PASS Webinar

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We kindly invite you to attend a PASS Webinar:

TURKEY AND THE KURDS: It’s Complicated


David L. Phillips 

Director, Peace-building and Rights Program, Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR), Columbia University


James Cottrell 

Senior Advisor, PASS, LLC

Monday, April 16, 2018  I   12:00 – 1:00 pm


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Relations between the US and Turkey are at their lowest point since the late 1970s when, in the aftermath of the Cyprus war, the US imposed an arms embargo and sanctions on Turkey for invading Cyprus. After the September 11 attacks, Turkey joined President Bush’s Global War on Terror and led the ISAF in Afghanistan. Recently, the relationship has become fraught and complicated.

In 2013, the Obama administration took a dim view of Erdoğan’s crackdown on the Gezi Park protests, official corruption, and Turkey’s alleged ties to radical Islamist groups in Syria. The US has declined to cooperate with Turkey’s demands to extradite exiled religious leader Fethullah Gülen, whom Ankara blames for the 2016 failed coup against Erdoğan. In 2017, Turkey also arrested and summoned US consulate staff whom it accuses of having ties with Gulen’s “terrorist” organization. Turkey and US briefly suspended all non-immigrant visa services for travel between the two countries.

Recently, Donald Trump’s decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the American embassy there from Tel Aviv. Erdoğan saw that Turkey played a significant role in mobilizing both the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the UN General Assembly to condemn the move, despite Trump’s Tweets threatening to cut aid and limit cooperation with countries that opposed the decision.

The US and Turkey had long been committed to fighting terrorist groups, with the so-called Islamic State (IS) their main target. But Turkey demands support for its fight against Kurdish groups within and beyond Turkish borders. The US takes a different view. It is reluctant to cease its support to the Syria-based Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has declared autonomous rule in northern Syria and which the US supplied with arms. Turkey believes that the military equipment transferred to the PYD will eventually end up in the hands of it’s the PKK, Kurds in Turkey fighting for greater political and cultural rights, whom Turkey, the EU and the US have labeled a terrorist organization.

Syria and the Kurds

“I told Putin and Trump we won’t step back in Syria” —  President Recep Tayip Erdoğan

In January, the Turkish military launched an offensive to seize control of Afrin from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a group that makes up a major part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Turkey’s jihadi proxy, the Free Syrian Army, committed many atrocities against Kurdish civilians. About 1,700 YPG members left eastern Syria to defend their brethren in Afrin. Turkey considers the YPG an affiliate of the PKK. The United Nations reports that over 200,000 civilians have been forced out of their homes in Afrin city as result of Turkey’s attack. The Kurdish Red Crescent reported on February 27 that at least 348 civilians had died in Afrin, since Turkey’s attack on January 20.

David L. Phillips is currently Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Phillips has worked as a senior adviser to the United Nations Secretariat and as a foreign affairs expert and senior adviser to the U.S. Department of State under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama. He has held positions as a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Center for Middle East Studies, executive director of Columbia University’s International Conflict Resolution Program, director of the Program on Conflict Prevention and Peace-building at the American University, Associate Professor at New York University’s Department of Politics, and as a professor at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. He has also been a senior fellow and deputy director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Center for Preventive Action, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council of the United States, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, director of the European Centre for Common Ground, project director at the International Peace Research Institute of Oslo, president of the Congressional Human Rights Foundation, and executive director of the Elie Wiesel Foundation. Mr. Phillips is author of An Uncertain Ally: Turkey Under Erdogan’s Dictatorship(Routledge Press, 2017), The Kurdish Spring: A New Map for the Middle East (Transactions Publishers, 2015), Liberating Kosovo: Coercive Diplomacy and U.S. Intervention (Kennedy School at Harvard University),From Bullets to Ballots: Violent Muslim Movements in Transition (Transaction Press, 2008), Losing Iraq: Inside the Postwar Reconstruction Fiasco (Perseus Books, 2005), Unsilencing the Past: Track Two Diplomacy and Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation (Berghahn Books, 2005). He has also authored many policy reports, as well as more than 100 articles in leading publications such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, and Foreign Affairs.

James “Chip” Cottrell is a retired Partner with Deloitte – USA, who most recently served as Deloitte’s Global Chief Ethics Officer. Chip has extensive global experience in a broad array of business operations, consulting and accounting, including forensics. He is a Certified Public Accountant in the USA and China, a UK Chartered Accountant, and a Chartered Global Management Accountant. He has also served in a number of roles focused on anti-corruption issues, including co-chair of the United Nations Global Compact Committee on Anti-Corruption, the B-20 (business framework of the G-20), the BTeam as well as industry initiatives such as the Partnership Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) at the World Economic Forum.


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