Government urged to act as mediator between Turkey and Kurdish forces
Ministers have been warned that if the UK does not step in then ‘yesterday’s victories would risk causing tomorrow’s wars’.
The Foreign Office has been urged to play “peacemaker” between Kurdish forces and Turkey, as Britain’s problematic history in the region was laid bare by MPs.
Ministers were told the UK’s policy towards the Kurds had “been wrong for about 100 years” and stretched back to Winston Churchill’s decision to “use chemical weapons” in the region.
Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, told MPs that while Britain did not “always have a glorious history” our role now was to be an “engaged friend of the whole region”.
The Tory MP made the comments after delivering the third report of his committee on Kurdish aspirations and interests of the UK in the region to the House.
Mr Tugendhat warned that if the UK did not step in and help facilitate talks between the Kurds and Turkey then “yesterday’s victories would risk causing tomorrow’s wars”.
The Turkish military launched an aerial and ground offensive on Afrin, in north-western Syria, on January 20.
It says the aim of the operation is to push out the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, from the enclave.
Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group and an extension of the Kurdish insurgents it fights inside Turkey.
However the groups have told Mr Tugendhat’s committee that they have similar values to the UK and respect democracy.
He said: “These tensions have pitted some of the UK’s leading allies against each other, not only the Turks and the Americans who are so intimately involved on both sides, but actually forces on the ground.”
He added: “Instability threatens the United Kingdom through a proliferation of weapons and violent ideologies and while the Kurdish groups told us they shared the democratic and inclusive values of the United Kingdom, national governments frequently describe these Kurdish groups as a danger to the region.
“The United Kingdom’s military support for the Kurdish fighters opposing Isis emphasises the stake that we have in these conflicts and the role that we play in helping to resolve them.”
Mr Tugendhat criticised the Foreign Office and their response to the conflict, which he described as “incoherent”.
He said: “The United Kingdom is supplying military might to one party in this conflict and the Foreign Office should be clear on the nature of the group receiving military air support.
“The Foreign Office cannot have a clear policy unless it has a clear view about this fundamental dispute.”
Reacting to the report, Tory MP Philip Hollobone (Kettering) said: “British foreign policy towards them has been wrong for about 100 years, they were abandoned by us in 1918, we ignored them at the treaty of Versailles and the problem has persisted ever since.”
Mr Tugendhat said: “Britain’s history has not been good.
“One Winston Churchill was the first person to use chemical weapons against the Kurds, indeed it was the RAF who dropped them and indeed one of the reasons the RAF still exists is because they cut cost of colonial policing by reducing the number of battalions required.
“I’m afraid it is true. We don’t always have a glorious history, but the truth is our role today is one of peacemaker and engaged friend of the whole region.”
Foreign Office Minister Harriett Baldwin said the Government would respond to the report in due course.