THERE is a photograph in my archive. It was taken late last year on a grey day as brooding storm clouds scudded across the sky in the north-eastern Syrian town of Kobane. In the picture above, a Kurdish soldier of the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) can be seen walking among the rows of headstones in the city’s Martyr’s Cemetery. At the time the photograph was taken, some 1300 graves lay in this solemn place, where Kurdish men and women soldiers come to pay homage to their fallen comrades.

Most who lie here are young, in their late teens and early twenties. The only clues to their lives peer out in the faces of framed photographs left by relatives and loved ones. The vast majority died during the bitter siege of Kobane in 2014 when Islamic State (IS) jihadists overran most of this city near the Turkish border, only to be beaten back by the determined and near-legendary resistance of mainly Kurdish fighters as part of the Syrian Democratic (SDF).

Those buried in the Martyr’s Cemetery are but a fraction of the some 11,000 known to have given their lives to liberate thousands of square miles and millions of people from the brutal grip of IS.

Today many still consider the battle for Kobane to be a key turning point in the war against IS in Syria. But as I write, Kobane along with other towns like Ras al-Ain, Tel Abyad and Qamishli have once again become frontlines as the Kurds face a fresh threat, this time from an offensive by the Turkish armed forces.

An old Middle East saying goes that the Kurds have “no friends but the mountains”.

Ever since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, when the first hints of independence were tantalisingly dangled in front of them by imperial powers, Kurdish nationalist groups have regularly entered into alliances with powerful nation-states only to later be betrayed or abandoned when those countries’ short-term interests have been fulfilled.

And so it was again last week when the United States, despite White House claims to the contrary, turned its back on its Kurdish allies who have so courageously and effectively taken the fight to IS.

It’s been said that nothing in this world is certain except death, taxes and America betraying the Kurds. Writing a few days ago in the online US news portal, The Intercept journalist Jon Schwarz outlined how the US has now betrayed the Kurds a minimum of eight times over the past 100 years. From the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 through the Nixon and Reagan administrations to the 1991 Gulf War, the Kurds have been used as pawns in US foreign policy.

That the Americans were only taking leaf out of Britain’s book in its own historic treatment of the Kurds goes without saying.

What occurred last week then was just the latest episode in that shameful list of abandonment and betrayal as Donald Trump effectively signalled the green light to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to commence an all-out military offensive against the Kurds.

Currently, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is facing numerous Turkish ground and air assaults along a stretch of the Turkey-Syria border about 75 miles long.

Already hundreds of people are reported to have died and over 100,000 displaced by the fighting, marking a bitter repayment in which Washington acquiesced.

Perhaps sensing the level of international outrage that has ensued, the Trump administration this weekend is desperately working on political damage-limitation by threatening Turkey with sanctions should it push on with its military operation.

This though will be little consolation for what one Syrian Kurdish official a few days ago described as “a stab in the back”. Those on the ground in the region tell of a real anger among many Kurds over Trump’s dismissive and strategically ludicrous move.

“This American decision will destroy all the advances, particularly with regards to security … there will be chaos once again,” said Amjed Osman, a spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Council the political wing of the SDF.

What motivated Trump, beyond perhaps having his eye on the upcoming US presidential election and promises to pursue an isolationist policy, has baffled even supporters of this unpredictable and wayward American leader.

Even if Trump’s intention was to get out of Syria as part of a presidential election campaigning ploy, might he not at least have given the Kurds fair warning, instead of pitching them instantaneously at the mercy of the second-largest army in Nato?

The Turkish offensive ordered by Erdogan following his telephone conversation with Trump last Sunday night, some say, is yet another example of the dangers in letting the US president loose in communicating with other world leaders.

Whatever Trump promised or said, it effectively gave Erdogan a free hand to smash America’s Kurdish allies in Syria and by Monday morning Turkish warplanes were already dropping bombs, much to the consternation of many US officials including some Trump stalwarts.

“The Pentagon does not want this. James Mattis [former secretary of defence] did not want this. Mitch McConnell [Senate majority leader] does not want this. Lindsey Graham [staunch Trump supporter] really does not want this… Hell, even Trump claimed not to want this last summer,” wrote an incredulous Adam Weinstein in the New Republic magazine last week.

Now, however, that level of opposition within US political and military circles seems almost immaterial given the damage already done, lives lost, people uprooted and the implications Turkey’s offensive will have for the region.

So just what does all this mean for the Kurds? What too does it mean for the cadres of IS fighters many of whom are being held prisoner in Kurdish-run prisons? Then there is the wider question also of how it might shift the dynamics of the Syrian war and region as a whole?

While many analysts have indicted they expect a limited Turkish incursion, others are more wary.

“It would be logical for Turkey to take as much territory as possible in this very small time frame,” says Wladimir van Wilgenburg, an analyst and journalist specialising in Kurdish affairs.

SPEAKING TO Avhal, the independent online news site that is blocked in Turkey, Van Wilgenburg said he saw two reasons why Turkish forces might advance deeper into Syria. The first is that Turkey’s oft-stated objective is to eliminate any Syrian Kurdish entity along its border and a limited incursion would not achieve that goal.

The second is that Erdogan likely intends to use the offensive to gain leverage to use in his meeting with Trump in Washington next month.

But geopolitical bartering aside, what about the situation on the ground for those Kurds caught up in the fighting?

“It’s going to be very bloody and a disaster for Western policy in the area,” insists Van Wilgenburg. “There’s going to be, most likely, large refugee flows and it’s going to affect the whole region.”

Ominous clues as to how this might play out for the Kurds can be gleaned from previous Turkish offensives like that against the enclave of Afrin last year.

“In 2018, we documented indiscriminate attacks by Turkish military and its allied armed groups in Afrin and Azaz in northern Aleppo, which led to the killing of some 100 civilians,” says Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director.

While in Kobane last year I spoke with some of those Kurds who had fled Afrin.

“Our family’s ancestors have been living in Afrin for over 200 years,” Nuri Urik, a 45-year-old Kurdish man told me at the time. He along with his family and thousands of others had been forced from Afrin by the fighting.

“The whole journey was traumatic with the constant bombing, but the moment that we left Afrin was the worst, nobody remained in the village, everyone left,” Urik recalled, of that day when he and his family fled.

When we spoke back then he and his wife, children and grandchildren had taken sanctuary in Kobane, but might now be subjected to another uprooting should Turkish forces advance on the city.

In the wake of the offensive against Afrin, ironically named Operation Olive Branch, Turkey began resettling displaced Syrian Arabs in vacated Kurdish homes in a clear bid to radically alter that region’s long-established Kurdish-majority demographic. Any new effort by Turkey to push out the Syrian Kurds and repopulates the area with Arab refugees would in effect constitute an act of ethnic cleansing.

It would though appeal to some Turkish voters who have piled pressure on Erdogan of late not least over the issue of Syrian refugees living on their soil.

While Turkey says that it has not forcibly returned any refugees, there have been multiple reports by human rights groups over the last few months of large-scale forcible deportations.

Following what they experienced in Afrin last year the Kurdish-led SDF and its affiliate militia the People’s Protection Units (YPG), are reported to have been honing their guerrilla skills in preparation for the fight with Turkish forces. Last Wednesday the SDF issued a general mobilisation in the autonomous region of Rojava, the Kurdish name for the region, urging civilians to head toward the border “to carry out their moral duty and show resistance”.

Pressured from all sides and with limited military resources and personnel, the Kurds and SDF will be hard-pressed to maintain the prisons and camps where tens of thousands of IS detainees are kept.

At least three prisons are in the vicinity of continuing Turkish airstrikes. But long before Trump’s green-lighting of the current Turkish offensive, observers warned of such a crisis arsing and its capacity to help re-galvanise IS as a fighting force. Those fears of an IS resurgence are now a stark reality.

On Friday, just as five IS fighters escaped from a Kurdish-run prison, the jihadi group also claimed responsibility for a car bomb that exploded in the regional capital Qamishli. Few analysts doubt that IS fighters, many of whom remain at large despite Trump’s claims to have defeated them, will be closely watching the fighting between Turkish and Kurdish troops in north-eastern Syria.

Plans most likely have been drawn up by IS sleeper cells and others waiting for a chance to break thousands of fighters, and tens of thousands of family members, out of Kurdish prisons, according to former members of the group, Western intelligence officials and Kurdish commanders.

Abu Ahmed al Halabi fought alongside IS and its predecessor groups from 2012 until 2015 before quitting the group over its brutal treatment of other Syrian rebel groups in his hometown of Tal Riffat, outside of Aleppo.

Although not in contact with the group any longer, he’s currently fighting in Idlib Province for a non-jihadist rebel group.

He told the US online news outlet Business Insider that the group is deeply experienced in prison breaks and that its men will have organised while they were detained.

“Daesh will be organised inside the prisons and ready to attack the guards and escape,” Abu Ahmed said using the commonly used Arab acronym for IS.

“Outside the prisons, Daesh will be watching the guards and defences and planning an attack, at any of these prisons they know they can get an entire battalion of fighters if they succeed. They have people watching right now waiting for a chance,” Business insider quoted him as saying.

Over and above these immediate threats there is also now of course the possibility of a longer-term shift in the dynamics of the Syrian war, especially if Turkey becomes more entrenched in the conflict as a result of its current offensive.

“Turkey has no shortage of adversaries who would quietly fund and supply a guerrilla campaign in north-east Syria,” says Micha’el Tanchum, a senior fellow at Vienna-based think tank the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy.

“However, the greatest threat would be concurrent guerrilla campaigns against Turkey in northern Syria and southern Turkey,” Tanchum told independent Turkish news outlet Ahval a few days ago.

What happens next very much depends on the scale and determination with which Turkey will pursue its offensive in the face of international condemnation and belated US threats of sanctions.

If there’s one thing certain however about events of the past week it’s that Donald Trump as usual miscalculated badly and it’s the Kurds who will pay the ultimate price. Once again the Martyrs Cemetery in Kobane along with others might have many more graves.

In a worst-case scenario, the Syrian Kurds could face a bloodbath, war crimes and hostilities with Turkey that could last for years to come.

As Brett McGurk, the former special US presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter IS aptly put it last week: “The value of an American handshake is depreciating.”