This article and interview was republished from Kurdpress with permission.

Turkey is behind Europe’s failure to support Syrian Arab-Kurdish forces, analyst tells Kurdpress

The head of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE), Dr. Anne Speckhard, believes that European countries refuse to support the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces as Turkey considers the forces as terrorists and affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The Syria’s joint Kurdish-Arab SDF forces have played a large role in fighting the IS terrorist group in northern and eastern Syria and have lost 11,000 of their troops in the fighting. Kurds have now arrested around 10,000 IS fighters and have called on many countries, particularly European states, to take home the European members of the IS from Syria and put them on trial in their home countries. European countries, however, refuse not only to return the IS members, but also to help the SDF forces to try IS members on Syrian soil.

To discuss the issue, as well as IS activities, Kurdpress interviewed Dr. Anne Speckhard, Director of International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE), as well as a Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington DC.

Dr. Speckhard believes the reason behind Europe’s failure to cooperate with the Kurds is that Turkey insists the Syrian Democratic Forces are terrorists, and that they are linked to the forces of the PKK. She added that the European countries also refuse to return the IS elements because they fear the transmission of Coronavirus Covid-19 disease by the IS captives and the spread of IS ideology in Europe, stressing that the states need to help the Kurds.

Dr. Speckhard believes the IS is still active and may want to use the Coronavirus for future attacks.

What follows is her interview with Kurdpress:

Last week there were IS prisoners’ riots in Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria. Why nobody helps Syrian Kurds regarding returning some 2000 IS prisoners to the western countries or help the Kurds financially to deal with such a big problem?

The reasons that Western nations have not helped the Kurds as much as they need is because Turkey is labeling the SDF a terrorist organization. Likewise, given there are some PKK formers among the SDF and the close alliances among many Kurds, Europeans have avoided interacting with the SDF or supporting them directly. Europeans also don’t want to deal with Assad, but point out that their former diplomatic ties to Syria are in Damascus not with the SDF. The US has engaged strongly and supported the SDF as has the U.S. led defeat IS coalition forces. There should be much more support however, especially given the SDF were the strongest local force to defeat IS in Syria, and they now house thousands of foreign IS fighters and their family members. Europeans are afraid to take them back, fearing they can’t prosecute and imprison them and that even if they can, they will cause problems in society. Now with Coronavirus of course those fears are heightened by that danger as well — that they carry disease as well as possibly a virulent ideology back home with them. This is not an excuse however for not supporting the SDF who have as humanely as possible housed all these prisoners for years now. SDF needs to build new prisons and have much more staffing, training and equipment and the countries whose prisoners are being held by the SDF must pay for it and get over their aversion to a potential relationship between the SDF and PKK. It’s true the SDF defended themselves against the Turkish attacks as would any people defend themselves. Meanwhile Turks who call the SDF terrorists unleashed Turkish backed rebels who in many ways act the same as IS did, beheading, torturing, sectarian killings, rapes, etc. SDF needs our help. We need to tell Turkey to stand down on this issue.

There are IS activities, especially in disputed areas between Iraqi Kurdistan and the Iraqi central government. Can the terrorist group come return and get some territories as it did in 2014?

No, I don’t believe IS will ever have a territorial Caliphate like it did in 2014. The West learned its lesson that it was not confined to an area but that this group launched attacks into the West from its territorial Caliphate and was also much stronger in attracting Western fighters and foreign fighters from around the world — 40,000 of them — to come once it could run a de facto state. However, IS will continue to hold small territories and still do the same. They are less powerful but their virulent ideology remains, the reasons foreigners joined (the push factors at home that made the ideology attractive and the group attractive to them) remain, and they still have propaganda capabilities and a lot of money. And some foreign governments also will back their activities against enemy states.

Do you believe that IS can use the Coronavirus problem as an opportunity, in Iraq and Syria in particular?

Extremists in Egypt have already posted that if you have Coronavirus you should go an infect as many government officials as possible so yes, these things will occur, unfortunately. Given how contagious the Coronavirus is, however, it likely makes little difference unless hundreds or thousands were to engage in this activity and possibly die themselves in doing so.