It cannot be repeated often enough that the Kurds were, in Syria as in Iraq, our dike, our rampart, the wall of valor and energy shielding us from the Islamic State.
In Syria, no less than in Iraq, they have been the bolt that barred the border doors that the Iraqi and Turkish armies left swinging open. The revolving doors through which passed the same Islamists who, after tormenting the Near East came to carry out attacks in Europe.
Their victory won, the Kurdish fighters were naive enough to think that they would be allowed to live in peace on the land that they had defended and on which their brothers and sisters died and were buried.
And, as the price of that innocence, we see them once again, this time in Afrin, in northern Syria, pursued, tortured, assassinated, their remains defiled. They, who had been the moat containing the Islamist plague, are again being hunted by Turkey’s Erdogan—that Machiavellian errand boy and bouncer at the gates of hell—who is turning his country into an instrument of blackmail to be wielded against the West.
In the face of this cynic, those in the high circles of the international community are little better than the three little monkeys in the fable.
They are blindfolded against the martyrdom of the men and women whom they find admirable in even years and dispensable in odd years.
Their ears are stopped so not to hear the cannonades of the new Sultan who has stretched sarcasm, insolence, and his middle finger far enough to style his ethnic cleansing, with a blend of Orwellian cynicism and snarky exultation, “Operation Olive Branch.”
Hands over our mouths, with craven cowardice, we pretend to accept at face value the officially benevolent protestations of humility couched in Ankara’s propaganda and can only murmur, while gravely nodding our heads, “Nothing happened in Afrin; nothing happened there.”
Some—in Moscow—perceive in the shroud of opprobrium and shame that the Turkish irregulars have spread over Syrian Kurdistan at Ankara’s bidding the price to be paid for the victory of their squalid regional strategy.
Others—in Washington—are acting the parts of suave lobbyists or demiurges of diplomatic circles while in fact embracing, in the free pass given to the cleansers, the solution to their new plan of winning the peace without having waged the war.
Elsewhere there reigns the same long and excruciating silence, occasionally punctuated by meaningless words and cheap sentiments: “A complex region … incomprehensible shifts in borders and alliances … why risk a falling out with a powerful sovereign nation?” By the wisdom of the talk-show strategists, the minor-league cynics and major-league shirkers who, while feigning to study the tea leaves and refusing to raise their faces for fear of encountering their own cowardice, intone that it makes no more sense to die today for Afrin than yesterday for Danzig.
It is the eternal tale—a classic, alas, in the canon of the democracies—a tale of people who are the best of friends for a time, of brothers when brotherhood was convenient, of comradery in arms that dissolves as quickly as an Instagram story.
It is the latest installment in the long night of peoples who are used then discarded like Kleenex, saviors transformed into stand-ins, heroes useful when the battle rages but reduced to small change when it comes to geopolitical bargaining.
What is new is that the current episode in this eternal tale is the fruit of another kind of bargain: the Faustian bargain that the West has made with Erdogan, a bargain that, quite simply, is no longer sustainable.
Like Schrödinger’s cat, Turkey has clearly been able to exist simultaneously within NATO and outside it.
It has been able to claim shelter under the admittedly leaky umbrella of the United States while at the same time liquidating those who had been its protector’s best allies, without bothering to hide the fact. And as Erdogan maneuvers callously under this cover, America has not stopped to blink with its strategic interests increasingly neglected.
Its ambidextrous generals have managed with one arm to sign declarations of eternal amity in London and Paris and, with the other, to immediately betray the same commitments while swatting their allies with their olive branch.
Turkey has recycled the most heinous jihadists, keeping them on stipends before surreptitiously sending them back into combat, posing all the while as a civilized country that, like Switzerland, Norway, or Bosnia, affirms its strategic partnership with the European Union.
And it has a president who, emboldened by our weakness, has so far felt confident enough to make, through his ministers, outrageous statements about the massacre of the Kurds (not that any massacre occurred, mind you!) being nothing next to the colonization of Algeria, which deprives France of any right to preach to Turkey.
This sad farce has gone on too long.
Unless the West comes to its senses, 2018 will live in infamy as the year that Turkey dropped an iron curtain over the Kurdish people.
What coming to our senses means today is breaking off—not freezing—what has become the farce of negotiations on Turkey’s membership in the EU, dissolving the joint parliamentary commission that continues to operate within the European parliament, expelling Turkey from the Council of Europe (which has, incidentally, condemned the country 2,812 times since it joined the council), and reopening, in a serious way, the question of whether Turkey belongs in the Atlantic alliance.
Erdogan leaves the West no choice.
If we fail to muster this basic degree of resolve, then the horror of the massacre of the Kurds will be added the shame of watching the killer gloat atop the ruins of our honor.
Bernard-Henri Levy is a French philosopher and best-selling European writer. He's authored over 30 books on subjects ranging from philosophy to fiction to biology. He's recently released a new documentary titled Peshmerga that sheds light on Iraqi Kurds and the Islamic State.
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