The plight of the small town of Kobani has become the focus of the world’s attention amid the devastation and misery of Syria. With each day the reign of terror of Islamic State (Isis) has been moving too close for comfort.
It’s worth remembering that Kobani was not Isis’s first target – the extremists have overrun a vast terrain from Azzaz in Syria to Kirkuk in Iraq. Just as they have been driving the Kurds out of Kobani they have killed, intimidated and driven Turkomans out of Çobanbey on the Turkish border; Arabs in Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Mosul; Yazidis in Sinjar; and Christians in Aleppo. The tales of horror there are just as atrocious.
With a 1,295km border with Syria and Iraq, this is a danger felt far more acutely by Turkey than any other country. It is a matter of the greatest national security to see the threat of extremism disappear from our neighbourhoods. We are ready, able and willing to do our part to this end – after all, we know only too well the toll of terrorism. Turkey will always be on the frontline in combating terror, including this new menace.
We have opened up our borders and embraced all those from Kobani who wish take refuge in Turkey. We have provided Kobani with all the humanitarian aid possible. We have acted in full cooperation with the international coalition. We are also facilitating the passage of Kurdish peshmerga forces to Kobani. We will continue our contribution to saving the town so its residents can go back to their homes.
Beyond Kobani, effective action requires a clear strategy and endgame. Everyone has to be prepared to play their part, and nobody should be left to bear the consequences alone. Isis is the product of a bigger evil. Not only the fertile ground offered by instability in Syria, but also the ardent support of the regime has helped terrorist groups grow. The regime was Isis’s patron, with the intention that it would eradicate the Syrian opposition, together with the legitimate demands of the Syrian people. But Bashar al-Assad’s plan backfired. Isis grew out of control, fed by the territory and weapons it seized in Iraq.
In Kobani, nearly 400 people have died in the past three weeks. In Syria, more than 200,000 people have died since the regime chose to wage war against its own people, more than three years ago. The regime has not hesitated to use heavy artillery against civilian neighbourhoods or fire ballistic missiles. Airborne attacks and barrel bombs have become a daily routine. It even used chemical weapons. As long as this regime remains, Syria will not be stable and secure: violence, particularly terrorism, will continue to emerge – the regime has no qualms about using any method that will keep it in power. The root causes must be tackled.
Resolute and comprehensive action is required to achieve this, involving the establishment of a no-fly zone with safe areas in Syria to protect its citizens. Without it, any operation will be insufficient to eradicate the current threats.
Our past warnings of likely outcomes both in Iraq and Syria regrettably fell on deaf ears. In Syria, the objective must be to make the regime understand that there can be no military solution to the conflict. The regime must engage in serious negotiations for a genuine and inclusive political transition that will lead to a real political change as envisaged by the Geneva conference of 2012.
In Iraq, the aim must be to ensure the mistakes of the previous government are not repeated. Isis has been able to make such a rapid advance due to the environment created by the sectarian and oppressive policies of the past decade. As the new administration takes office, we have the chance to end that sectarianism and reason to be optimistic.
In the meantime we will remain attentive to the needs of the Syrian and Iraqi people. Turkey’s assistance is unprecedented. The number of Syrians from all ethnic and religious backgrounds who have fled and found refuge in Turkey continues to rise, and is now approaching 2 million people. Over the past couple of weeks 200,000 Syrians have arrived from Kobani.
This burden has been appreciated in words but not in deeds. The costs so far have reached $4bn (£2.5bn), and Turkey cannot continue to act as if it were the United Nations. A collective responsibility to address Syria’s plight, including a no-fly zone, becomes imperative.
This is a serious challenge facing the entire world. The callous indifference should end. We should deal head-on with the international peace and security threats posed by Syria and Iraq. The world should no longer allow the Syrian regime to make a mockery of international law and order.
History is made over such events. Good can always prevail over evil. We only need to help it happen.
Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is Turkey’s minister for foreign affairs.