For decades, the Turkish government and the minority Kurdish population have maintained tense relations. Over the past several months, these tensions have grown, as the Turkish government has shared its considerations of launching a series of military offensives against the Syrian Kurds. If the military offensive goes ahead, it will profoundly impact the minority group, especially Kurdish women.

In late September, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to carve out a joint strategy for traversing the ongoing conflict in Syria. After the meeting, the Turkish government threatened to carry out military operations in northern Syria against the Syrian Kurdish population if ongoing diplomatic dialogues with the United States and Russia fail. The Turkish regime would use the proposed attack to capture the city of Tel Rifaat and the town of Kobane, a city controlled by Kurdish-majority, People’s Protection Units (YPG). The Turkish government considers the YPG a terrorist organization as it supports the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Russian government is currently in talks with the Kurdistan-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), encouraging the group to withdraw its troops from the Turkish border to avoid violence. 

If the Turkish government moves ahead with its military plans, it could have significant implications for the safety and security of the Kurds in Syria. The Turkish government has already carried out three military campaigns against the Kurdish population in Syria: Operations Euphrates Shield in 2016, Olive Branch in 2018, and Peace Spring in 2019. These violent campaigns forced dozens of Kurdish locals to flee their homes. Additionally, on the ground, reports indicate that Syrian Kurds in the city of Afrin, which was invaded and occupied during the 2018 operation, were often the target of civilian kidnapping ploys. 

Further, the UN-mandated Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria found that the Turkish military operations have radically impacted the daily experience of Kurdish women. According to the Commission’s findings, Kurdish women are routinely subject to sexual violence, harassment, torture, and rape. Additionally, Shiler Sido, a prominent Kurdish activist, has noted that Kurdish women suffer from lower iron levels in their blood due to malnutrition. The consequences of this lack of nutrients are severe. Some women become infertile and face extensive health issues later in life. The harrowing experiences Kurdish women are enduring are an insult to injury, considering that many, particularly those in the Rojava region, joined the Kurdish armed struggle during previous Turkish military operations, taking up arms to protect their communities. The active participation of women in military conflict offers a stark comparison to other areas of the Middle East, where women typically hold domestic and caretaking roles due to patriarchal societal norms. If the Turkish government commits to its military operation, it will further undermine the safety and health of female Kurds. 

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