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Turkish ‘Call Of Duty’: Does POTUS Wish He Had A Restart Button?

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“They say truth is the first casualty in war […] The only truth I found out is that the world we live in is a giant tinderbox. All it takes…is someone to light the match.”

These words, spoken by a fictional character, Captain John Price, in the famous, Call of Duty franchise, lend more sense and wisdom to the recent turn of events, than any global political or conventional war theory. Some speculate that Trump’s move to completely withdraw US troops from Northeast Syria has rocked the imagination of the entire world, in a way that hasn’t happened since 9/11 or Arab Spring in 2011.

Tilting towards a conventional war of magnitude proportions between Turkey, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) and Syria, the event stands at the peak of disrupting any credible peace and humanitarian efforts achieved in the region in the last three to four years. But who would dare tell the truth to self-proclaimed, Supreme Leader Trump? Who would dare put his life on the line, to be eventually executed by the Supreme Leader with a thread of tweets, and maybe a termination of a job?

President Trump has been known from the beginning of his tenure as an impulsive maniac, taking uncalculated decisions that would risk the immediate status quo of the international community. His dealings with China, Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan only reiterate the fact that his vacuity goes unchallenged, threatening to change the course of history, for the worse. It seems as if his decisions have been influenced by a first-person simulator game, where the player has the liberty to do whatever he wants, regardless of the consequence.

In fact, his recent ‘covfefe’ with Turkey, on 7th October 2019, which includes ordering the complete withdrawal of US troops from Northeast Syria, to allow Erdogan’s army to penetrate and ethnically cleanse the entire region of Syrian Kurds, and the vestiges of YPG (Schmitt, et al., 2019) is another case in point. And quite frankly, a disastrous one.

Nonetheless, the Supreme Leader has highlighted the fact that if Turkey does anything wrong, he will “destroy Turkey’s economy”, (Gaouette, 2019), and one can only imagine how much of it is really true, as the US itself depends largely on Turkey for pushing its agenda in the Middle East, so much so, that it stores its nuclear-capable weapons in the Incirlik Air Base (Blanc, 2019).

To clear the air around the conflict, Operation Peace Spring, as it is called by Ankara, is an ongoing military operation in Northeast Syria, conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF). It started on 9th October 2019, two days after POTUS gave the orders of withdrawal from Syria. The order of withdrawal which shocked many, some of which even came from Trump’s own cabinet – the likes of Defence Secretary Mike Esper. The withdrawal was agreed on the mutual understanding that Turkey will create a “safe zone” for the return of refugees (Fakih, 2019) in Northeast Syria, and cleanse the area of remaining non-state factions, particularly the Kurdish YPG.

In turn, this decision led to the abandonment and isolation of the Kurds, both the paramilitary and the civilians in the region, who were the strongest ally of the US in its fight against the Islamic State (IS) and now are directly involved in ensuring their survival against the Turkish Army. When asked about the abandonment of Kurds, Trump replied apologetically and rather absurdly that “The Kurds didn’t help at Normandy” (Fortin, 2019) and they are “no angels” (Borger & Safi, 2019). Turkish Forces then went on to capture 52 villages and towns near the Syrian border, claiming to have crushed Kurdish offensive every single time, a claim that has been quashed by YPG.

However, a battle which in the first three days seemed like a strike and clear mission, has now turned into a full-blown war, with consequences that seem difficult for Trump to handle in the coming days. The war, which was first a simple clash between the TAF and the Kurdish YPG, now includes the TAF, the Syrian National Army (SNA), Free Syrian Army (FSP) at one side, and surprisingly, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Kurdish YPG along with the Syrian Forces (Assad’s) at the other.

The obligation towards geographical sovereignty and the last chance at legitimacy allowed Assad to agree to a Russian-brokered peace deal with rebel forces and to carry on a direct offensive against Turkey (Najjar, 2019), crushing the long-going US agenda of delegitimising and dethroning Bashar-al-Assad. This, in turn, has upped the scale of violence, as two nation-states will directly collide with their subsidiary factions to support them, in a decisive battle, which threatens to re-escalate Arab Spring.

As Mike Esper describes “it is a development that has paralysed the fight against ISIS and ceded the US and Kurdish battlefield gains to Moscow and Damascus” (CNN Wires, 2019). Not only that, the fight has led to a consequential death of an unknown number of civilians and the creation of another refugee and IDP crisis in border towns, with 130,000 plus people illegally crossing into Iraq as we speak, paying smugglers 150 USD per head (Reuters; Haaretz, 2019). Adding more fuel to the fire, the indiscriminate bombing by the Turkish Army near Ayn Issa prison compound has led to the escape of 750 IS sleeper cells. A majority of them have Iraqi citizenship and are expected to cross into Iraq easily, due to vulnerable border control (McKernan, 2019). This, in turn, ironically defeats the entire narrative of US intervention into Syria, the concern for human rights, and the fight against IS, and makes a complete and long-lasting mockery of international laws.

The decision is currently under scathing attack from the US Congress and US allies, including Trump’s own Republican party, who have criticised the lack of farsightedness by him and have held him responsible for escalating the situation in the Middle East for his own political gains.

It is to be noted, that since the withdrawal, there still is a considerable amount of US personnel stuck between the offensive as sitting ducks, with their fate currently uncertain. As fellow Republican senator Lindsey Graham puts it, “He (Trump) will have American blood on his hands if he abandons Kurds because ISIS will come back, and if any American is killed anywhere because a resurgent ISIS, it will fall on the Trump administration like it did on Obama.” (Shesgreen & Groppe, 2019)

Evidently, those who have followed Trump and his interaction with Erdogan after the offensive will find an amateurish pattern of handling affairs, where POTUS himself has been hanging on ropes, dazed and delusional about his own decisions. From putting sanctions just days after allowing an offensive, to continuously taking U-turns by asking Erdogan to stop the offensive immediately or face consequences, Trump has been falling short in satisfying all the factions under his political umbrella. And certainly, he has been running out of ideas to control a furious Erdogan, hell-bent on committing genocide against Kurds. In fact, Trump, being the head of a State, should have been careful, because Erdogan, since 2018, has shown signs of being a near autocratic ruler, evident from the way he handled the Mayor’s election in Istanbul. It is this lack of analysis that is going to cost Trump dearly and draw hoards of ire and criticism towards him, regardless of the plan backfiring or not.

In the end, with an official letter sent from the office of the White House to Erdogan, obtained by the (in)famous Fox News, part of which I now quote “Let’s work out a great deal! You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy – and I will […] Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool […] I will call you later!” (Reuters, 2019), things look bleak and terribly uncertain, to say the least, for Trump and the Middle East. Probably making him and people around him think in their full consciousness; if only he had a restart button to the unknown game he started. But alas!

References Cited:

Blanc, J., 2019. Could the United States Crush Turkey’s Economy?, Washington: Carnegie Endowment.

Borger, J. & Safi, M., 2019. The Guardian. [Online]
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/oct/16/trump-claims-kurds-are-much-safer-as-us-troops-leave-syria
[Accessed 16 October 2019].

CNN Wires, 2019. Fox 2. [Online]
Available at: https://fox2now.com/2019/10/13/defense-secretary-trump-orders-withdrawal-of-remaining-us-troops-from-northern-syria/
[Accessed 16 October 2019].

Fakih, L., 2019. Human Rights Watch. [Online]
Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/10/11/turkeys-safe-zone-would-be-anything
[Accessed 11 October 2019].

Fortin, J., 2019. The New York Times. [Online]
Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/10/world/middleeast/trump-kurds-normandy.html
[Accessed 2019 October 2019].

Gaouette, N., 2019. CNN Politics. [Online]
Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/14/politics/trump-turkey-sanctions-skepticism/index.html
[Accessed 16 October 2019].

McKernan, B., 2019. The Guardian. [Online]
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/13/kurds-say-785-isis-affiliates-have-escaped-camp-after-turkish-shelling
[Accessed 16 October 2019].

Najjar, F., 2019. AL Jazeera. [Online]
Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/front-syria-war-manbij-matters-191015143157365.html
[Accessed 17 October 2019].

Reuters; Haaretz, 2019. Haaretz. [Online]
Available at: https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/kurdish-politician-executed-by-turkish-backed-fighters-in-syria-1.7970427
[Accessed 13 October 2019].

Reuters, 2019. The Economic Times. [Online]
Available at: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/donald-trump-warned-erdogan-in-letter-dont-be-a-fool/articleshow/71638683.cms
[Accessed 17 October 2019].

Schmitt, E., Haberman, M. & Wong, E., 2019. New York Times. [Online]
Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/07/us/politics/trump-turkey-syria.html
[Accessed 16 October 2019].

Shesgreen, D. & Groppe, M., 2019. USA Today. [Online]
Available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2019/10/17/lindsey-graham-trump-ally-introduces-turkey-sanctions-bill-senate/4007127002/
[Accessed 17 October 2019].

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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