Mr. President: Please Stop the Imminent Genocide in Syria

By Lauren Homer Published on March 14, 2018

The US government and the world need to wake up. We need immediate action this week in Syria to stop Turkish aggression in the region of Afrin. One million people are experiencing massacres, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. Even worse is to come. Turkey is attacking lightly defended Afrin. Its tools? The warplanes and weapons of NATO’s second largest standing army. Turkey has 673,000 soldiers, and another 20,000 radical Islamist fighters, veterans of ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliates. Its defenders possess no weapons or ground forces sufficient to stop this assault. 

Afrin’s residents are crying out to the international community for help. They cannot understand why the US has abandoned its allies, the SDF, the Federation, and their people.

We Alone Can Stop the Slaughter

The US, the UN, and our allies can only stop this by IMMEDIATELY:

  • Imposing a no fly zone over Afrin. Enforce it by US drones or warplanes.
  • Implementing the February 24 UN Security Council Resolution requiring a ceasefire by Turkey in Afrin.
  • Ordering Turkey to open roads to humanitarian aid and safe passage out for civilians. And
  • Mediating a long-term ceasefire and withdrawal of Turkish troops to Turkey’s own borders. That might require US or UN border monitors.

If we do nothing, thousands will die. And we may squander all that America and its brave allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have accomplished in the last three years fighting ISIS and its ideology. The SDF with US support holds 30% of Syria territory. That includes critical oil fields and farming areas. This is a key win for our anti-terrorism efforts in the Middle East.

A Fragile Hope For the Middle East

So is the nascent democracy the SDF defends, the Federation of Northern Syria. It’s a beacon of hope for Syria and the region. It has survived through years of war providing equality and freedom, including religious freedom, to all its residents. That includes Christians, Kurds and Arab Muslims alike. The Federation has been a showcase for peaceful coexistence in Syria. This is the exact opposite of the ideology ISIS and (now) Turkey offers the region. The region will be deadlier and much less free if Afrin falls. We will be less safe at home.

Locals cannot even count the dead. Communications are down and bodies lie covered in rubble. They can’t be dug out due to Turkish bombs. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Turkey has cut off Afrin’s water supply, electricity, and cell phone service. Civilians cannot leave Afrin because Turkey is bombing exit roads.

Afrin City’s residents face imminent genocide. One million people live surrounded by Turkey’s Islamist ground troops and military might. Farming villages and small towns have already been “cleansed” of their inhabitants. Yazidi villages and Christian churches stand empty. Ancient landmarks, homes, and farmland lie in ruins due to Turkish bombs. Many war crimes have occurred. They’re documented by both residents and by gloating Turkish fighters.

Civilians have fled to overcrowded Afrin City. Bombs fall all over the city. Many refugees sleep in the street or cars, unsheltered. Others huddle in underground caves. Hundreds lie dead and thousands injured. That includes many children and women.

Locals cannot even count the dead. Communications are down and bodies lie covered in rubble. They can’t be dug out due to Turkish bombs. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Turkey has cut off Afrin’s water supply, electricity, and cell phone service. Civilians cannot leave Afrin because Turkey is bombing exit roads.

Turkey Is the New ISIS

CNN video of the horror aired on March 9, 2018. BBC, CBS, and NBC have documented the story too. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have produced reports. They demand intervention to stop the unrestrained violence convulsing Afrin. Hundreds of social media posts, news articles and videos, depict the horrific destruction and its Islamist motivation. Even while the fighting rages around Afrin City, Turkey is repopulating the deserted areas with Syrians from Turkish refugee camps. It’s turning Christian churches into mosques.

Former ISIS and Al Qaeda linked fighters are the backbone of Turkish ground forces in Afrin. They mutter the same threats and Islamist slogans ISIS used. Their spiritual advisers, the Syrian Islamist Council, recently issued a fatwa (or religious decree) related to Afrin. The decree claims they have a divine right to crush the SDF and other Afrin defenders. The reason? They are multi-ethnic and multi-religious — therefore infidels. The fatwa authorizes the fighters to commit massacres and atrocities on all who resist them. In the name of God.

These fighters record their own atrocities — killing a farmer driving a tractor, “field executions” of civilians, including women. In recent videos, they say they will cut off the heads of all “infidels” who oppose their extremist version of Islam. Jihadis from as far away as China are now clamoring to join them in Afrin.

A Genocide in Progress

Surrender is not an option for Afrin and its defenders. Turkey intends to “liquidate” the defenders and “cleanse” Afrin of its current residents.

Turkey’s Erdogan threatened to give the US an “Ottoman slap” if it resists his war in Afrin and beyond.

Turkey invaded the helpless region of Afrin on January 20 with quite explicit goals. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan promised ethnic cleansing and genocide (“liquidation”) of its population. He claims that Turkey will replace these people with Afrin’s “rightful” residents. He claims that Afrin poses “an existential threat” to Turkey. Does this small area of less than one million people (half refugees) pose “an existential threat” to Turkey? To a nation of 30 million people with its vast military? It is laughable. The US should reject this excuse for the savage violence Turkey is inflicting.

A Free Syria Threatens Erdogan’s Dictatorship in Turkey

In reality, Turkey has much more nefarious goals. It wants to destroy all that the US and SDF have achieved together. Its special target? The pluralistic, democratic, and multi-religious/multi-ethnic nation at its doorstep. All of this follows Turkey’s behavior throughout the Syrian Civil War. Few paid attention, but Turkey:

  • Gave ISIS supply lines.
  • Harbored ISIS fighters. And
  • Imposed Erdogan’s Islamist regime on unwilling Syrian citizens.

Turkey’s goals in Syria are not our goals. It clearly wants to restart the war. To accomplish what ISIS failed to do: make Syria into an Islamic dictatorship. Turkey’s Afrin invasion is ISIS 2.0.

More War to Come

President Erdogan has boasted that the Afrin invasion is just the beginning. He warned President Trump that he will even attack Federation areas where US troops are now stationed. We cannot be passive. Turkey’s President needs to regain some modicum of respect for the military power of United States and our allies. He has threatened to give the US an “Ottoman slap” if it resists his war in Afrin and beyond. Erdogan promised to put fingers in both of the eyes of any nation trying to stop the Afrin invasion. He said to the UN Security Council “damn your [30 day ceasefire] resolution.” Erdogan even has the audacity to complain that NATO is not helping him against the supposed military threat posed by Afrin. When would NATO ever support genocide?

A Little America in the Middle East

The SDF has had to divert half its troops to defend Afrin. They left Eastern Syria where they were on the verge of crushing ISIS. That area is now vulnerable to an ISIS comeback. Or to conquest by the Assad regime, or Russian, and Iranian armies. Turkey supports its Jihadi forces with advanced weapons and warplanes that ISIS never was able to get. The SDF and even US forces in Syria lack the quantity of weapons and the numbers of fighters that Erdogan has assembled. If the US is forced into a military confrontation with Turkey in Syria, the consequences could be very grave. It needs to act quickly and decisively now before Turkey gets more emboldened and defiant.

The US and its allies can only combat ISIS ideology by uniting all ethnic and religious groups throughout Syria and the rest of the Middle East around an Federation-type model of pluralism and equal rights for all. The ISIS ideology thrives on inter-religious and inter-ethnic hatred and division. It justifies mass murder and atrocities. It longs to overthrow our government and our democratic values.

The Federation is the polar opposite of ISIS. We must support the Federation and the SDF with all of our military and diplomatic power. We must not let ISIS ideology revive, from a misplaced desire to keep Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan as an “ally.”

A Beacon of Freedom

Just before Turkey started its invasion of Afrin, there was reason to hope in Syria. Religious freedom, safety for Christians, and localist democracy all flourished in the Federation of Northern Syria. The Federation stands out as a beacon of democratic and pluralistic self-government in the Middle East. It has a self-government system devised collectively by its residents. Christians, Kurds, Yazidis, Arab Muslims, and other minorities live in peace, following faith-based reconciliation conferences.

This happened in 2013, after the Syrian government abandoned the region to ISIS. The Federation consciously emulates the American system. Its democratic, pluralistic, inclusive, and gives equal rights to all regardless of faith, gender, or ethnicity. Christians have full religious freedom and political participation rights. Christians serve at the highest levels of government. Women share in political power — a transformative accomplishment in the Middle East. In Afrin, a Kurdish convert church of 400 has thrived. Christians worship and live without fear. So do Yazidis, Muslims, and many other minorities. The Federation’s pluralist, non-sectarian system has worked even during the hellacious Syrian civil war. It has spread to all the areas liberated from ISIS. It is the only non-sectarian government in the Middle East.

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Without the US military support that began in 2017 after President Donald Trump took office, the Federation would have been utterly destroyed. This third of Syria would still be an ISIS stronghold. Instead, the Federation offers Christians and other refugees safety and freedom in their homeland — where some of these groups have lived for 5,000 years.

A Loyal US Ally, Attacked by a NATO Member and al Qaeda

In a very real sense the Federation is a US enclave in Syria. It’s territory liberated and defended with US-led military aid. America has promised civil and humanitarian support. Federation leaders wish to be allied with the US and its allies over the long term. Federation residents, Kurds and Christians alike, are articulate spokesmen and women for a pluralistic model. If it spreads, it would resolve conflicts. It would bring peace to the multiplicity of ethnic and religious groups in Syria. It might even spread across the Middle East.

The US should demand that the Federation have a seat at Syrian peace talks. Indeed, any new Syrian constitution should use the Federation as its model. We should support the Federation rebuilding the rubble of war into a viable, free society.

The US gained enormously from the sacrifices of the SDF against ISIS. We’ve won real and tangible power in Syria. We have the right to insist on an outcome that matches our values and helps our national security. These facts are a war prize of eminent value, taken with blood and tears. Yet we are on the brink of throwing it all away. How? By caving in to Turkish threats. That makes us look weak and untrustworthy.

On behalf of the free people of Syria in the Federation, please beg President Trump to stand up to Erdogan. He alone can stop Turkey’s invasion and destruction of Afrin. And he can rescue a free, pro-American society in its infancy. He can save thousands of lives now, and many more in the future.

Let’s not stand by and let the crimes of ISIS be repeated. Or throw away our hard won accomplishments in Syria. They are the greatest foreign policy success President Trump has to show so far. It could be a foundation for Middle East peace that has eluded countless other Presidents. Let’s not let those accomplishments be drowned in innocent blood. Let’s not let Erdogan snatch victory out of our hands.

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