On June 15th 2016, HasNa hosted two guest speakers, Omer Taspinar and Gonul Tol at George Washington University’s Marvin Center. Dr. Taspinar is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor at the National War College. Dr. Tol is the founder and director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies and an adjunct professor at George Washington University. Both of them addressed the complex issues that have arisen due to the Kurdish fight for independence in the Middle East and Turkey’s response. Overall, we had a good turn out of about 40 to 50 people at the Marvin Center, all actively engaged with the discussion about Turkey and the Kurds.
The Kurds would like to ideally branch off and make their own space, which they are trying to carve out in Syria. This is difficult when they are fighting against the Assad regime, ISIS, and the Turkish government. Dr. Tol pointed out that the Kurds need the Turks because their only connection to Europe and the Western world is through Turkey. The Kurds do receive help from the United States though, especially with their fight against ISIS, which is expanding northward past Raqqah and Markadeh into Kurdish territory. The problem is that the U.S. is also allies with Turkey so the U.S.-Kurdish relationship could potentially put the U.S.-Turkish relationship in jeopardy. The PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) were also originally backed by the Soviet Union so the West faces a conflict of interest whenever they back the PKK in order to fight ISIS. Our speakers reminded us that the PKK is fighting against ISIS first and fighting for Kurdish independence second.
There were a few questions from our attendees, most of which were wondering what was at the heart of the Kurdish and Turkish feud. One person asked why Kurdish integration has been so difficult, whereas multi-cultural integration in America has gone more smoothly. Dr. Tol and Taspinar both remarked that this ethnocentric conflict has been going on for hundreds of years and that the United States is relatively young. Turkey has not had the same history of inclusion that the U.S. has had and religious and ethnic differences can spark massive controversy in Turkey. Turkey must take steps to become much more culturally understanding and inclusive if they want to finally end the hostility around them in the Middle East.
This is just the first of an exciting series of events that HasNa is hosting over the coming months. We will have various guest speakers with diverse backgrounds discussing the importance of international conflict negotiation and the steps that we can take towards building peace and a better tomorrow. If you would like to be updated on our monthly events you can follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/hasnaDC/