NASHVILLE/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Like many Kurds living in the United States, Lava Antar has had a hard time sleeping this week, waking often to check reports of Turkish jets and artillery pounding her northeast Syria homeland. Once, she learned her former neighbor’s 30-year-old son was killed.
“We feel betrayed, we feel angry,” said Antar, a 26-year-old student, during at a meeting to plan a Saturday rally in New York City decrying Turkey’s strikes, which sparked international criticism and fears of a humanitarian catastrophe.
Turkey attacked after U.S. President Donald Trump decided to withdraw U.S. troops who had been fighting alongside Kurdish forces against Islamic State militants.
“We’ve been helping the U.S. Like, 11,000 people died for this,” she said. “Is it because I’m Kurd that I have to be killed?”
The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated there are about 21,000 people of Kurdish ancestry in America. In cities including New York, Washington, Nashville and Dallas, many are planning protests against Trump’s pullback.
Kurds have long played a role in U.S. military action in the Middle East, from the first Gulf War in the early 1990s to the latest fights against Islamic State militants.
“Trump all of a sudden forgot that Kurds were fighting shoulder-and-shoulder with American soldiers,” said Tabeer Sindi, 34, secretary of the Tennessee Kurdish Community Council in Nashville and an organizer of a rally scheduled for Friday outside the federal courthouse in the city, home to one of the largest U.S. concentrations of Kurdish immigrants.
“Kurds were the only main force on the ground, the only boots on the ground. We sacrificed thousands of lives.”
Sindi, a married father of four boys whose family came from northern Iraq 24 years ago, said his father, Ismail, was a Peshmarga commander killed in a mustard gas attack while fighting Saddam Hussein’s forces in 1988.
Even some of Trump’s closest allies blasted the move, announced on Sunday. Twenty-nine of his fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives on Thursday said they would announce sanctions against Turkey over the attacks, a day after similar legislation was announced in the Senate.
‘THE WHOLE WORLD HAS BEEN SILENT’
Sindi said people in Nashville’s Kurdish community have been getting news from Syria through social media and media outlets but also personal contacts and family members.
“We have a lot of Trump supporters in our community, but even they are mad. They are unhappy about this decision,” Sindi said, adding that he also blames Congress and other U.S. allies for allowing the attack to begin.
“Where are all the other countries? The whole world has been silent about this.”
Silav Ibrahim, 32, who moved to the United States from a Kurdish region of northern Iraq at age four, said she had been in contact Thursday with a friend who fled from Syria to the Iraq border.
“I don’t know what to say,” she said in Nashville, where she recently resettled after spending six years doing humanitarian work in Kurdistan. “I do feel betrayed like every other Kurd. Every Kurd has the right to feel betrayed. I really am sad.”
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said the purpose of the assault is to defeat the Kurdish YPG militia which has links to insurgents in Turkey.
Kurdish activists in the United States said they planned to call congressional representatives.
“I hear the senators — Republican and Democrats — talking about sanctions, but that that’s not going to stop Erdogan,” said Shyar Antar, a 24-year-old cousin of Lava Antar, from Qamishli City in northeast Syria, at the same New York meeting.
“President Trump should send back the troops to the border so that Turkey would stop the bombing. But I don’t think after what has happened that Trump will go back,” Antar said. “So I think right now the only hope is in Congress, try and implement a no fly zone.”
Reporting by Tim Ghianni and Maria Caspani, additional reporting by Heather Timmons and Jason Lange in Washington, writing by Scott Malone; Editing by David Gregorio