Hundreds of Finnish Kurds and their supporters took to the streets of Helsinki and Tampere this weekend to protest against Turkish military action in northern Syria, which the international community says will further destabilize the region and trigger another humanitarian crisis.
The news reports coming out of northern Syria – an area referred to by Kurds as Rojava – make for grim reading.
A local politician dragged from her car and summarily executed by Turkish-backed Arab forces. Kurdish militia fighters who had to stop guarding Islamic State prisoners and defend their positions or flee. Turkish bombardments of civilian areas causing an estimated 100,000 people to leave their homes already.
When US President Donald Trump signaled that his troops would no longer be the power brokers in the Rojava area last Sunday, it gave Turkey’s strongman leader Tayyip Erdogan the de facto green light for a military invasion that aims to settle old scores against various Kurdish political groups and their militia forces – which had until now been considered key allies of America and the West in defeating IS.
The Kurdish supporters gathered in Helsinki this weekend chanted anti-Turkish slogans, calling the government fascists. Some people waved the distinctive green, white and red Kurdish flags with a starburst in the middle; while others waved the yellow triangle banner of the YPG People’s Protection Units, an organisation of mostly Kurdish fighters opposed to Islamic State and the Assad regime in Damascus.
“In general our community and Finnish friends of ours have been very concerned about the situation. In Finland we have a few thousand people originating from Rojava Kurdish areas and most of those have family members and relatives living in areas threatened by Turkish attacks” explains Welat Nehri, Chairman of the Finnish Kurdish Federation Kurdiliitto.
“The shock of these people is tremendous when the life and health of one’s family or even one’s all relatives is threatened” he adds.
Warnings of another humanitarian crisis unfolding
The international community, including Finland, warned this week of the humanitarian impact the Turkish invasion is likely to have.
Prime Minister Antti Rinne (SDP) condemned Turkey’s offensive into Rojava saying the actions “aggravate the already complex crisis in Syria.”
Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green) said his ministry was in touch with aid agencies in the sprawling Al-Hol refugee camp where a number of Finnish nationals are living.
And President Sauli Niinistö met with the Cabinet Committee on Foreign and Security Policy on Friday and issued a statement saying “Finland considered that no military solution can be found to the conflict in Syria. The humanitarian situation in the area is worrying” and re-confirmed the government would not grant any new military export licenses to Turkey “or other countries at war.”
Welat Nehri from the Finnish Kurdish Federation says civilians in the area want to escape the fighting of course, but are caught between a rock and a hard place.
“The situation of civilians is worst, because they have not much options to flee from Rojava. There is Turkey in the north, Syrian forces in the south, and Islamist forces supported by Turkey in the west” he tells News Now Finland.
“The only ways to get out of the war could be by Kurdistan Regional Government [in Iraq] in the east and some Kurdish areas in the southern part of Rojava. The situation is serious, and if the invasion continues, humanitarian crisis is expected” he warns.
Calling for a boycott on Turkish products in Finland
A number of people in Finland are calling for a boycott of Turkish products, and shared images on pro-Kurdish social media sites of some of the most popular brands which they say should be left on the shelf in protest at Turkey’s actions.
Welat Nehri says the Kurdish community has received a lot of support from people in Finland.
“It is worth mentioning that during last days huge number of Finnish citizens have shown support and solidarity by contacting face-to-face, calling or sending us messages” he says, thanking Finland for halting weapons exports, and hoping that Finland can help find a peaceful solution to the situation.
That seems like wishful thinking however, at least in the short term.
“As a Kurdish community in Finland, we are extremely shocked by the immediate consequences of the invasion, which has led to deaths, refugees and the destruction of neighborhoods, but at the same time we are concerned about everything that can happen over time” says Nehri.
“The Kurds played an important role in the war on terror against ISIs. The Kurds defeated ISIS on behalf of the whole world, losing the lives of over 11,000 fighters” he says.
“The withdrawal of the United States in this situation and giving the green light to Turkey is not just a betrayal of the Kurds, but a sheer irresponsibility and short-sighted policy.”