The photo of 3-year old Aylan Kurdi, drowned on a Turkish beach, elicited declarations of concern from media around the world. Aylan’s brother Galip, 5, and their mother Rehanna died in the same incident. After four years of civil war in Syria, we were told, the horrific photograph would awaken the world’s powers to the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and Iraq.
Don’t bet on it. Four million Syrians have been forced by war to flee into neighboring countries, out of a total pre-war population of some 22 million, with 10 million more displaced internally. Atrocities have proliferated, from the gasoline-loaded barrel bombs dropped on civilian neighborhoods by the minions of dictator Bashar al-Assad to the ghastly public mass executions committed by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). The campaign by the ultra-Wahhabis of ISIS to destroy pre-Islamic cultural monuments of which they disapprove has also continued.
Why did the world have to wait until the appearance of so terrible a photograph to notice that Syria was being destroyed? And who is responsible for the crisis?
First, Iran must be held to answer for its support of Assad’s tyranny, which is also backed by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. At the same time, Barack Obama’s diplomatic courting of Iran has never addressed Iranian interference in Syria or Iraq. Treating Iran as a responsible and respectable power while Iranian military regulars and Hezbollah personnel have inflicted terror in Syria and Iraq was a contributed directly to the Syrian refugee catastrophe. Failing to connect Russian aggression in Ukraine with Moscow’s backing for Assad falls in a similar, if less obvious pattern.
The Obama administration appears bent on treating every world problem as separate and distinct, and all of them as containable by rhetoric.
In the specific case of the unfortunate Kurdi family, now reduced to the father, Abdullah, Turkey also bears some culpability. As Syrian Kurds from the embattled Turkish-Syrian border town of Kobani, attacked by ISIS in 2014 and successfully liberated by Syrian Kurdish militia at the beginning of this year, Abdullah Kurdi must understandably have wished to get his family out of harm’s way. Turkey is no friend of the Kurds; during the fight for Kobani the Turkish army lined its tanks up at the border, pointed against the Kurdish peshmerga fighters rather than against ISIS.
Turkey has recently carried out air strikes that, we are told, are aimed against ISIS. They have also struck Iraqi Kurdistan, reflecting the insistent resentment of Kurdish nationalism on the part of the Turkish state. The air campaign, conducted from the Turkish airbase at Diyarbakir in Turkish Kurdistan, was advertised as another outstanding achievement of the Obama administration. Since the battle of Kobani, President Erdogan has pursued a clear policy of using his forces as a hammer against the Kurds, with ISIS as an anvil. The outcome? The Kurds, long allied with the United States, now wonder if they, too, will be abandoned by President Obama.
The Washington Post and other media have declared that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states should aid the Syrian refugees. According to the Post, Amnesty International recently pointed out, the “six Gulf countries—Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain—have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees.”
That may be relevant for Syrian Sunni Muslims fleeing the war. Still, none of these countries has a significant Kurdish population or would be likely to attract Kurdish refugees or treat them fairly. A great many Kurds are known for their heterodox religious beliefs—Yezidis, Mandaeans, and others—that would make them unwelcome in lands where doctrines claiming the mantle of strict Sunni Islam are enforced. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are both Wahhabi. Oman alone adheres to Ibadhism, an isolated Islamic interpretation, neither Sunni nor Shia. Bahrain is ruled by Sunnis but has been upturned by a Shia protest movement.