After elections, Erdogan turns his attention to Syria
ISTANBUL - With local elections behind him, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is turning his attention to Syria, renewing a pledge to send troops over the border to create a buffer zone and push back Kurdish fighters.
The 65-year-old leader has been saying for months that his troops are ready to move against the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia that Ankara regards as a terrorist group and whose presence on the Syrian side of the border is described as a “terror corridor” by Erdogan and other Turkish politicians.
“With the steps that we have taken, we have shown to those who wanted to bring us to our knees with a terror corridor that this is not possible,” Erdogan said April 10. “Very soon we will send a new message to those who still cling to the same scenario in a language that they understand.”
The pro-Erdogan Takvim newspaper said that, with his speech, Erdogan had signalled the impending start of a military operation east of the Euphrates River in Syria.
Even in his first comments after local elections March 31, Erdogan had said that Turkey faced the task of “clearing away terrorist structures east of the Euphrates and [the city of] Manbij, bringing order to Syria and making sure [Syrian] refugees can return home.”
Starting last year, the Erdogan government has pushed a plan to set up a buffer zone under its control in north-eastern Syria. The YPG, a partner of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State, opposes the Turkish plan because it would force Kurdish fighters to withdraw from Kobane and other cities on the Turkish border.
Turkey has staged two previous interventions into Syria west of the Euphrates, in Jarabulus in 2016 and in Afrin last year, occupying territory previously held by the YPG.
Observers said the Afrin operation was a step by the government to boost support for Erdogan ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections that took place a few months after the intervention.
Some say a new operation east of the Euphrates could serve a similar purpose in case Erdogan wants a rerun of local elections in Istanbul after his party’s narrow defeat in the city March 31. No decision for a rerun has been announced.
Erdogan’s announcements about a forthcoming push into north-eastern Syria came as relations between the government and the legal Kurdish party in Turkey deteriorated.
Acting on a complaint by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Supreme Electoral Council in Ankara disqualified half a dozen freshly elected mayors from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The mayoral posts that were to be filled by HDP politicians will be held by AKP representatives.
Mehmet Tiryaki, an HDP representative on the election board, said the decision against his party was against the law. The move against the HDP mayors was “a political decision,” Tiryaki said by telephone.
Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim said Turkey’s attitude towards the Kurds made talks with Ankara impossible.
“Turkey views us as terrorists and it continues to threaten Kurds in south-eastern Turkey as well as northern Syria,” Muslim, a former chairman of the Democratic Union Party, the YPG’s political mother organisation, told Kurdistan24, a broadcaster in northern Iraq.
“Unless Turkey changes its view on the Kurdish people, I don’t believe there can be an opportunity for dialogue,” he said.