The People’s Democratic Party’s (HDP’s) MP and co-spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Hişyar Özsoy, spoke to Medya News in a podcast interview and discussed various troubling aspects of the war motion that has been passed in Turkey’s parliament.
A motion authorising Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to conduct cross-border military operations in Iraq and Syria for a further two years was passed in the Turkish parliament on Tuesday. Soon after, it was reported that Turkey had deployed two-hundred military vehicles in northern Syria.
Whilst the representatives of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), its coalition partner the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the opposition Good Party (İyi Parti) voted in favour of the motion, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the socialist Labour Party of Turkey (TİP) voted against.
Özsoy said in his speech before the vote that there was no logic in claiming that Turkey’s cross-border military operations in Syria were conducted in self-defence. He referred to findings provided by ACLED, an international project monitoring and analysing armed conflicts throughout the world.
“The attacks by Turkey in Syrian soil amount up to around (…) 3,400 attacks between January 2017 and August 2020, carried out by Turkey and its proxies,” he said. “They say there’s a security threat against us from that country, that this is the reason for all the military build-up. Mathematically, this is quite baseless.”
Özsoy, before the vote on the war motion, also challenged the claim by the Turkish administration that a military presence in Syria would serve to prevent, as it described it, ‘new waves’ of refugees: “We have refugees exactly because of our military presence there. If we don’t stop this war, if Syria isn’t able to rebuild itself, it is only natural that people will be coming here.
“You are tearing these people’s country of apart. Where do you suppose they’ll go? This war motion, this policy of war, means more and more refugees coming to Turkey.”
Özsoy also stated that the military operations under the pretence of fighting terror, both in Iraq and in Syria, were carried out with the main objective of destroying the political gains of the Kurdish people.
“‘Fighting terror,’ in this context, actually means saying, ‘I do not recognise the Kurdish Question.’ And it also means saying, ‘Even if I do recognise it, I don’t have the political will to resolve it,’” Özsoy said.
With the war motion having been passed, I asked Özsoy how he thought the ‘international community,’ led by the USA and NATO countries might react (noting that Turkey is a NATO member), and also how Russia, the Arab states, China, the European Union and other political entities and administrations in the region might react.
I also asked him about the stance of the CHP and what the repercussions of the war motion and President Erdoğan’s initiatives might be, as well as what was the significance, if any, of peoples, civil society and other protests and mobilisations in the US and Europe towards potentially holding their governments to account ethically and politically.
Relying on sources, I noted in the podcast that Bloomberg has just reported that, “in a tactic to prevent Moscow from openly opposing Turkey’s war plans, Turkish forces may withdraw from a few areas south of the strategic M-4 highway that forms Idlib’s southern border [in Syria], the officials said. Elena Suponina, a Moscow-based Middle East analyst, told Bloomberg that even though Moscow is against such a new offensive, ‘still, the most Russia will do is to criticise the offensive – it won’t actually try to stop it from happening. That’s probably enough for the Turks,’” she concluded, to proceed with new military operations and incursions.
On Wednesday, a day after the war motion was passed in Turkey, China’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations also targeted Turkey in his speech at the United Nations Security Council’s Syria session, making serious accusations, including accusing Turkey of an ‘illegal invasion of Syria’.
İlham Ehmed, the president of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the governing body of AANES, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (also known as Rojava) also suggested the areas around Tall Rifat, Kobanê or Manbij (Minbic) could [now] be the next targets of the Turkish state. Ehmed, as reported by Hawar News Agency and Medya News, said the threat posed by Turkey against AANES “was part of the policy embedded in the foundational ideology of the Turkish Republic. ‘The threats of Turkey against Rojava cannot be evaluated as a temporary, conjunctural rhetoric,’ she said.
“‘This is a fundamental approach that is embedded in the foundation of Turkey. And it’s not only a matter of threats posed against the region in North and East Syria. These threats and attacks are actually a part of the genocidal policy targeting all the Kurds. It’s a long term strategy of the Turkish Republic,’” she said.
Özsoy: ‘The CHP’s vote against the motion was not a particularly peaceful approach to the Kurdish Question’
Özsoy, in the podcast, expressed the following concerns and also shared the following observations. In voting against the war motion, he noted that “the CHP doesn’t want to share the responsibility for the kinds of atrocities that are happening in Syria, that have been happening in Syria. [But their vote ‘against’ the motion] is not going to change much because the motion passed and President Erdoğan now has the authority to declare war, actually, in Syria and in Iraq.
“But at the same time, the CHP is an important political party: it is the main opposition (…) and it is the party that is leading the main opposition bloc in Turkey. So in that sense, we can talk (…) of a rupture here, or a rift, or a contradiction within the ruling Turkish bloc. (…) And let’s hope that the CHP will take a more peaceful approach to the Kurdish issue both at home and also in Syria and in Iraq.” But he was not hopeful that this would be the case.
Although citing 14 reasons to justify its vote opposing the motion, “I think the main justification”, Özsoy observed, its “main argument, is that President Erdogan may use this motion, this authority, to kind of poison the political climate in Turkey before the elections.
“He can declare a war in Syria and he can delay the elections, undermine them, manipulate them. This is a lot of power: you are giving all war-making powers to a single president who is also going to be the candidate for the presidential elections and will definitely try to use this against the opposition, so that was the main rationale for the CHP to oppose this motion.”
“Of course,” he noted, “[we as the HDP] will try our best to oppose another invasion in Turkey, in the diplomatic field, or in our cities, in our towns, everywhere. Unfortunately, in the past, we haven’t been able to, of course, stop this, although there were forms of resistance. But we do not expect a kind of broader mobilisation in Turkey – the participation, for example, of the CHP people, or other Turkish people. No, the CHP” has “been supportive of Turkey’s ‘Kurdish policy,’ which is criminalising and terrorising most of the Kurdish demands, in Rojava as well.
“So, in that sense, the CHP’s vote against the motion was not a particularly peaceful approach to the Kurdish Question. The CHP only is suspicious of the fact that Erdogan may use these authorities against the opposition. And so, the CHP is not happy with Erdogan’s general policy on Syria, on Assad, on Damascus.
“But when it comes to Turkey’s, and the Turkish military’s, attacks on the Kurdish militants, in Iraq, in Syria, wherever,” he observed that “the CHP has been fully supportive of the government. So, in that sense, I think, with respect to the way they approach the Kurdish issue, there is not that much difference. So, the CHP voted against this motion not because they are sympathetic to the Kurdish cause, or the Kurdish events, I should say, but there are other kinds of disagreements within the Turkish ruling bloc.”
Özsoy: ‘I wouldn’t expect too much from the international community’
Özsoy stated that “when it comes to the ‘international community,’ there has been some criticism against Turkey in the past, about Turkey’s military incursions into northern Syria, but to be honest, mostly the ‘international community’ has turned a ‘blind eye’ to the kinds of atrocities that have been committed by the proxy forces of Turkey and sometimes the Turkish army itself.
“And the reason [for that] is, of course, mostly the ‘refugee crisis,’ I would say. Syria is equated with millions of people, on the move, trying to reach European countries. Europe, they just don’t like the idea of having a lot of ‘refugees’ and Turkey has been keeping ‘those people’ away from Europe and Turkey has also been threatening European countries that if they want Turkey to still keep those refugees, then they should be ‘okay’ with Turkey’s military adventures in Syria.
“And that is what happened, unfortunately. The Europeans cut a deal with president Erdoğan in 2016 and between 2017-19, there were three different military incursions in Kurdish territories and mostly, mostly, the western community has remained silent on this issue.
“And so, if Erdoğan wages another attack, another invasion into Syria, I don’t think that much will change in the ‘international community.’ There will be statements of ‘concern,’ that they’re ‘worried’ about the ‘situation,’ that ‘things should be de-escalated,’ those kinds of standard meaningless kinds of words that they put together always, rubbish statements of concern. Not even ‘condemnation,’ if you remember. NATO and the United Nations couldn’t even issue a statement of ‘condemnation’ when Turkey attacked Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî in 2019.
“So, ultimately, they perceive Turkey as a member of NATO, and of course they prefer Turkey over Iran or Russia and Syria. You see, I think the logic here is, although they are unhappy with Turkey’s kind of quite ‘unexpected’ moves, at the same time, they make their calculations well. I mean, Turkey is a ‘member of NATO,’ it is a part of a kind of ‘security apparatus’ of the west, both Europe and the United States. And although they are ‘unhappy’ with President Erdoğan and some of his actions, whims and whatever, still they want Turkey to be the kind of ‘regional security’ in the Middle East.
“And they have,” in this context, he argued, “been supporting Turkey. For example, in Idlib province [in Syria], which is now dominated by Ahrar al-Sham, which is a listed ‘terrorist’ organisation, listed by the United States, Europe and the United Nations as well as Turkey, but both Turkey and the US – and a lot of NATO members – are actually protecting Ahrar al-Sham in Idlib. That is a very bizarre situation. Turkey, a ‘member of NATO,’ is protecting a ‘terrorist organisation’ that is dominating Idlib.
“Plus, Turkish Lira (TL) is used in Idlib to pay the salaries of staff. It’s very interesting because the United States enforced Caesar sanctions on Syria [i.e., via the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, also known as the Caesar Act] but in order to save Idlib from those sanctions, they just simply stopped using Syrian dinars, Syrian currency, and they switched to the Turkish currency. And it seems that Turkey actually gave them back Turkish Liras.
“So, given all of this,” Özsoy observed, “I wouldn’t expect too much from the ‘international community’ and by that, specifically, I mean the executive branches of that ‘international community,’ not the people, not the parliaments, not the media.”
Whilst the executive branches of the ‘international community’ failed to act to stop the attacks by the Turkish state and its proxies in Afrin, in Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî and “western governments mostly remain[ed] silent,” he noted that “western people, the ordinary people in the United States, even the churches were mobilised, journalists, MPs, members of Congress, everybody was there: they were supporting the Kurdish people, and so I think we need to somehow distinguish between, on the one hand, those who are in power in the west and in the ‘international community’ there, the governments or those who are affiliated with NATO or whatever or the EU, that is one thing, that is ‘the governing apparatus’ and they mostly side with the official Turkish arguments, and yet when you look at the people, and the parliaments and civil society, the media and academics and the general population, they are more sympathetic with the Kurdish cause and the Kurdish fight against ISIS in Syria.”
In this context, he added: “So that is why if you want a change in the kind of attitude of the ‘international community,’ we really need to mobilise all of our relationships in the international community, particularly the national parliaments, the European parliament, the parliamentary assemblies of the various institutions like NATO and the Council of Europe as well as civil society. The media, of course, is very important.
“So, we need to mobilise all of these in order to have enough pressure on the governments, so that we may have a kind of a concrete, actual, change in their attitude, in case Turkey attacks Syria, which is a very likely situation, I should say.”
Özsoy: ‘The Russian authorities may actually encourage Turkey to attack some other parts’
“When it comes to Russia,” Özsoy stated: “Of course, they don’t care anything about rights, and the law or anything: Russia has been playing Turkey against NATO, and Turkey has been trying to play Russia against NATO and the United States, and Turkey’s main objective, main goal, is to destroy the possibility of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria. That is the main objective.
“And they couldn’t do that with the support of the United States and the west in general, and then they switched sides and started getting closer with Russia, who definitely is the most important international actor in Syria now, militarily as well, and so cutting a deal with the Russians, they first invaded Afrin and also they [took] Girê Spî and Serêkaniyê, those areas too.
“In fact, the Russians were actually encouraging Turkey to move into Syrian territories, as a pressure on the Kurds, so that the Kurds are forced to cut a deal with Assad. That is the rationale there.
“And it seems that now, although Turkey wants to attack the Tall Rifat region, which is very close to Aleppo, neither Russia nor the Syrian regime or the Iranian forces there, I don’t think they will be happy with such a move because while they are trying to solve the ‘Idlib Question,’ I don’t think they would let Turkey have another military front, very close to Aleppo, which is a very, very crucial site.
“But at the same time, the Russian authorities may actually encourage Turkey to attack some other parts. This may be Manbij (Minbic), maybe some other place on the other side of the Euphrates, on the eastern side of the Euphrates, somewhere in Rojava. That is very likely.
“Russia can do that but if Turkey wants to attack the other side of the Euphrates, I mean in areas close to Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî, then they also need to kind of negotiate with the Americans who also have some military presence there as well.”
Özsoy: ‘If Turkey attacks, will the Americans confront Turkey? I think that is the main question’
In this context, Özsoy contended that, “on this western side of the Euphrates, they need to negotiate with Russia; on the other side, they need to negotiate both with Russia and the United States. And so, until now, the United States made it clear that they didn’t want another attack, another Turkish aggression.
“In fact, very recently, the American authorities very openly said that Turkey’s military actions are making it very difficult for them to defeat ISIS in Syria. This was openly said by the White House. But at the same time, if Turkey attacks, will the Americans confront Turkey? I think that is the main question.
“Will NATO’s leading actor, the United States, be challenging and confronting militarily another NATO member in Syria, for the Kurds? That’s a big question. And so, we don’t know really what Turkey, what Erdoğan, talked with President Putin and Biden when he last met them because they were in closed rooms [i.e., closed sessions], not even ministers were allowed into that room.
“We don’t really know what happened there but I can assure you that if they find enough space for another invasion, Turkey will not hesitate even for one second. Because they want to completely wipe out the Rojava project because they view another Kurdish region in the Middle East as the main national security threat to the very foundation, the very existence, of the Turkish republic. So, in that sense, they are very aggressive.”
Özsoy: ‘Turkey needs to talk to the Kurdish movement, including Mr Abdullah Ocalan and the PKK’
Özsoy noted that, “as the HDP, we have always, of course, been working against Turkey’s military interventions into Syria or into Iraq because we think that Turkey is doing all of these irrational moves in an attempt to suppress the ‘Kurdish Question.’ But the so-called ‘Kurdish issue’ is not based in Syria or in Iraq.
“There are more than 20 million Kurdish people who live within Turkey. The main Kurdish problem actually is here, it is in Turkey. So without addressing this issue, which is fundamentally an ethno-political issue, (…) it’s a national question here. Without addressing this question in a peaceful and political way, Turkey is not going to get anything just by invading certain territories in Rojava or in southern Kurdistan and bombing Kurdish mountains and killing some people here and there. It’s not going to resolve anything.”
He added: “The Kurdish issue is not a military or security issue. It is fundamentally a political issue. It should be treated, as such. And there is only one way out of this vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence that we have been experiencing.
“Turkey needs to talk to the Kurdish movement, including Mr Abdullah Öcalan and the PKK and they need to negotiate their differences and try to find a kind of integrated solution to this problem, by which I mean, Turkey needs to rearrange its relations, not just with the Kurds in Syria or the Kurds in Iraq but fundamentally with the Kurds who are already the citizens of Turkey. So, this is our approach mainly.”
Özsoy: ‘There is still time and space to have an exit strategy from Syria’
Although earlier in the interview he discussed the possibility that if Turkey is pushing for a definite intervention “the Russian authorities may actually encourage Turkey to attack some other parts” of Rojava rather than see a new Turkish military front emerge near Aleppo, and although this new war motion has been passed in Turkey allowing for another two years of intervention, Özsoy also noted that other factors may come into play which could alter the situation. It can also be argued, he noted, that “the kind of space for Turkey to act is kind of narrowing down.
“Why? Because until relatively recently, there were stark differences between the Russian and American positions in Syria but it now seems that Russian and American authorities are actually negotiating.
“It seems that they both want to kind of put an end to this conflict, to the Syrian conflict, at some point. So there are all kinds of negotiations and the Americans do not want to remove Assad any more but they don’t want him to be very, very powerful – that is the other issue.
“And so, now, the only party that doesn’t want to end this war is Turkey. Turkey doesn’t want to end this war: in fact, they are trying to open new military fronts. (…) Turkey is still trying to use differences both within NATO and between NATO and Russia, but now, it seems to me, that Russia and the United States – because they are negotiating – also with the inclusion of Israel, this is also a rather recent development, and this is somehow narrowing down the space for manoeuver for Turkey.
“Because Turkey was using one against the other. But what if both sides agree to speed up the political process and try to address this issue in a political way? That is why, I think, China, Russia, and the United States – almost all of them – are somehow raising their voice against Turkey. Some are saying Turkey ‘is an occupying power,’ Turkey ‘needs to leave.’ The Americans are saying that Turkey is complicating things on the ground. The Russians are not happy with Turkey – there are all these kinds of multiple pressures. Of course, Assad is not happy with the situation.
“And the other thing is, Syria is also getting reintegrated into the international and regional community – for example, very recently, it was included in Interpol, an interesting development. (…)
“Turkey is now just trying to find space for the kind of proxy forces that it has been feeding over the last years, the last five, six, seven years, and also they are trying to destroy the Rojava project. That is Turkey’s main issue.
“[But] given this situation, I think Turkey is going to be in a much more difficult position in the future.
“Our main suggestion, advice to them,” that is, from the HDP, Özsoy clarified, “was that there is still time and space to have an exit strategy from Syria. Turkey is an important country in the region. It does have a lot of institutional resources, experience, historical legacy, and if they want to, they can definitely, definitely help the peoples of Syria to stabilise their country, to repair it, to rebuild the country.
“And that is going to address the ‘refugee issue,’ that is going to address Turkey’s ‘security challenges’ as well. If they want to. [But] it seems that Turkey doesn’t want to use its institutional means, its diplomatic means, or other means for a political settlement of the question in Syria.”
Özsoy contended that “if they don’t get out of Syria now,” however, “I think, in the future, in a couple of years, Turkey may be in a much more difficult situation as their policy now, definitely, is not sustainable.”
In terms of how further military adventurism by Turkey in Syria and Iraq can be halted (together with all the attendant social, political and economic destabilisation impacts that will have, not just in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, the wider Middle East but also in the United States and the EU and world markets), Özsoy concluded by saying: “The only thing that will deter Turkey from doing such a thing would be the presence of European or American troops on the ground, boots on the ground.
“And that is how, if you remember, Trump somehow gave the ‘green light’ to Turkey – he simply withdrew, not many actually, they were only a handful of American troops there, but it was a deterrence for Turkey. He [Erdoğan] didn’t want to kill American soldiers: I mean, you don’t kill American soldiers as a member of NATO.
“So that was” and is “the challenge: I mean, if the Americans want it, or the Europeans, there are practical ways of doing it” – i.e., not allowing a further military operation – “but if Turkey starts attacking those territories, and there definitely will be resistance from Kurdish forces, maybe even by the Syrian regime, but would that be enough to stop [it] if Turkey also has the air power, through F-16’s and other heavy weapons if they use them as well?”
If the US fails to directly confront Turkish aggression by placing ‘boots on the ground’ or directly confronting Erdoğan and telling him not to proceed, another military intervention and major operation by Turkey is quite possible: “So, in that sense, I think, the United States and European countries may not be happy with it: they may even ‘condemn’ or maybe even impose some sanctions, which they did – I mean the last time, nine members of NATO actually imposed sanctions on arms sales, including the UK and France and Germany too – but that’s going to take some time.
“So, in that sense, I think Turkey has tested this before and they have done it against the ‘international community’ and there were not so many big consequences. I think that’s the challenge.
“Let’s see what going to happen but, definitely, everybody should get prepared that if Erdoğan finds the opportunity, he will seize that opportunity. He will use that opportunity.
“And before the elections, he wants to actually present himself as a hero. So, every couple of years, he needs to attack the Kurds and somehow mobilise the Turkish racist nationalist masses there. Is it going to save him in the elections? I’m not so sure about that. That’s a different issue. He invaded three times, certain parts of Rojava. But he is losing power. You see, that’s how memory works. People forget.
“But, definitely, Erdogan will be trying to use such an invasion for electoral purposes, and we will do our best, even if we may not be able to stop this irrational, crazy attack. But definitely, there will be resistance.”
Desmond Fernandes is a former Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at De Montfort University and the author of several books, including ‘The Kurdish and Armenian Genocides: from Censorship and Denial to Recognition?’ He has written a number of articles and book chapters focusing upon the linguistic genocide of Kurds and the criminalisation of the Kurdish diaspora, most recently for the International Journal of the Sociology of Language, Genocide Studies and Prevention, The Kurdish Question and the ‘Routledge Handbook on the Kurds.’