Two weeks before the recent Turkish invasion of North and East Syria, where 11,000 men and women from the UK-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) died defeating ISIS, a Unite delegation toured the region.
The delegation – which also included Labour and Tory MPs – met with members of the Syrian Democratic Council, political party representatives, women’s groups, trade unionists and professional associations.
Despite political divisions within the delegation and initial scepticism on the part of some delegates, every member of the group agreed that the eight year Kurdish-led project to build a peaceful and democratic system in that part of Syria was working well and deserved ongoing support.
During a meeting with the area’s political parties on the last day of the visit, including the leader of the Syrian Future Party, Hevrin Khalaf, the delegation pledged to lobby the UK government not to abandon their allies and to provide assistance in matters such as dealing with the thousands of ISIS fighters and supporters being held by the SDF.
Just a few weeks after the delegation left, Khalaf, 35, was dragged from her car and executed by an Islamic extremist militia sent into Syria by the Turkish government after Donald Trump unexpectedly, and against the wishes of his advisors and international allies, gave the green light for Turkey to invade.
The betrayal of the SDF by Trump has led to the deaths of scores of Syrian civilians and SDF soldiers, provided an opportunity for ISIS to regather its strength and unleashed renewed war in a region that offered relative calm and the prospect of lasting peace to five million people.
“Hevrin Khalaf was just one of the inspirational women and men we met whose lives and work on behalf of all the people in the region – regardless of gender, religion or ethnicity – have been cut short or upended because of the invasion,” said Unite international officer and delegation member Clare Baker (pictured below, centre).
“The Turkish state insists that the Kurds who are part of the SDF are terrorists who pose a threat to domestic security. This is not true. The Turkish government, which rules through repression and has a long history of targeting its own Kurdish population, despises the democratic structures being built in north east Syria.
“It wants to ethnically cleanse the Syrian Kurds from land they’ve lived on for generations and replace them with a million Sunni Arab refugees. Turkey’s president Recep Erdogan needs a common enemy and a quick fix to simmering resentment over refugees to secure his rule and disguise his own economic failings.
“To do this he has brought together two essentially undemocratic power brokers by invading Syria – ultra nationalists, who believe Kurdish identity cannot coexist alongside Turkish identity, and hardline Islamists, who view the moderate form of Islam generally practiced by the Kurds as an affront.”
On October 10, trade unions representing millions of UK workers and their communities demanded prime minister Boris Johnson deploy the UK’s influence to prevent a humanitarian disaster as a result of the Turkish invasion.
Thirteen trade unions, including Unite, as well as a leading law firm, warned that President Trump’s “appalling” abandonment of the fragile region will see Turkey seek its own military and strategic advantage, which will “undoubtedly lead to ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Kurds as well as a resurgence of ISIS”.
The unions say that the UK must show its clear and utter condemnation of Turkey’s invasion – which has already displaced at least 160,000 Syrian Kurds – and called for a no fly zone and international force deployment.
Unite’s director of international Simon Dubbins, who was also part of the delegation, said, “It is plain for all to see how extremely dangerous the situation is and the human misery that will unfold unless the international community comes together and stands as one against this appalling and unwarranted aggression.”
- Main image: graveyard in Kobani of SDF soldiers who died fighting ISIS