D.F. invited the Syrian navy to transfer again into northeast Syria, the place it has not had a big presence for the reason that civil conflict erupted in 2011.

We’re simply blocking the Turkish navy inside within the Kurdish area. We invited the Syrian regime and the Russians to come back and take the border space, to station on the borderland. However, sadly, the Syrian regime—the choice will not be of their fingers, the choice being within the Russian fingers. And the Russians are working carefully with the Turks. They don’t seem to be defending the Kurds. The Russians are working to destroy the Kurdish achievements in Syria.

While you invited the Syrian authorities, did you count on them to run the S.D.F. space? Or was it only for navy assist? What function does the Syrian authorities play now?

It’s only a navy understanding, a navy settlement. There is no such thing as a political side to it.

Turkey says it needs to ship two million refugees again to Syria to reside within the new “secure zone” it’s intent on creating inside Syria. Turkey has absorbed 3.6 million Syrian refugees—greater than some other neighboring nation—for the reason that civil conflict erupted in 2011. Most of them got here from different areas of Syria the place Arabs, not Kurds, are the bulk. Will the S.D.F. settle for them?

It is a loopy concept, as a result of already this land has house owners. This implies ethnic cleaning by eradicating the Kurds from their land and changing them with some others. All this space they’re speaking about, it has folks which can be the house owners of these homes and people farmlands. And the folks they’re speaking about, to carry them, they’ve their very own properties. All of us should work to get them again to their very own properties.

Most of them will not be Kurds?

Right. So what Erdoğan is attempting to do is to displace Kurds with Arabs, placing Arabs in Kurdish locations.

What do you count on to occur when President Erdoğan meets President Putin on Tuesday, in Sochi? Putin notably prolonged the invitation in the midst of the chaos created by Turkey’s invasion and because the U.S. had begun to drag out its troopers.

Erdoğan goes to attempt to make Putin his associate within the ethnic cleaning of the Kurds, as he did with the Individuals.

Do you are feeling bodily weak since you’re a wished man? Do you are concerned about being captured by the Turks?

That is not possible. This won’t occur. As a result of I’m going to struggle till the final drop of my blood.

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