JERUSALEM, Israel – When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with President Donald Trump in Washington next week, he hopes to convince him to forego plans to arm Syrian Kurds in the fight against ISIS.
Earlier this week, Trump approved funds to arm the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) for an operation meant to drive ISIS from the city of Raqqa in northern Syria. The SDF is made up of Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian, Armenian and Turkmen militias.
In a statement released Tuesday, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said, "…the president authorized the Department of Defense to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqqa, Syria."
An Israeli expert on Syria, who asked to remain anonymous, told CBN News the meeting between Trump and Erdogan "is one of the most important meetings to date."
"Obama was already supporting them [the Syrian Kurds] before, much to the disdain of Erdogan. He hoped this administration would switch policies. Praise God, he decided not to do that," he said. "The SDF supports the democratic values of the United States more than any other."
Despite the fact that Kurdish militias have proven themselves the most potent military force against ISIS, not only in Syria, but also in Iraq, the Kurds are a bigger problem for Erdogan than the jihadists. He hopes to convince the U.S. administration to see it his way.
"A terrorist group cannot be defeated with another one," USA Today quoted Erdogan. "I want to believe that Turkey's allies will side with us, not a terrorist organization."
Though Turkey reportedly has one of the strongest militaries in the region, it has stayed on the sidelines in the war against ISIS, instead focusing its efforts against Kurdish militias in Syria because for Erdogan, they're the bigger problem.
The Kurdish minority in Turkey, which makes up about 20 percent of the population, lives in the eastern and southeastern part of the country near the border with Iraq.
Over the six years of Syrian civil war, the Kurds have managed to carve out a place for themselves between ISIS strongholds and the Syrian military in northern Syria.
"Erdogan and the powers that be in Turkey's ruling party right now all see the militia as a de facto part of the PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party], which is an absolute lie because they never formed themselves into a militia," the expert told CBN News. "They did not lend support. It was [Syrian President Bashar] Assad who supported the PKK, not the Syrian Kurds. They were completely powerless. They couldn't even leave the country."
The Kurdish people, with their distinct culture and language, have long yearned for a homeland of their own. In northern Syria, eastern and southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq and northwestern Iran, the Kurds make up a majority population. It's a long history with many twists and turns.
In Turkey, the People's Democratic Party (HDP) represents Kurdish interests. The party's goal has been to stand up for equality and minority rights within the existing political system. It's admittedly a complex situation that has fostered violent confrontations over decades.
Last month's national referendum in Turkey, which gave Erdogan his long sought after autonomous rule, does not recognize the rights of the Kurdish minority. The Turkish president appears uninterested in allowing the Kurds their cultural differences or even providing them with basic amenities.
It's not just the Kurds. Erdogan isn't too fond of Christians or Jews either. He seems determined to bring all of Turkey under the Islamic caliphate he envisions.
Next week in Washington, he's hoping to convince President Trump not to arm any group the Kurds are part of.
Turkey's decades-long battle with the Kurds appears not to have abated in the slightest.