Sole aim of Turkey’s attacks is to crush Kurdish aspirations

By Manish Rai

For the last few months, Turkey has been constantly attacking Northeast Syria which is under the Kurdish administration. Currently, the world is distracted from the Israel-Gaza war and the crisis in the Red Sea. Turkey sees this as a good opportunity to escalate its aggression towards Syrian Kurds on the pretext of self-defense. The recent upswing in the conflict started when nine Turkish soldiers were killed in clashes with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters in northern Iraq. Ankara responded with relentless air strikes and ground military operations in the area, as well as in northeast Syria. The PKK, a leftist armed movement, was formed in the late 1970s by its now-imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan. It has fought a bloody four-decade war against the Turkish state demanding greater autonomy for Kurds in the southeast of the country. At least 40,000 people from both sides have died since 1984. The Turkish government insists that the People’s Defense Units (YPG), a powerful Kurdish armed group mainly based in Northeast Syria, is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But the fact is that the YPG and PKK share a similar ideology, but they are separate entities with different goals.

Right from the beginning of the ongoing Syrian war, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been exploiting the conflict to further his expansionist agenda. However, Syrian Kurds are the major obstacle in Erdogan’s expansionist policy in Syria. Ankara had repeatedly tried to justify its fierce hostility towards the Kurdish forces. Turkey wants to sell a false narrative to the world that its internal security is getting threatened by the quasi-autonomous Kurdish statelet on its doorstep, dubbing it a “terror corridor” where the PKK could hide or easily attack from. Turkey has, however, failed so far to provide evidence of any Kurdish-related terror attacks carried out from Syria.

Turkish intense bombardment has damaged more than half of Kurdish-held northeast Syria’s power and oil infrastructure, dealing a blow to its energy-dependent economy. Moreover, these attacks have caused massive damage to the vital infrastructure facilities that were already in dire condition after more than a decade of war and economic crisis. The most prominent of these is the Sweidiya power station, which was the only power source supplying northeast Syria’s Jazira region with energy. The plant is currently out of service following the Turkish air raids. The supply of potable water in the region is also dependent on electricity therefore, local people are currently deprived of both the essential needs of power and water. Hence, Turkish aggression in Northeast Syria by no means is an act of self-defense; rather it’s done to punish Kurds and to curb their aspiration for autonomy.

Turkey had always been against any form of a Kurdish entity in its territory or its neighborhood. Turks took an extreme position, not only against establishing an independent Kurdish body as it did when it opposed the results of the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum in 2017, but also against Kurd’s legal rights in Turkey and Syria. Turkey has rejected the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) which the Kurds founded with other actors in the region and has also restricted the activities of the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party inside Turkey even though these are legitimate groups. The intensity of Turkey’s hatred toward the Syrian Kurds can be visualized from a recent act by Turks. Turkish authorities that control parts of northwestern Syria refused for seven days to allow for the transport of humanitarian supplies from residents in the AANES to cross over into earthquake-affected areas of Syria.

But this is not a new policy of Turks. Since the creation of the Turkish state in 1923, the Kurdish minority has been subject to repression and marginalization. In the past, this has included a ban on the Kurdish language, and severe repression of any expression of Kurdish identity, such as the celebration of the Kurdish festival of Nowruz. Indeed, the Turkish state for a long time denied the existence of the Kurds as an ethnic group, describing them as “mountain Turks”. That’s why Turkish authorities can’t tolerate that in their immediate neighbourhood the Kurds are empowering themselves. Hence for several years, Turkey has been trying hard to destroy Rojava now called AANES, a Kurdish-led enclave. Also, the Turkish government wants to eliminate the region’s revolutionary Syrian Kurds, who have created an autonomous region inside Syria while providing a model of self-government for Turkey’s minority Kurdish population.

Unfortunately, northeastern Syria, previously one of the most stable regions in the war-ravaged country, has become a warzone because of Turkey’s eliminationist policies towards Kurdish minorities. Turkey, with NATO’s second-largest army, has a nearly free hand to do as it wishes in the region as long as the international community remains passive. The current crisis in northeast Syria requires a concerted effort from international actors. Otherwise, if the current situation persists, the consequences will be felt beyond the region and it may include the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians and the resurgence of ISIS and other similar groups that can pose a threat to global national security.

(Author is a columnist for Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of the geo-political news agency ViewsAround can be reached at [email protected])