As the Turkish military advances into northern Syria, representatives for the Kurdish people are appealing directly to members of Congress, hoping that intervention from friendly lawmakers on both sides will help to stop an invasion they fear will not only devastate their people but spark conflict across the Middle East.
On Wednesday, hours after Turkey began launching airstrikes in northeastern Syria, representatives from the Kurdish Regional Government sent an email to members of Congress that provided updates on the situation on the ground, spelled out the consequences of Turkey’s move, and urged lawmakers to press President Donald Trump to reverse his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the area, which was widely seen as enabling Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to invade.
“Eleven civilians have been killed and five injured as a result of this,” wrote officials from the Washington office of the KRG, which is the governing entity of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, just over the border from where many Syrian Kurds live. “Syrian Kurds simply have no place to go as this is their ancestral homeland. For the Kurds, it is a matter of life and death. They will be forced to defend themselves, diverting resources from the maximum campaign pressure against ISIS.”
The letter, which was forwarded to The Daily Beast by a Democratic staffer who posted portions of it on Twitter, told lawmakers to expect that the Turkish invasion will drive out Kurds and replace them with Syrian Arab refugees, fueling a resurgence of the Islamic State, and paving the way for broader hostilities in the region.
“This is a disaster in the making,” the Kurdish emissaries wrote. “Therefore, it is in the best interest of all parties to prevent this from taking place while there is still time, and Washington is the only player in this equation that could stop this disaster in the making. The current pressure from the Hill is working and if sustained, has a good chance of getting President Trump to reverse this policy decision.”
The letter went to every member of the House, and it called on them to appear in the press, write op-eds, tweet and take to the floors of the House and Senate to call attention to their plight and urge both Trump and Erdogan to deescalate the violence.
It is common for foreign governments to formally lobby lawmakers and make the case that their interests are aligned. Kurdistan—though it is only recognized as a sub-national government—is no different, and it has typically devoted significant resources toward retaining Washington lobbyists over the years.
The backdrop for this latest plea, however, is stark. The Kurdish office in Washington frequently sends updates to Capitol Hill, according to a House Democratic staffer, “but this one was particularly sad, being blunt on what’s happening and about to happen.”
The Kurds have long enjoyed a deep well of bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, thanks to their partnership in U.S. military ventures. And the sizable Christian population there has made the minority group a cause of great interest among American evangelical Christians.
Because of that, Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria has unleashed a torrent outrage from both sides of the aisle, and has prompted some Republicans to issue their strongest condemnations of his presidency to date. One GOP lawmaker, Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, declared on Thursday that he would no longer support the president because of his Syria policy and its impact on the Kurds.
The fury has already translated into concrete congressional action. On Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced legislation that would impose strict new sanctions on the Turkish government as long as their military is engaged in Syria.
And several sources told The Daily Beast that similar or identical legislation is expected to be introduced shortly in the Democratic-controlled House. Democratic and Republican spokespeople for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the likeliest venue for such a bill, did not offer specific details about a bill or a timeline for it.
Additional updates to lawmakers are planned, a Kurdish official told The Daily Beast, along with meetings and opportunities for advocacy when Congress returns from a two-week break next week.
“President Trump is receiving a lot of painful messages from the Congress,” said the official, who predicted that the outcry—particularly from allies of the president—is a good sign the pressure campaign could pay off.