Turkey has recently launched an offensive in the northeast regions of Syria. The area was controlled by Syrian Democratic Forces, which is an alliance that was formed to fight against ISIS. The operation drew heavy criticism from almost all of the countries and Western public. Many countries condemned Turkey’s so called aggressive actions and suspended their arms sales in order to prevent them from being used in the conflict zones. Some people called their governments to stop “Turkish barbarians from practicing a genocide in the region”. American people were almost completely united to condemn President Trump for betraying their “Kurdish allies”, and leaving them vulnerable to “Turkish assaults”.
A Quick “Who is Who?”
The leading group in the SDF has been PYD and its military wing, YPG. Turkey, together with its allies in NATO and the European Union, consider YPG as an offshoot of Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK. PKK has led a bloody insurgency in Turkey since its foundation in 1978, causing the death of more than 40.000 people. YPG and PYD, the political party that it is alleged to, are both members of the umbrella organisation KCK. KCK, is the umbrella organisation of groups that are loyal to and influenced by the ideas of Abdullah Ocalan, founder of the PKK who is serving a lifetime sentence due to his leadership of terrorist activities from 1978 until his capture in 1999. Ocalan was captured after a joint operation of Turkish, US and Israeli intelligence services. Mazloum Abdi or Sahin Cilo, noms de guerre of Ferhat Abdi Sahin, is the commander of chief of SDF forces currently. He used to be one of the top commanders of PKK and accused of giving the order of the Aktutun Raid in 2008, which resulted in the death of 17 Turkish soldiers. When the links between SDF and PKK are so clear, attitude of her Western partners towards Turkey creates resentment among Turkish people.
Who is PKK, really?
PKK/SDF is not the sole and legitimate representative of the Kurdish people. Numerous public research show that vast majority of the Kurdish people do not sympathise with PKK, do not demand independence and have consent in being a Turkish citizen. PKK has caused the death of several Kurdish citizens in Turkey, aside from thousands of soldiers. The organisation is known for its strict hierarchical structure and intra-group executions. Many confessors admitted that rape and sexual abuse were regular practices within the group. The group effectively used suicide bombers, targeting police and military targets. The organisation carried out several mass killings and massacres, which included civilian women and children. Human Rights Watch claims there were 768 extrajudicial killings of civilians and 360 people were killed in civilian massacres in 1992-1995. Bloody attacks by TAK, another offshoot organisation of PKK, in the city centres of Turkey caused the death of hundreds of civilian citizens, as recent as 2016. These memories are still fresh among the minds of Turkish people.
How did PKK/YPG’s fight against ISIS come to play?
Sympathy towards PKK and their Syrian branch took shape during the Syrian Civil War. Beyond left-wing/socialist circles, legitimacy of PKK/YPG in the Western public is derived from the fact that they have fought against ISIS. Yet, this picture is far away from reflecting the truth. Main objective of PKK/YPG has never been to fight against ISIS or any type of Islamic terrorism. This organisation aims to strengthen its control in the Northeastern Syria and gain autonomy. When the Syrian Civil War started in 2011, Syrian government decided to concentrate its forces on the Western part of the country. This meant that they tactically abandoned the rest of the country to the rebels, including the Northeast. PKK/YPG gained ground in the region thanks to that power vacuum. When ISIS started to emerge, the area that they claim and PKK/YPG controlled zones were overlapping. YPG had no other chance to defend themselves and fight ISIS, when one of the bloodiest and unnegotiable terrorist organisations decided to attack them. US decided to support YPG since they wanted to fight ISIS with the minimum casualties. Therefore, it does not make sense to glorify YPG just because they have fought against ISIS. Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra and Taliban have also fought against ISIS, however that does not legitimise them. On the other hand, Turkey have been an active member of Global Coalition to Counter ISIS. ISIS carried out some of its bloodiest attacks in Turkish cities, simultaneously with PKK. Turkish army participated in and led military operations in Northern Iraq and Syria against ISIS. Hundreds of Turkish soldiers lost their lives fighting against ISIS. There are some concerns regarding the attitude of Turkish-supported Syrian National Army forces towards the civilians. Some accuse them of committing war crimes. Turkish Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said to the CNN that they are sensitive about the issue and will investigate any alleged war crimes
Trump’s Recent Move
As for Trump, the deal is not as meaningless as many argue. US President promised to pull back US soldiers from the “unending and meaningless wars” in the Middle East. Reason for the presence of US soldiers in Syria, was to support YPG in their fight against ISIS. Since ISIS is more or less destroyed and does not constitute a major threat any more, there is no reason left for US soldiers to be present in the field. Besides, there is no reason left to support YPG as well, since US does not sympathise with their aim of establishing an autonomous administration in Syria. During the negotiations before the Operation Peace Spring, Turkey promised to take the responsibility of keeping the fight against any possible ISIS emergence and to keep the ISIS prisoners under control. It is a reasonable choice for US to leave the fight to a NATO ally and abandon the region.
A Last Word
Being critical towards the government in Turkey for several reasons is one thing, this is what most of the Turkish people currently do as well. However, undermining Turkey’s legitimate security concerns and befriending a terrorist organisation that has caused indescribable pain in Turkey is not tolerable. Governments come and go, but failing in empathizing with Turkish people would push the country further towards its alternative foreign policy options. This attitude would foster anti-Western sentiments in Turkey, which would most probably harm its democracy. Western governments and the public should be friendlier and more understanding towards Turkey, otherwise they will probably lose an ally.
Photo is taken from: https://www.yeniasya.com.tr/politika/trump-erdogan-a-tesekkur-etmek-istiyorum_503578
Bu yazı Edinburgh Political Union’un çıkardığı Leviathan dergisi için yazılmıştır. Barış Pınarı Harekatı’nın başlamasından sonra Batı medyasında eşine az rastlanır bir dezenformasyon ve propaganda kampanyası yürütülmüştür. Yazıda Türkiye aleyhine ileri sürülen argümanların temelsizliği gösterilerek, NATO ülkeleri ile Türkiye arasındaki stratejik ortaklığın geliştirilmesinin zarureti öne sürülmüştür. Aksi halde, yürütülen kampanyanım Türkiye’de toplumun neredeyse her kesiminde Batı düşmanlığı körüklemekten başka bir işe yaramayacağa gösterilmeye çalışılmıştır.