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article imageSyrian Kurds bitter over West turning a blind eye to Afrin

By Daphné BENOIT (AFP)     Mar 20, 2018 in World

After leading the charge against Islamic State jihadists on Syria's frontlines, Kurds feel betrayed by their Western allies following the seizure of their stronghold Afrin by Turkish forces.

Turkey's offensive aided by its Syrian allies including secular rebels and Islamist groups who rampaged through Afrin and triggered a mass exodus -- has left Syrian Kurds claiming the world stood by and watched as "ethnic cleansing" took place.

"The silence of the international community is complicit in the macabre plan of (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan. Silence means acceptance," a group of Kurds originally from Afrin and now living in Europe told the French daily Le Monde on Tuesday.

"Don't abandon your allies!" they said.

The People's Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia, was driven out of Afrin on Sunday, one the cantons in the self-proclaimed autonomous administration run by Syria's Kurds.

Turkey considers the YPG "terrorists" allied with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has waged a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey.

But Washington and the anti-Islamic State international coalition have backed the YPG to spearhead its effort to oust IS jihadists from Syria.

"The same fighters who fought courageously against Daesh (the Arabic acronym for IS group) are today left to the mercy of the Turkish army," said Khaled Issa, the official representative in France of Syria's Kurdistan.

"There's a moral responsibility for the international community in the face of an unjustified and illegal aggression," Issa told AFP.

"What is happening in Afrin is ethnic cleansing and the great powers are spectators," he said.

The loss of Afrin has been a huge blow to the Kurdish minority in Syria, which has been torn apart by civil war since 2011.

Civilians fleeing Afrin arrive in the village of az-Ziyarah in the government-controlled part of the...
Civilians fleeing Afrin arrive in the village of az-Ziyarah in the government-controlled part of the northern Aleppo province

Around 250,000 civilians have fled the violence in Afrin and dozens of others have been killed, as well as around 1,500 Kurdish fighters, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

But the Kurdish Community of Germany, where about one million Kurds live, claims that Turkey will face no repercussions for its offensive.

"Given that the aggressor (Turkey) is part of NATO, this violation of international law will never be sanctioned," the group said.

"Afrin is the most brutal expression of what's called Realpolitik," Didier Billion, deputy director of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations told AFP.

"The Western powers, especially the Americans, were very happy to have the Syrian Kurdish troops on the ground to fight against IS. But Ankara, a NATO member, will always be more important than Afrin," the French specialist on Turkey said.

- 'New jihadist base' -

Washington had on Monday warned Ankara of its "great concern" over the taking of Afrin.

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed the same sentiments and called on Moscow, the Syrian regime's main ally, "to do all it could to stop the fighting and civilian losses".

Northwestern Syria
Northwestern Syria
William ICKES, AFP

For the group of Kurds from Afrin the West is missing the true significance of the fall of the Kurdish bastion.

"The European governments need to understand that it is not only a question of the security of our people, but the fall of Afrin means the creation of a new jihadist base threatening the security of Paris, Berlin and London," the group said.

Erdogan has made it known that Turkey plans to extend its offensive to other areas in northern Syria, including Minbej, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Afrin.

That is a potentially explosive move as hundreds of US forces, which support the YPG against IS, are deployed there.

Observers however doubt whether Erdogan has the military means to match his ambitions in Syria.

"Despite Erdogan's very bellicose statements, Turkey will not be able to go much further" in Syria, said Billion, adding that the situation along the Turkish-Syrian border needs to be resolved by negotiations.

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