President Trump on Jan. 24 called on Turkey “to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees,” and “urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.” The Turks responded that if Washington didn’t like what it was doing in Syria, it should stop supporting “terrorists,” namely the Kurds.
More than a fifth of Turkey’s citizens are ethnic Kurds, who speak a dialect of Persian rather than Turkish, and belong to one of the most ancient peoples in the region concentrated in the border zone including parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Turkish Kurds have twice as many children per female as ethnic Turks, and by the 2040s will be the majority of Turkish citizens under 30. Turkey’s dictator Erdogan is terrified that Turkish Kurds will ally with the Kurds of Iraq and Syria, and is determined to prevent any Kurdish center of power from emerging.
Russia doesn’t want any boots on the ground who can challenge its Iranian ally in Syria. The Assad government and Iran have displaced roughly half of Syria’s 22 million people during seven years of civil war, and have begun to replace Syrian Sunnis with Shi’ite colonists from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.