Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Sunday speech on the Turkish offensive against Kurdish forces in Afrin, Syria has gotten plenty of international attention, but a curiously underreported passage found the Islamist president railing against the Kurds as “collaborators in a postmodern crusade that our region is exposed to.”
The remarks appeared in the Turkish pro-Erdogan newspaper Yeni Safak’s Turkish language edition.
“They are barbarians, murderers, thieves, and rapists,” Erdogan said of the U.S.-allied Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, according to one transcript of his remarks. “These are the new collaborators of the postmodern Crusades. With this operation, Turkey not only protects its borders but saves the honor of all humanity.”
According to Stockholm Center for Freedom’s Abdullah Bozkurt, Erdogan was specifically referring to the Christian Crusades, which would be highly incendiary language for the region, and very close to the way hardline Islamist groups like the Islamic State characterize Western influence in the Middle East:
President #Erdogan says the region in #Turkey's neighbourhood faces "a post-modern Christian Crusades" and #PYD & #YPG are collaborators of these crusaders that killed tens of thousands. pic.twitter.com/0vdLoJFCoV
— Abdullah Bozkurt (@abdbozkurt) January 25, 2018
The YPG militia has been an important battlefield ally of the United States against ISIS, but Erdogan’s government considers it an ally or extension of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) organization in Turkey.
In the same speech, Erdogan accused the U.S. of supporting terrorists by arming the YPG, which he explicitly described as a “terrorist organization.” For that matter, he accused the United States of paying “a lot of dollars” to ISIS itself.
According to the White House, President Donald Trump expressed concerns about “destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey” to Erdogan during their telephone conversation on Wednesday. The Turkish government has denied that Trump said this.