Amid reports of jihadist chemical attacks against Kurds in both Syria and Iraq, Turkey is reviving the same accusations against Kurds that were used during the Armenian Genocide a century ago. The latest in a string of such statements, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a Feb. 27 speech in the (heavily Kurdish) eastern province of Bingol: "They are collaborating with Russia like the Armenian gangs used to do. They are opening a diplomatic mission in Moscow." This was a reference to the Kurdish-led People's Democratic Party (HDP), whose leader Selahattin Demirtaş had in fact just visited Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. It was also the most blatant and unaplogietic invocation of the Armenian Genocide yet by a Turkish leader. A report on this ominous statement in Al Monitor notes that supposed treasonous collaboration with Russia was precisely the charge made against the Armenians during World War I, justifying their mass deportation into the Syrian desert by Ottoman Turkish authorities—from which over a million never returned. The account also says that anti-Kurdish graffiti has started to appear on walls in Turkey's east, with the unsubtle phrase "Armenian bastards." This was seen alongside "We are with you, RTE"—a reference to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
These ugly developments come as the Turkish state is waging a brutal counter-insurgency war against Kurdish guerillas and their supporters in the country's east, and also supporting Islamist factions that are fighting Kurdish forces across the border in Syria. One of those is Ahrar al-Sham, the group accused of using chemical weapons against a Kurdish neighborhood in the Syrian city of Aleppo this week. Use of chemical weapons against Kurds of course recalls the Halabja genocide of 1988, when Saddam Hussein wiped out 5,000 in a gas attack on a Kurdish city.
ISIS has meanwhile repeatedly used chemical weapons against Kurdish Peshmerga fighters (and civilians) in northern Iraq over the past months. Turkish support for ISIS is certainly more covert, but Ankara has been credibly accused of conniving with the so-called "Islamic State." Not surprisingly, ISIS in 2014 destroyed a monuement to the Armenian Genocide at Der Zor, the Syrian site where Turkish forces established concentration camps for the deported population during World War I.
The cruel irony of the situation in northern Syria is that both Erdogan and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad (supposedly bitter enemies) have sought to play the Kurds and Arabs off against each other in a divide-and-rule strategy. This ironic convergence of interests can be seen in a telling incident this week. After the lull in the fighting when the Syria "ceasefire" took effect, the civil resistance began to re-emerge in Syria's "free" areas, residents filling the streets and calling for the downfall of the Assad regime, under the slogan "the revolution continues." Now comes the unwelcome news that in Idlib and other cities, the Nusra Front (the extreme jihadist faction ostensibly opposed to the Assad regime) broke up the protests, attacking and beating marchers to clear the streets—and threatening to fire on those who defied them. (Syrian Observer, March 8; AFP, March 7)
It is something of a tragedy that the Turkish threat has led the Kurdish leadership (in both Turkey and Syria) to look to Russia as a patron and protector. Similarly, Assad's Russian-backed war of extermination has led many Arab Syrians to view Turkey as their patron and protector. But if there is to be any hope for a democratic and pluri-cultural Syria to finally emerge from this long nightmare, the Arabs and Kurds are going to have to get along with each other. Taking sides in the destructive Great Power game being played over Syria (whatever real pressures are leading Arabs and Kurds alike to do so) is inimical to this aim.
Assad's war on the Syrian people has arguably already reached the point of genocide. Erdogan now seems to be approaching a genocidal threshold in his campaign against the Kurds. While the partial "ceasefire" represented a glimmer of hope (at least), there is all too much reason to believe that a region-wide war could be only beginning.
We ask again: Where are the principled voices that will protest the state terror now being carried out by Russia and Turkey alike?