The Slatest

Turkey Is Trying to Convince Trump That the Kurds Are Behind America’s Protests

Demonstrators wave red and yellow Kurdish flags alongside a portrait of Abdullah Öcalan.
People hold the flags of Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the People’s Protection Units, and the portrait of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan during a rally against the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Feb. 5, 2018, in Rome. Andreas Solaro/Getty Images

Move over, George Soros: There’s a new nefarious mastermind behind the ongoing political turmoil in the United States. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday and, according the state-run Anadolu Agency, told him,“Those behind the recent violence and looting during protests in the U.S. are working with the YPG/PKK, a terrorist group operating in northern Syria.”

The Turkish government has spent the past few days blaming the YPG for instigating violence during the massive protests against police brutality in the U.S. Last week, Matthew Petti of the National Interest reported on a graphic released by the Turkey Directorate of Communications, tying antifa—the loose movement of militant activists that Trump has threatened to designate as a terrorist organization—to the Kurdish YPG rebels:

What is going on here? While completely preposterous, the theory has a certain logic. But it requires some understanding of the strange bedfellows in this conflict.

The YPG, the Kurdish rebel group that controls a large swath of northern Syria, has been the U.S. military’s main ally against ISIS. It is also an offshoot of the PKK, the Turkey-based group that has fought the Turkish government for decades and whom the U.S. considers a terrorist organization. The YPG follows the ideology of the PKK’s imprisoned founder, Abdullah Öcalan, which is heavily influenced by the American anarchist philosopher Murray Bookchin and his writings on “libertarian municipalism.” Some number of American leftists and anarchists have traveled to Syria to fight with the YPG. It’s not inconceivable that some of these Americans may have put in time with antifa as well.

Does this mean that the YPG is coordinating with antifa—which by all accounts is not a formal organization—or orchestrating acts of violence and vandalism in America? Of course not. (One American YPG volunteer hilariously told the National Interest, “Are we meant to believe that YPG had the time to train people on how to [defecate] in a fish pond or how to draw penises on the side of a church building?”)

It does, however, make complete sense that Erdogan would try to push this narrative into Trump’s brain. (Erdogan, like many other world leaders, has condemned the killing of George Floyd, though Turkish police dispersed and arrested activists taking part in a Floyd-inspired rally against police violence in Istanbul last week.)

In another phone call last October, Erdogan convinced Trump to pull back U.S. troops ahead of a planned Turkish military invasion into Kurdish-held territory in Syria. In the ensuing days, Trump dismissed the Kurds as “not angels” and “more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS,” seemingly parroting the Turkish government’s talking points.

After seeing Trump railing against “terrorists” and “anarchists” of antifa in recent days, why wouldn’t Erdogan try to tie the two groups together? It’s not crazy for him to hope Trump might take the bait again.