Jacobin - November 1, 2019

"Omar has positioned herself as a critic of imperialism, an opponent of tyranny, and a defender of the oppressed. But just as a leftism that ignores the plight of Palestinians is hollow, so too is one that fails to recognize the horrors inflicted upon the Armenians in 1915, the brutalities of the Republic of Turkey, and the systematic oppression facing most of the Middle East’s Kurdish population."

... Turkey, Armenia, and the Kurds

Criticism of Omar’s relationship with Turkey is not new. In 2017, Omar (then a Minnesota state representative) met with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — the same Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who had suppressed the 2013 Gezi protests, ramped up the war against the Kurds, allowed jihadis to flow into Syria, and jailed academics and journalists. Left critics wondered how Omar could advocate for Palestinian rights while remaining silent on the oppression of the Kurdish people or, more generally, the autocratic élan of Erdogan.

Since Omar’s ascension to Congress, Erdoğan’s authoritarianism has only deepened. Repression has been ratcheted up against elected Kurdish political leaders, who are imprisoned on the flimsiest of grounds. Last year, Turkey invaded the Kurdish-held Syrian province of Afrin, displacing thousands. And then of course most recently, Turkey launched an incursion into northern Syria to wipe out the Kurdish-led autonomous region of Rojava.

Yet Omar didn’t vote on a resolution last month condemning Trump’s ostensible withdrawal. Omar has also been critical of placing sanctions on Turkey. In an October 23 op-ed published in the Washington Post, she linked calls for sanctions against Turkey to the US’s indiscriminate and wide-ranging measures against countries such as Venezuela and Iran, noting:

Research has shown that sanctions rarely achieve their desired goals. In the worst-case scenario, they hurt the people of a country — generally the very people we’re purporting to help — without making a dent in the country’s behavior. And in the case of human rights abusers, research suggests that more abuses typically occur with economic sanctions in place than without them.

This is undoubtedly a legitimate criticism of most US sanctions. Yet the PACT sanctions offered up by Congress, and which Omar voted against earlier this week, were not the kind of blanket punishment that have caused so much suffering in Iran or Venezuela. They targeted Turkey’s defense industry and political leaders — a move that would undermine Erdogan’s ability to wage war and a type of sanction that Omar, in her op-ed, claims to support. In voting against PACT, she showed solidarity not with those being murdered by Turkish forces in northern Syria but with Erdoğan and the fifteen Republicans who voted against the resolution.

... What accounts for Omar’s lackluster stance on Turkey, Kurdish issues, and the Armenian genocide?

One potential explanation stems from Turkey’s role in Somalia. In recent years, Turkey has shrewdly deployed its soft power across Africa, including by providing extensive humanitarian assistance to Somalia. Erdogan himself visited the country in the summer of 2011, at the height of a devastating famine. Omar, whose family is from Somalia, represents a district with a strong Somali community. Perhaps her willingness to overlook Turkey’s unsavory actions reflects the reality that all politics is local. ...
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