Is Turkey justified in attacking Kurd terrorists?

  • Turkey says it is not against Kurds

Conflicting reports are being carried by the media about Turkey and the Kurds. US President Donald Trump, who was supportive of the Kurds’ sacrifices in defeating the Daesh, apparently abandoned them prior to the Turkish military operation. However, he went on to impose sanctions on Turkish government agencies and officials in response to Turkey’s incursion into Syria, an invasion that he himself had cleared the way for by withdrawing US troops.

The US President, who is plagued by possible impeachment, may have his decision to withdraw US troops from Syria reversed by Congress. According to media reports, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, and Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump Republican ally, have agreed in a phone conversation on the need for quick action condemning Turkey’s attacks on the Kurdish fighters. Meanwhile, Russia is moving in troops to fill the vacuum left by the US withdrawal to separate warring factions.

While sifting through the chaff of varying narratives, some light is shed on the question by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in his New York Times article of 11 October, ‘Why Turkey Took the Fight to Syria’.

We Pakistanis have experienced the scourge of terrorism and our various operations ultimately led to the defeat of the terror organization; albeit our military campaign was limited to our own territory. If Turkey needs to take the fight beyond its borders to eradicate terrorism, it must be supported but this should not turn into an armed conflict with a brother Muslim state, Syria

He laments that Turkey’s military operation in northeastern Syria is being spun in the US media as an attack on Kurds, as weakening the fight against the remnants of Daesh and hurting the USA’s credibility with its allies. Mr Çavuşoğlu states that Turkey started the operation to ensure its national security by removing the danger posed by terrorists along its borders. This operation will liberate Syrians living there from the tyranny of terrorist organizations and eliminate the threat to Syria’s territorial integrity and political unity. These two developments would facilitate the safe and voluntary return of displaced Syrians. He reiterates that Turkey has never accepted a corridor run by a terrorist group on its border and has repeatedly proposed establishing a safe zone, including at the United Nations General Assembly. It has called on the USA to stop providing material support to terrorists.

Renowned journalist Pepe Escobar writes for Asia Times in his Op-Ed titled ‘Kurds face stark options after US pullback’ that “The predominant Western narrative credits the Syrian Democratic Forces, mostly Kurdish, for fighting and defeating Daesh. The SDF is essentially a collection of mercenaries working for the Pentagon against Damascus. But many Syrian citizens argue that ISIS was in fact defeated by the Syrian Arab Army, Russian aerial and technical expertise plus advisers and special forces from Iran and Hezbollah. As much as Ankara may regard the YPG Kurds and the PKK as mere “terrorists” (in the PKK’s case aligned with Washington), Operation Peace Spring has in principle nothing to do with a massacre of Kurds.

Facts on the ground will reveal whether ethnic cleansing is inbuilt in the Turkish offensive. A century ago few Kurds lived in these parts, which were populated mostly by Arabs, Armenians and Assyrians. So, this won’t qualify as ethnic cleansing on ancestral lands. But if the town of Afrin is anything to go by the consequences could be severe.”

The Turkish Foreign Minister claims that the American security bureaucracy couldn’t bring itself to disengage from the PYD/YPG. This is even though US officials, including a Defense Secretary, have admitted that the PYD/YPG, which forms the core of Syrian Democratic Forces, is inseparable from the PKK, in Turkey, which is recognized as a terrorist organization by the USA, the European Union and NATO.

The Turk narrative highlights that its US interlocutors seemed to agree that those forces needed to be removed from along its borders and Turkey had even agreed on a timeline. Most recently, military-to-military talks in August ended with a mutual commitment to establish a safe zone from which the PYD/YPG was supposed to be removed. But the USA did not see this through and gave Turkey the strong impression that it was playing for time as the terrorist group entrenched itself even deeper in Syria.

The Turkish Foreign Minister’s account here coincides with Escobar that PYD/YPG may present itself to the world as the group that fought Daesh, but Çavuşoğlu reveals that the PYD/YPG also smuggles explosives to the PKK by digging tunnels into Turkish soil. He claims to have found members of P.Y.D./Y.P.G. ushering Daesh prisoners toward Turkey. He quotes a November 2017 BBC report about a secret deal under which the Syrian Democratic Forces arranged transport and allowed hundreds of Daesh terrorists to escape during the coalition operation to liberate the city of Raqqa.

The above acts forced Turkey to launch the operation. Several voices expressed concerns about the safety of the Kurdish population in Syria. Çavuşoğlu repeats that Turkey’s fight is not against the Kurds, but against the terrorists. Any description of the situation as “Turks against Kurds” is malicious and false. Kurds are not Turkey’s enemies.

The target of the Turkish forces is the complex of terror run together by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the P.Y.D./Y.P.G., which have recruited child soldiers, intimidated dissidents, altered the demography and forced conscription in areas under their control. The Kurds, Arabs, Christians and others who have been suffering under the P.Y.D./Y.P.G. yoke will be better off when freed. The World Council of Aramaean Christians has been asserting this point insistently.

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu assures that before proceeding with this operation, Turkey has taken all steps to minimize risk to civilians and prevent a humanitarian crisis. Over the past several years, Turkey has provided shelter to large numbers of refugees from northeastern Syria, including Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens.

Most of them, including over 300,000 Kurds, were driven from their homes by the terrorists. Turkey extended to them safety, shelter and livelihood on its own soil. Çavuşoğlu informs that Turkey is the biggest humanitarian spender in the world and host to most refugees worldwide. Turkey has established a reliable pattern in the last three years. Turkey’s operations in northwestern Syria, in 2016-7 in and around Jarabulus and 2018 in Afrin, cleared a vast area of the terrorist presence. In their aftermath the communities that suffered under the terrorists started living in peace and benefiting from orderly governance. Some 365,000 refugees returned home in northwestern Syria.

Turkey also instituted public services, including schools for over 230,000 students. Six hospitals with 55 ambulances employ over 2,000 Syrian and Turkish personnel in liberated areas in northwestern Syria. Scores of recreational and sports facilities were built, including a soccer stadium. Businesses were rehabilitated and a border gate opened to facilitate trade. Agriculture and animal husbandry started receiving material support.

The Turks insist that the PKK has been blackmailing the global community by claiming that the fight against Daesh would falter without it. But the fight against those brutal terrorists will not falter, especially if its allies stay the course and cooperate with Turkey. Turkey is the only nation that put boots on the ground against Daesh.

The punchline of the article is that: “The Syrians want to go home now. They have suffered more than enough. We are taking the initiative to help create the peaceful conditions that are necessary for the homecoming of millions of refugees. Contrary to the prevailing misapprehensions, our operation will help address the humanitarian dimension of the problem, contribute to the preservation of the unity of the country and add to the political process.”

Here we should consider Moscow’s role. It had previously encouraged the Syrian Kurds to talk to Damascus to prevent a Turkish campaign, but failing that Moscow is now trying to bridge the gap between Syria and Turkey whose diplomatic ties have been severed for seven years.

We Pakistanis have experienced the scourge of terrorism and our various operations ultimately led to the defeat of the terror organization; albeit our military campaign was limited to our own territory. If Turkey needs to take the fight beyond its borders to eradicate terrorism, it must be supported but this should not turn into an armed conflict with a brother Muslim state, Syria.