Turkey continues the struggle against the Kurds inside Syria

The arrest of Kurdish activists and the clashes in the north of Syria are hardening Turkey's offensive that takes advantage of the impasse of political transition in the White House
Erdogan ejército

PHOTO/PRESIDENCIAL PRESS SERVICE via AP  -   Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, centre, accompanied by Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, second from left, and Turkish Chief of Staff Yasar Guler, second from right

The Kurds are hiding from Erdogan, but Turkey is crossing the borders of Iraq and Syria to pursue its troops without much regard for the limits that separate the competences of the states. 

A marked increase of the Turkish military activity in the area between Ain Issa and Tall Tamer in the north of Syria shows the initiative of Turkey to continue to hold back the Kurds. According to media reports such as Al-Monitor, a new Turkish military concentration is underway in the region of Ain Issa, north of Raqqa, around the key road M4, which increases the possibilities of another Turkish offensive to stop the Syrian Kurds. 

Military vehicles, heavy weaponry, radar and remote surveillance equipment have been stationed in the areas that form the line of contact with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).  The Turkish government considers the SDF as "terrorists" because of their links with the guerrilla of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is active on Turkish territory. 

According to Kurdish sources, the Turkish army and allied rebel groups have established military posts in the village of Saida, north of Ain Issa, as well as in the surroundings of Tell Tamer and Zirkan. At the beginning of November, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH) reported that Turkish forces were also stationed in Kaffifa, Ain Rummana, Tina and Al-Rabea, all of them near the M4 motorway.
 

Ejército  Turquía
PHOTO/ Ministerio de Defensa turco vía AP  -   Archive photo of Friday 19 June 2020, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, centre, wearing a mask to protect himself from coronavirus, visits Turkish troops at the border with Iraq, Hakkari province, Turkey
A slow and surprise offensive that harms Turkey

Yesterday, Kurdish military sources and NGOs in the area reported more than twenty deaths in the ranks of the protest groups. On the other hand, Mervan Qamishli, one of the spokesmen of the SFD, assured Efe that there are "dozens of injured civilians" because of the attacks that took place in the city of Ain Aisa, which is controlled by the Kurdish forces. 

Although he said that he could not give definite figures "because the bombings continue until now and the ambulances cannot reach some of the villages", "This bombing is not new in this area but it is the most intense one, moreover our forces clashed with them in dozens of places in parallel to the attack", Qamishli said by phone.

The clashes between the Kurdish forces and the Syrian pro-Turkish factions are common since the latter invaded together with Turkish soldiers part of the northeast of Syria last October in an offensive that lasted two weeks.

In parallel, two car bombs exploded in areas of northern Syria controlled by Turkey that were previously dominated by the Kurds, although so far nobody has claimed responsibility for these attacks.
 

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REUTERS/SERTAC KAYAR - Pro-Kurdish HDP supporters gather to protest against the arrest of their local elected representatives in Diyarbakir, Turkey, on 25 October 2019
Turkey does not intend to go back on its border advance

After the Operation Peace Spring, the grain silos in the village Shergirak near Ain Issa became the biggest Turkish base near M4. Turkey has been strengthening both the bases and the new sites, according to the Kurdish journalist Nazim Dastan. According to reports, trenches, channels and tunnels are also being dug near Medrut, not far from Tell Abyad, Zirkan and the villages of Hoshan and Khalidiya along the M4.

Referring to Saida, which has been a kind of buffer zone for the fighting between the two sides, Dastan said: "Turkish officials met with the Russians some time ago, asking to establish a military base in Saida. The Russians' response was negative. 

In response they began digging trenches and tunnels and erecting a watchtower. They are now using the site to monitor the M4 and Ain Issa. According to Rojava, Turkey has simultaneously intensified the bombing of villages around Ain Issa and Tell Abyad. "The road has become a crossing of looting, kidnapping and intimidation" by the rebel militias aligned with Turkey, Dastan explains.
 

Detención Turquia kurdos
PHOTO/CAVIT AKGUN/DHA-DEPO PHOTO via AP - Archive photo, Turkish army officers escorting a man during the coup attempt of 15 July 2016
About 100 Kurdish activists arrested

Last week, the Turkish public prosecutor's office issued an arrest warrant for 101 people, mostly Kurdish activists and lawyers, for alleged links with the terrorist organisation Congress of Democratic Society (TDK).

All the arrested people are accused of having links with the civil organisation TDK, an assembly group of the Kurdish left that defends a decentralisation of the Kurdish regions of Turkey based on a federalist vision.

The leaders of TDK are mostly MPs or former MPs of the People's Democratic Party (HDP), with 56 MPs the third party in the Turkish parliament.

The Turkish authorities, however, consider the TDK as the "legal arm" of the Kurdish guerrilla of Turkey, the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a guerrilla present in several provinces of the South-East of the country.

HDP spokesperson Ebru Günay has denounced in a press conference in Ankara that the police operation, which she defined as "a massacre of justice", comes only days after the government promised judicial reforms and has demanded the immediate release of the arrested lawyers.
 

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AFP/DELIL SOULEIMAN - Kurdish-Syrians carry banners with images of victims as they participate in a demonstration in their de facto capital, Qamishli, on December 5, 2019 against the Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria and the alleged abuses committed by them and Turkish-trained rebels against the Kurdish population in the region.
Erdogan will continue with the anti-Kurdish struggle with or without the support of the USA

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised the possibility of a new operation since the United States is busy with the presidential transition. 

For Ankara, the USA's association with the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) is equivalent to supporting the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the armed group that has been fighting against Ankara for almost four decades. 

 "There are still terrorist areas in Syria. Either they are cleaned up as promised or we will go and do it ourselves," Erdogan warned on 3 October. 

In another warning to the international community he said that "efforts are being made to establish a terrorist state. Turkey will never allow the creation of such a state along its borders. We will do whatever is necessary to drain the terrorist quagmire". 

Turkey seems to constantly consider the idea of making more progress on the ground, even if it is on Syrian or Iraqi territory, while President Donald Trump, whose abrupt decisions have often given Erdogan opportunities to act, is worried about the transition of the White House. 

Trump's defeat seems to have altered Ankara's calculation somewhat. Erdogan's warnings have stopped since Joe Biden's victory was assured, but Turkey's military activity on the ground has accelerated.

The prospect of Turkey taking advantage of the transition turmoil in Washington to expand Operation Fountain of Peace cannot yet be ruled out. Ankara's declared enmity towards the de facto Kurdish self-government in the north of Syria remains unchanged. 

Since he discarded the process of dialogue and agreement with the Kurds in Turkey in 2015, Erdogan has invested a lot of military and defence capital in these policies, including his alliance with the nationalists of Turkey, which helped him to install the new presidential constitutional system in 2018.