SOME THOUGHTS ON TURKEY’S MILITARY OPERATION TOWARDS SYRIA

upa-admin 15 Ekim 2019 451 Okunma 0
SOME THOUGHTS ON TURKEY’S MILITARY OPERATION TOWARDS SYRIA

Introduction

Turkey’s Operation “Peace Spring” (Barış Pınarı) was initiated by Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) on October 9, 2019 upon the decision taken by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Accordingly, on Wednesday, starting from 4.30 pm, Turkish artilleries and F-16 jets began to bomb territories occupied by PYD/YPG forces in Syria. Turkey designates these groups as terrorist organizations and offshoots of PKK, a pro-Kurdish Marxist/Leninist group that Ankara fights against since the early 1980s and internationally accepted as a terrorist organization. On Wednesday, starting from 10.00 pm, Turkish Special Forces also began to pass Turkish-Syrian border in order to take control in Syrian cities situated in the eastern part of the Euphrates (Fırat) River and occupied by terrorist groups.

A week after the operation started, Turkish soldiers successfully seized control in Ras al-Ayn (Resulayn) and Tel Abyad. Most recently, Turkish Army also took control of the strategic M4 highway, which connects the Syrian districts of Manbij (Münbiç) and Qamishli (Kamışlı).[1] Turkish Special Forces are now marching towards Manbij (Münbiç) and Ayn al-Arab (Kobani). Almost 600 terrorists were killed according to Turkish sources.[2] However, during the armed clashes between Turkish Army and terrorist groups, two Turkish soldiers were also killed. Unfortunately, due to artillery fire from Syrian soil, 18 Turkish civilians died as well. The operation is conducted within the safe zone (güvenli bölge) that was previously agreed by Turkish President Erdoğan and the U.S. President Donald Trump. Turkish authorities including Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu claims that Turkey’s aim is limited to conduct the operation within the safe zone. However, upon the decision taken by the United States to remove all troops from Syria (a decision recently announced by U.S. Secretary of State Mark Esper[3]), Turkish incursion into Syria could deepen and include some cities on the western part of the Euphrates River as well. Turkish Defense Minister and former Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar says that they show utmost attention for the protection of Kurdish and Arab civilians, historical sites, and the environment and that is why they started the operation in the morning.[4] Akar also claims YPG released ISIS terrorists from prison before Turkish soldiers arrived.[5] International press on the other hand is concerned about civilian casualties and new waves of migration from Kurdish villages. [6]

A graph showing Turkey’s military operation

Legality of the Operation

Turkey defends the Operation Peace Spring on the basis of the article 51 of the United Nations (UN) Treaty. This article states that “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.” As a member of UN, Turkey has been attacked by ISIS and YPG/PYD terrorists several times before. Moreover, Syrian state forces also conducted some terrorist attacks towards Ankara in the recent past.[7] As the Syrian government is unable to control its own territories, Turkey claims that it has right to interfere and destroy terrorist groups. That is why; the operation seems legal and legitimate unless the UN Security Council adopts a resolution condemning Turkish incursion into Syria. So far, two attempts to condemn and stop Turkish operation were prevented by the U.S., which vetoed the first bill and Russia, which vetoed both of the bills. However, if the operation deepens and civilian casualties increase, there might a UN Security Council resolution against Turkey. Here, Russia’s attitude will be crucial and decisive.

Reactions against Turkey

U.S. President Donald Trump seems critical of Turkish incursion into Syria with the view that this might turn into a war against all Syrian Kurds. Trump most recently asked for ceasefire and ordered sanctions against Ankara due to escalation of violence.[8] European Union (EU) officials and European leaders and foreign ministers are also critical of Turkish incursion into the Syria as they do not designate YPG/PYD as terrorist groups. Moreover, some European countries started to implement arms embargos against Turkey although they failed to agree on a bloc-wide arms embargo.[9] Arab League also condemned Turkey and described Turkish military involvement in Syria as “invasion”.[10] Only Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Spain, Hungary, Venezuela and Qatar declared support for Operation “Peace Spring”.

As far as I am concerned, criticism and anxities about Turkish military operation into Syria do not reflect reality since Turkish soldiers are among the brightest personnel within NATO troops as their previous success in Afghanistan proves. After the military operation, I sincerely believe that Turkish authorities will rebuild Syrian cities and make life conditions much better for Syrian Kurds and all Syrians. In addition, among 4 million Syrian migrants in Turkey, those who want to return to their country will also be helped by the Turkish State. A retired Turkish lieutenant general İsmail Hakkı Pekin claims that Turkish military presence in Syria might last for 7-8 years[11] since return to constitutional order would not be immediate and easy. However, American experience in Iraq shows that defeating a weak army or a terrorist group is much easier than rebuilding a country and bringing order and stability. But I still believe that Turkish Army will provide a new and good example of military involvement in a foreign country by improving life conditions there. In addition, Turkish diplomacy and politicians should do much more to prove the links between PKK and YPG/PYD groups in order to convince its Western allies about the legitimacy of the military move. Moreover, Turkey should be able to gain or create some Kurdish allies in order to prove the world that it is not waging a war against all Kurds, but rather against a terrorist network.

Implications for Turkey’s Domestic Politics

The operation could help President Erdoğan and his Islamist-oriented AK Parti (Justice and Development Party) to consolidate right-wing nationalist and conservative voters and strengthen its alliance with the Turkish nationalist MHP (Nationalist Action Party). Due to economic crisis after the failed military coup attempt in 2016, the support for the government was in decline for a while. The governing party even lost the municipalities of three biggest cities (İstanbul, Ankara, and İzmir) to social-democratic main opposition party CHP (Republican People’s Party) few months ago. But the operation might have a refreshment effect for President Erdoğan and his party as Turkish people seems very happy after the earlier success of the Turkish Army. However, if the operation leads to further economic problems in Turkey, President Erdoğan’s decision might take criticism from some social groups including Kurds, leftists and liberals. So far, except for pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), all major political parties in Turkey including CHP, MHP and Good Party (İYİ Parti) have supported the military operation and the government’s decision.

Conclusion

Finally, I think the international public should be more hopeful about Turkey’s military operation and should trust the Turkish Army whose official ideology is based on Kemalism, a relatively softened version of Turkish nationalism which does not carry racist or ultranationalist elements. Thus, I hope Turkey will be able to gain new Kurdish friends and allies there and will help the Syrian State to make transition into a more democratic constitutional order in a few years.

 

Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ

 

 

[1] For details, see; http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/syria-op-enters-sixth-day-as-turkish-forces-take-control-of-strategic-m4-highway-147476.

[2] https://www.cnnturk.com/video/turkiye/son-dakika-baris-pinari-harekatinda-595-terorist-etkisiz-hale-getirildi.

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/13/us/politics/mark-esper-syria-kurds-turkey.html.

[4] https://www.turkiyegazetesi.com.tr/gundem/655614.aspx.

[5] https://www.sozcu.com.tr/2019/gundem/akar-operasyon-bolgemizdeki-tek-daes-hapishanesinin-bosaltildigini-gorduk-5388000/.

[6] For an example, https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-49984823.

[7] https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/turkey-nabs-key-suspect-of-2013-reyhanli-attack/1252795.

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/14/trump-asks-turkey-for-ceasefire-in-syria-as-violence-spirals-out-of-control.

[9] https://www.dw.com/en/eu-offers-measured-reaction-to-turkeys-offensive-in-syria/a-50819018.

[10] https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/arab-league-condemns-turkeys-syria-incursion-calls-un-action.

[11] https://www.independentturkish.com/node/78076/haber/t%C3%BCrkiyenin-suriye-operasyonu-ne-anlama-geliyor.

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