Two local Kurdish groups gathered at the State House on Wednesday afternoon to protest a Turkish military operation into northern Syria that they say is an invasion that will lead to ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Kurdish people.
More than 20 people attended the event, which featured a Kurdish flag and speakers playing Kurdish music, and people holding signs that said “Free Kurdistan,” “Erdogan sponsors terrorism,” and “STOP TURKEY.”
The demonstrators also made themselves heard by chanting phrases such as “Down down Turkey down,” “Long live Kurdistan,” and “Turkey, ISIS is the same, only difference is the name.”
Drivers honked their horns as they drove by the rally. One man rolled down his window and shouted, “Thank you, Kurds!”
The rally was organized by the New England Kurdish Association and the Kurdish Students Association at the University of Massachusetts Boston to raise awareness and call upon US and international officials to protect the Kurdish people.
Sardar Jajan, cofounder of the New England Kurdish Association, said he was saddened to hear the announcement from the White House that the United States military would not be around when Turkey launched their military operation.
“It’s sad to hear that the US is going to leave,” Jajan said in a telephone interview. “It’s going to be a bloody war.”
Jajan, 53, came to the United States in 1983 and is an American citizen, but he still has family living in Kurdistan. His sister still lives in the region, as do his aunts, uncles, and other relatives.
“They are preparing for the worst,” he said.
Jajan is worried about their safety, and he’s been following the news closely for the latest updates on what’s going on over there.
Jajan said the Kurds fought ISIS for years, and the United States is supposed to be their ally. He said he hopes lawmakers “rethink the pulling out of our American troops” before it’s too late.
“If we leave there, it’s going to be a big mess,” he said.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Kurdistan is a “broadly defined geographic region” that includes large parts of eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, and western Iran, and smaller parts of northern Syria and Armenia.
On Wednesday morning, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey tweeted that the Turkish Armed Forces, along with the Syrian National Army, would be launching “Operation Peace Spring” against the Islamic State, Kurdish People’s Protection Units, and Kurdistan Workers’ Party in northern Syria.
The operation will “neutralize terror threats against Turkey and lead to the establishment of a safe zone, facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to their homes,” Erdogan said in a tweet. “We will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists.”
President Trump also tweeted about the situation Wednesday morning.
“Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years,” he tweeted. “USA should never have been in Middle East. Moved our 50 soldiers out. Turkey MUST take over captured ISIS fighters that Europe refused to have returned. The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending!”
Shawnam Osman, 27, called the decision by the United States to withdraw from the area and not get involved “catastrophic” for the Kurds who live there.
“We feel unfortunately used by the US government,” she said. “We fear there’s no one to defend the Kurds. We feel very much abandoned.”
Osman said she believes the decision will result in a vacuum of power and the resurgence of ISIS and other extremist groups.
Osman was born in a refugee camp in Pakistan and came to Boston with her family in 1998. Her parents are from Kurdistan, and she has grandparents and other relatives who live there.
“We are just heartbroken,” she said. “We fear for the future and what this will bring.”
Osman said she hopes Congress will take action.
“I think this rally represents the disappointment, the outrage that myself as a Kurd, as a former refugee, feel,” she said. “We feel very betrayed by the US government. We feel used and I think that it’s important that the world hears that this is not acceptable and treating your allies this way will result in catastrophic effects in the region.”
Soma Syan, the founder of UMass Boston’s Kurdish Student Association, said she was “devastated” by the Trump administration’s decision and said it was “basically allowing Turkey to open an ethnic cleansing of Kurds.”
“We’re just trying to protest to get lawmakers to possibly band together and just do something, maybe something like sanctions on Turkey, or try to threaten to remove them from NATO to stop them because the issue really is just to stop Turkey from starting a massacre on civilians,” she said.
Syan’s sister, Sima, who also attended the rally, echoed those sentiments.
“I’m just here to support my Kurdish people from the other side of the world because that’s what we can do,” she said. “And they need us right now. They’re right now, as we speak, being bombed to death by airstrikes by Erdogan. Even if you’re not Kurdish, you should be standing here because their lives are at stake right now.”Emily Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.