YPG (People’s Defense Unit) fighters indiscriminately launched rockets into Afrin, a Syrian town near the Turkish border, killing at least three people and seriously wounding several others.
During 2018, a large-scale offensive mostly cleared terrorist fighters from the region. Therefore, construction crews in Afrin were busy building bridges, hospitals, schools, and other infrastructure items in a bid to lure residents back home. However, YPG terrorists continue to use a nearby base to launch terrorist attacks.
YPG, which is a local division of PKK, or the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, has a long history of documented atrocities, including ethnic cleansing, torture, forced displacement, and “compulsory conscription in the duty of self-defense.” Several nations, including the United States, have designated YPG and PKK as terrorist organizations.
Kurds in Syria’s Civil War
Why are the stateless Kurds, an ethnic group mostly associated with Iraq, playing a role in the Syrian Civil War? It’s complicated.
References to Kurdistan, or the Land of the Kurds, date back to around A.D. 950. Ethnically, religiously, and otherwise, the Kurds are closely related to the Iranians. By the time World War I broke out in 1914, Kurdistan was a semi-autonomous region in the Ottoman Empire which covered parts of modern Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria.
In 1920, the victorious Allies and defeated Ottoman Empire signed the Treaty of Sèvres. The Turks were forced to cede most non-Turkish lands to the Allied Powers, mostly Great Britain (Palestine and Iraq) and France (Syria and Lebanon). Semi-autonomous regions in the Ottoman Empire, including Kurdistan and Armenia, were designated as independent countries whose fates were to be decided in popular referendums.
As for Kurdistan, the Treaty of Sèvres established no boundaries. Şerif Pasha, on behalf of the Society for the Elevation of Kurdistan, proposed a large state which would include most ethnic Kurds. The Allies had other plans. They envisioned a Kurdistan carved mostly out of modern Turkey which would take no land from British or French-controlled areas.
Ultimately, all these points were moot. The relatively harsh terms of the Treaty of Sèvres sparked a revolution in Turkey. As a result, the Allies scrapped it in favor of the Treaty of Lausanne. The new Republic of Turkey included some non-Turkish territory, mostly Kurd lands. So, the idea of a free and independent Kurdistan was scrapped along with the treaty that created it.
Incidentally, the Treaty of Lausanne also included an amnesty provision for the controversial Armenian genocide which occurred between 1914 and 1922. The matter remains controversial today. Largely for that reason, a ratification vote in the United States Senate fell six votes short.
Visionary Kurdistan included a slice of northeastern Syria which Turkey recently invaded. The PKK sees the chaos as a chance to establish a greatly diminished, but still independent, Kurdistan. Presumably, Syrian Kurdistan would join Iraqi Kurdistan. This region is a semi-independent province in Iraq that’s protected by a 1991 UN no-fly order. There is a non-self-ruling Kurdistan province in Iran. Most of the eastern half of modern Turkey is populated by Kurds.
Private Military Contractors and Rebuilding Efforts
Generally, winning the peace is at least as important as winning the war. Rebuilding efforts, which were mentioned in the above story, play a pivotal role in the peace-winning process. And, contractors play a pivotal role in the rebuilding process.
Countries like Syria which are recovering from destructive wars often have few raw materials. Furthermore, these nations usually lack the capacity to fabricate steel and otherwise prepare these raw materials for construction projects. These duties usually fall to American companies, since the United States has a vested interest in stability in places like the Middle East.
These companies not only collect the raw materials needed for schools, bridges, hospitals, dams, and other projects. They are also responsible for shipping these materials overseas and delivering them to construction sites. All along the way, contractors supervise the process. Armed contractors, who are usually from a separate entity, protect the materials and the workers. More on security contractors ate construction sites below.
Once the work begins, contractors normally supervise it. These individuals keep the project moving forward and keep it under budget.
Usually, local workers provide most of the labor. This arrangement infuses some money into the local economy and also gives local residents a stake in its outcome. People who want to see the project completed are less likely to sabotage it or provide aid and comfort to saboteurs.
This discussion brings us to security contractors at construction sites. As the Afrin rocket attack demonstrates, there is no such thing as a “pacified” region in Syria. Hostilities could break out at any moment. And, to groups like the YPG/PKK, foreign construction projects are highly provocative, regardless of the builder’s political affiliation.
Common Rebuilding Injuries
Construction projects are highly visible. Everyone sees them going up. The injuries these projects cause, however, are mostly invisible. Many of these victims do not know they are sick for months, years, or even decades.
These invisible injuries are especially common at foreign construction sites. These nations usually have no government agency that protects workers. Even if there is such an entity, its inspectors are normally not overly concerned with the health of American contractors. Some of the more common invisible construction site injuries include:
- Hearing Loss: Exposure to sounds as low as 35 decibels, which is basically a lawnmower’s noise, causes permanent hearing loss. Companies have a legal responsibility to furnish ear protection when needed, explain why such protection is necessary, and ensure that workers use it.
- Toxic Exposure: Asbestos, which builders still use in many parts of the world, is one of the most toxic substances on earth. A single microscopic fiber could cause cancer. Benzene fumes, which are common in diesel fuel and industrial solvents, often cause similar illnesses.
- Repetitive Stress Illness: There is only so much bending, stooping, and kneeling that the human knee, back, and ankle can absorb. RSIs, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, also affect office workers at construction sites.
Many forms of environmental cancer have very long latency periods. In other cases, most victims do not see doctors immediately after they have some trouble hearing or their knees are sore. Instead, they put off treatment and their injuries worsen.
Serious trauma injuries, like falls, are also common at construction sites. A fall from as little as four stories above ground is normally fatal. Slip-and-fall injuries are often fatal as well, especially if the victim had a pre-existing condition.
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