Turkey up in arms over Sweden’s contacts with Syrian Kurds

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry is unhappy about contacts between two Swedish ministers and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Ankara considers a “terrorist group”.
Wednesday 21/04/2021
A 2019 file picture shows members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) attending the funeral of an Arab fighter in SDF who was killed in the eastern Deir Ezzor province. (AFP)
A 2019 file picture shows members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) attending the funeral of an Arab fighter in SDF who was killed in the eastern Deir Ezzor province. (AFP)

ANKARA - Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned Sweden’s ambassador in Ankara to protest contacts between two Swedish ministers and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Ankara considers a “terrorist group,” Turkish diplomatic sources said on Tuesday.

Turkey considers the SDF to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militia, which has waged a decades-old insurgency against the Turkish state. Ankara says the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which forms the military backbone of the SDF, is an offshoot of the PKK.

The Turkish sources said the ambassador,  Staffan Herrstrom, was summoned to the ministry over a recent videoconference between Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist and senior SDF officials including Ferhat Abdi Sahin, and added the call came shortly after contact between Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde and “terrorist elements”. Ankara was responding to footage of the meeting posted by the SDF on social media.

During the online meeting Hultqvist apparently pledged to help the SDF improve the conditions of ISIS detainees it holds in camps in Syria.

The ambassador was told that Turkey “strongly condemned” the contacts and that “Sweden’s dangerous politics were not just supporting those targeting Syria’s territorial integrity and Turkey’s security, but also amounted to clearly a violation of international law, and therefore continue to seriously harm our bilateral ties,” the sources added.

A ministry official said Sweden’s ambassador was told his country was “not only supporting those who target Syria’s territorial integrity and Turkey’s security, but is also openly violating international law and causing harm to (Turkish-Swedish) bilateral ties.”

Turkey “invited Sweden not to support terror organisations and to spend efforts toward Syria’s unity, territorial integrity and lasting stability,” the official added.

Sweden’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the summons and said the government does not meet organisations that are on the European Union’s list of terrorist organisations.

Turkey’s state agency reported “Sweden regularly sends official delegations to areas in eastern Syria occupied by the YPG/PKK for talks with terrorist ringleaders”.

It added that “ according to local sources, Sweden is setting up a contact office in the Malikkiye district of al-Hasakah province, northeastern Syria. The office, which could coordinate between the Swedish government and the terrorist group, is expected to open soon”.

Turkey has backed rebels looking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has carried out four cross-border operations into Syria against Russian-backed Syrian government forces, and Islamic State and the YPG, a key component of the US-backed SDF that helped the United States defeat Islamic State (ISIS) extremist group.

In a 2019 cross-border operation with the support of rebels, Turkey seized 120 kilometres of border territory in northeast Syria from the YPG. The offensive was widely condemned by its Western allies, but Ankara has repeatedly urged Washington and other allies to stop supporting the YPG.