Talking Turkey, Kurds and ISIS at the RNC

The American-Kurdish Information Network is at the RNC educating Republicans as well as protesters on America’s problematic relationship with Turkey, and how a misguided diplomacy can help groups like ISIS

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Story Transcript

KANI XULAM, AMERICAN-KURDISH INFORMATION NETWORK: We’ve been here, actually, for six days now. We came on Friday from Washington. We’re here to educate Americans about the, I guess, ISIS threat that is waging war on the Kurds. And it happens to also wage a war on America. And we think Americans and Kurds should watch each other’s back.

TEXT ON SCREEN: THE AMERICAN-KURDISH INFORMATION NETWORK IS A WASHINGTON-BASED NON-PROFIT THAT ADVOCATES ON BEHALF OF THE KURDISH MINORITY IN TURKEY.

INTERVIEWER: So what do you think the United States’ alliance with turkey?

XULAM: I think its time has come and gone. During the Cold War there may have been a reason for it, but with the implosion in the Soviet Union, now Turkey is actually more in alignment with ISIS-type organizations than with the Western-leaning countries like, let’s say, France, Germany, England, U.S.

INTERVIEWER: So would you say the U.S. should ally itself with the Kurds?

XULAM: I would be–yeah, that would be good. But I think just the day after the coup, John Kerry said that maybe Turkey should be disinvited after a quarter of the officer corps were imprisoned and some 6,000 others were put in jail. The news is getting worse, as some 45,000 civil servants have been fired.

I think Turkey has been in cahoots with ISIS-type organizations, with ISIS itself. It allowed its border to be used as a jihadi highway. I think the Kurds have–because they have been fighting oppression, they have open society, they have women in their fighting forces fighting ISIS. And a relationship between the U.S. and Kurdistan is definitely due.

INTERVIEWER: And the U.S. has designated the PKK as a terrorist organization. Should we be working with someone who’s been designated as a terrorist organization?

XULAM: I personally think PKK, for every crime it commits, the government of Turkey commits probably 100 human rights violations.

That said, Turkey is not a democracy-friendly country. Kurds are not allowed to–for a long time weren’t allowed to speak their language, weren’t allowed to name their kids with Kurdish names. PKK grew out of that. I’m reminded of a full quote by John F. Kennedy, who said, if you make nonviolent change impossible, you make the violent revolutions inevitable. So PKK really came out of the oppression of the Turks against the Kurds.

That said, I think U.S. should delist it. PKK has never harmed Americans. It’s trying to actually work with the–you know, come into the light, if you will. But in Syria, the YPG is supported by the United States. In Iraqi Kurdistan, the U.S. government has good relations with KRG.

INTERVIEWER: So what’s the issue with the PKK, do you think?

XULAM: Well, the issue with PKK is–it goes back to 1990s, when the Turkish lobby managed to get Albright and the Clinton administration to list it as a terrorist organization. I believe if the listing were to happen today, the State Department would be much more careful.

INTERVIEWER: Why did they list it as a terrorist organization in the ’90s?

XULAM: To please the Turks, to make sure that Turkey and U.S. relations were on the best of terms. That was an incentive to the Turks.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that the U.S. will actually stop its relationship with turkey, given that they have they have their airbase in Turkey right now and it’s very strategic for them to be able to fight ISIS?

XULAM: Well, the problem is Erdoğan himself is now turning the country into a theocracy. Just to give you an example, when Saudi King died, he declared a national mourning day. I don’t believe he would have done that if Obama had died. I don’t believe he would have done that if Angela Merkel had died in Germany. So the country has been reoriented and American foreign-policy establishment is coming to terms with that fact.

With this failed coup, he now is, like, going full speed. He just declared martial law for three months in the entire country. And people are afraid. People are afraid that he’s going to use the police force to limit their freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. The whole country could break up, because the officer corps was very beholden to Ataturk, who remains, for them at least, a demigod. And with a quarter of the officer corps being behind bars, like admirals, generals, I don’t think the army is feeling at ease. That’s why maybe he declared the martial law.

Yeah, I’m filled with trepidation. I don’t know it’s coming up. It’s not good news. Turkey actually could become Syria. Turkey often was touted as an example for the Middle Eastern countries to emulate, but instead of Turkey nudging Middle East to become like Turkey, Turkey has now become like the Middle East. And that’s unfortunate.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think the U.S. will actually stop relations with Turkey, given the undemocratic that just happened?

XULAM: Well, when the coup happened, secretary of state was the first to issue a statement, and he did not say he disapproved it. He simply said something like, we hope our relations will continue. When the coup failed, Obama then said democratically elected leaders should not be toppled through military. So there is a lot of uneasiness that we don’t see in the mainstream media about Turkish-American relations.

And I personally believe Erdoğan fully is committed to turning Turkey into a theocracy. We may soon see signs in Turkey saying on billboards, mind your clothes, meaning women should not have bare arms. That could come. It hasn’t come yet, but it could come. That’s his dream, to turn Turkey into an Ottoman Empire.

And there are a lot of armed groups inside Turkey. They’re called the Ottoman /hɜːrts/, Ottoman soldiers, I guess. And many commentators have compared them with the ISIS-like organizations. Just to give you an example, when the coup failed, a number of soldiers were killed, and some of them were beheaded with knives. And some of them were literally–reporters have said that the Erdoğan fans then peed on them. This is a practice that ISIS has brought about in the Middle East in Syria and Iraq. And to see in a country like Turkey the Erdoğan supporters beheading Turkish soldiers with knives, it’s a scary thought.

INTERVIEWER: So we’re here at the Republican national convention, which we haven’t spoken about yet. What do you think of Donald Trump’s foreign policy, especially as it relates to the Kurds in the Middle East?

XULAM: Donald Trump, to his credit, has been much more forthright in terms of praising the Kurds. I don’t know how much he knows the Kurds, but I didn’t want to let this opportunity go in terms of educating his delegates.

That said, the campaign rhetoric has been pretty heated, not allowing Muslims to come to this country and things like that. But in the Middle East, where the Kurds are, where the Kurds face this thread called ISIS, you have to give the Republicans credit that they are a bit more open-minded in terms of assessing the threat.

INTERVIEWER: As opposed to the Democrats?

XULAM: As opposed to the Democrats. President Obama, I feel, called ISIS, when it emerged, a “JV team” and then was hoping, basically, this war would just go away, because he has a Nobel Peace Prize, he’s a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and by his nature he’s against war. And I understand that. As a peace activist, I understand that.

But war is part of human condition, unfortunately, as is love, as is hate. and a leader like him needs to assess this issue better. The fact that he was reluctant to have American troops stay in Iraq, force that country to break up, and then let ISIS emerge out of that vacuum, and now we have a bigger crisis, events like Nice, Paris, Brussels, Orlando could actually determine the next president of this country too.

Security is becoming a very real issue, and people at the end of the day may want to say, I want to be safe, then I want to be rich, or want to have a job, or I want to have food on my table.

INTERVIEWER: So Trump says the Republicans might be a bit less aggressive when it comes to the Kurds, but Trump has also said that he would send in the military to fight ISIS. What do you think about military intervention in Syria and Iraq right now?

XULAM: I think that would be an outrage. I think it would be better if we supported the Kurds who are fighting them. The Kurds have been the only ones who haven’t turned their back on ISIS. They just need the tools.

So I think American presence abroad, if it’s welcomed, fine. But if it’s forced, it generates more headaches than solutions. I think he should hopefully, maybe, if he becomes president, he will have foreign-policy advisers who might tell him that.

I mean, but he also has an isolationist streak, at least from his statements that comes out. So if he says goodbye to the Middle East, Saudi Arabia will be weaker, Turkey will be weaker, and maybe a better balance of power could emerge in the region where this oppression shouldn’t go on. And if he sides with the Kurds, that would be good for the Kurds.

INTERVIEWER: And, lastly, who are you supporting in this election?

XULAM: I actually cannot vote. I am an asylee. But I follow the developments very closely. And I’m not here just because I’m a Republican or a Democrat; I’m here to educate the Americans.

INTERVIEWER: So will you be at the DNC?

XULAM: I’m going to be at the DNC. We are leaving tomorrow. Yeah. We’re going to go to the DNC and have our sign there, spread our pager facts and figures about the Kurds. Yeah. my goal is really to educate Americans, and that’s why I’m here.

INTERVIEWER: If you could vote, who would you vote for?

XULAM: I could vote on–I guess I would vote for Hillary.

INTERVIEWER: Really?

XULAM: Yeah, I don’t like her politics, to be honest with you. Her husband was

very pro-Turkey. She is very pro-Turkey. But in terms of the best steward to

be at the White House, I think she has more experience than Donald Trump does.

End

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