Turkey-Russia Deal On Syria Is A 'Pure Disaster' For The Kurds, Bernard-Henri Lévy Says

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Syrian Kurdish and Arab families are pictured fleeing in the countryside of the town of Darbasiyah, on the border between Syria and Turkey, towards the town of Hassakeh on October 22, 2019. (Delil Souleiman/Getty Images)
Syrian Kurdish and Arab families are pictured fleeing in the countryside of the town of Darbasiyah, on the border between Syria and Turkey, towards the town of Hassakeh on October 22, 2019. (Delil Souleiman/Getty Images)

French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, a vocal advocate for the Kurds, says he felt “desperate” for them upon learning the U.S. would pull out of the region in northern Syria.

But he was also “sad” for the U.S. because abandoning the Kurds is “opposite to the spirit of America that honestly, it’s heartbreaking,” he says.

The move was a betrayal of American values, he says, specifically how the Kurds represent gender equality and “democratic, secular, enlightened” Islam that the U.S. should want to promote worldwide.

On Tuesday, Turkey and Russia announced they would patrol the area of northeast Syria which was previously occupied by the U.S. and the Kurds. Iran, an ally of Turkish President Erdoğan, has offered to help secure stability along the Turkish-Syrian border.

Lévy says this situation presents a “pure disaster” for the Kurdish people.

“The foreign policy of America has managed to deliver on the silver dish, the Kurds and the Middle East, to the three biggest enemies of America — Putin, the Iranians and now the Turks — countries who do not share your values and our values,” he says.

Interview Highlights

On embedding himself with the Kurdish military in Iraqi Kurdistan in the past and his reaction to Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of Syria

“I was with them on the frontline for months and months following their battles against ISIS. And there, girls and boys fighting with such bravery for America, for the West, for civilization in favor of democracy … I imagine someone who believes, as I do, in the American creed. How can this be conceived and how can this be understood? So this was my reaction. First of all, I thought about my mates of the Kurds, which I left on the battlefield. And then I thought about this dear country to my heart, which is America. And I was very, very sad.”

On betraying American values

“No. 1, the Kurds were brother in arms. And there is a law in the American tradition, which is that you don't abandon someone with whom you shared blood. ... The Kurds embody, more than anyone else, this democratic, secular, enlightened Islam, which we are all looking for. In Islam, who put on a foot of equality for women and men, for example, I don't know any other place where it is through to such a scale. In the battalions, in which I was embedded, not in Syria, but in Iraq, in some of the battalions, the best fighters were women. They were absolutely the equals of the men. So [they are] a great people. And how can we behave like this with the people who match so well with what we have in the depth of our hearts? It's unthinkable for me.”

On the deal between Russia and Turkey to patrol the region together

“Erdoğan, of course he's in NATO, but he shouldn't be after that. If he stays in NATO, NATO is dead. But Erdoğan embodies values, which are not American values. Putin is the adversary of America, clearly, and Iran is supposed to be the adversary also. And we have now these three countries hand in hand managing the area, pretending to be peacemakers and holding the whole area. The Trump policy is on one side to pretend that Iran deserves sanctions and so on. And on the other side, on the battlefield and on the ground, to tell to Iran and to his ally, Bashar al-Assad and Putin, 'Help yourself.' This is the real situation.”

On whether Turkey should be kicked out of NATO

“Normally, the text of NATO should oblige us to fight with Turkey against the Kurds. Thank God we don't do that. This is what NATO recommends. We are walking on the head — it is a reverse world … I must add that Erdoğan now is making blackmail on America and on Europe on all grounds: blackmail on refugees, blackmail on jihadist. No. 2, he has put the hand on some thousands of tourists who were detained by the Kurds. Now, they are detained by him. He threatens also to send them back to Europe or to America.

"Second, blackmail. And third blackmail, don't forget that he has bases on his ground. NATO has bases. Incirlik, which is very important. NATO has 50 nuclear heads that are there. This is inconceivable. America and NATO cannot leave in the hands of this Muslim brother, enemy of our friends, such a power off of this region. So Erdoğan does whatever he wants, but he cannot stay in NATO. He must be at least suspended. This is what I will plead on Saturday night at The New York Times Center. First retaliation to do is to tell him, ‘Out of NATO’ and then No. 2, ‘Hands off the Kurds.’ And if we had told Erdoğan in due time, ‘If you go on the Kurds, you will be expelled out of NATO,’ maybe he would have thought twice.”


On whether European nations should step in to assist the Kurds

“Of course, yes, yes, yes, yes. The responsibility is on all of us, European included. When Trump announced that the 2,000 Special Forces of America will withdraw, I wrote a paper in France saying immediately that Europe should send soldiers to replace the American soldiers. It was easy for us. Two-thousand soldiers is nothing. Twenty-seven or 28 of the greatest countries of Europe are able to send 2,000 soldiers in order to keep the peace and to prevent Erdoğan and to prevent Bashar al-Assad now to crush the Kurds. And to say that it is impossible is a joke.”

Ciku Theuri produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKennaSerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on October 23, 2019.


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Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



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