Medya News Analysis
In a bid to raise his popularity domestically ahead of 2023 elections which are already being widely and passionately discussed in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan shared some controversial statements on Monday.
Speaking to the media after a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Erdoğan signalled a new military operation in Syria.
“We have run out of patience. Turkey is determined to eliminate the threats from northern Syria, either together with forces active there, or by our own means,” he said.
Critically evaluating Erdoğan’s recent visits to the United States and Russia, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Executive Duran Kalkan suggested last week that Erdoğan might have been trying to create further conflicts in North and East Syria by making requests or even demands for international support for his prospective “crazy” war plans.
Erdoğan might even wage a greater war, Kalkan had already shared as an observation: “A war with Syria or with another state so that he can proclaim martial law and create an excuse to sabotage the elections and extend his grip on power.”
Erdoğan’s speech also came just one day after two Turkish police officers were reportedly killed in the northern Syrian town of Azez, located in the north of Afrin that is controlled by Ankara and its proxies.
Interestingly, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced the attack himself on Sunday on Twitter, saying that two special forces policemen were killed by a “missile attack in Mare, which is a zone of Euphrates Shield Operation”.
Turkish officials immediately blamed the attack on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Democratic Union Party (PYD) as Soylu over emphasised and cited the names of the two parties together explicitly writing, “PKK-PYD’s missile attack”.
Just before Erdoğan’s comments, the Gaziantep governor’s office announced earlier on Monday that three mortar shells fired from across the border fell into the Turkish town of Karkamış, which lies just across the border from Jarablus.
“In the ongoing investigation it is also being evaluated that the artillery in question might have been fired from the PYD zone near to the customs,” the governor’s office said. Again, what it is noteworthy is the repeated emphasis on the ‘PYD’.
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) denied all the statements of the Turkish authorities blaming the SDF for the attack, saying that they have “Absolutely nothing to do with the mortars and that Turkey plays yet another game with such accusations”.
Turkey sees the Democratic Union Party (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat, or PYD) an exclusively Syrian Kurdish party formed in northern Syria in 2003 just before the Qamishli uprisings and People’s Defence Units (YPG), formed in 2011 to defend the Kurdish people and their homes against attacks from Jihadist gangs, as terrorist organisations linked to the PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan), a Kurdish political movement that has carried out a defensive armed struggle against the Turkish state for almost 4 decades seeking basic political and cultural rights for the Kurds in Turkey.
PYD has repeatedly and consistently denied any such links to PKK.
“We have no organisational relations with the PKK,” Salih Muslim said in a 2014 interview with the Carniege Middle East Centre.
“Lots of people say that we are separatists—we are not separatists. They accuse us of looking for [an independent nation-state of] Greater Kurdistan, but we are not. What we are trying to do is implement democracy in our lands—it could be a radical democracy for the people.”
Sparking new debates about his election strategy to raise his domestic popularity, Erdoğan’s comments have not been so surprising for critics and have been widely read as a continuum of his two-decade old strategy and insistence on pursuing an aggressive, nationalist foreign policy whenever he faces a major political setback in Ankara.
From the first campaign, dubbed “Operation Euphrates Shield” launched on 24 August 2016, until today, Turkey has launched four major military operations which continue in northern Syria.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) defined Turkey as an “occupying force in parts of Northeast Syria that it invaded in October 2019,” in it’s press release of 3 February.
With an eye on the country’s 2023 presidential election, Erdoğan’s comments come amid rising tension with the US over Turkey’s military actions in Syria, and have been interpreted as proving his continued intention to pursue political gains from initiating a conflict in Syria that has been recently slammed by the US President Joe Biden.
In a letter in relation to Syria, and in particular the Turkish offensive in northeast Syria, President Biden last week called Turkey “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security” of the US.
Critics of the Turkish government shared their thoughts on Erdoğan’s speech, after which Turkey’s lira hit 9.03 on Monday, in what Bloomberg called a ‘record low’ against the dollar.
“We face a government that clings on to war each passing day. They have now begun to bang the drums for war in Syria again,” Pervin Buldan, co-chair of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) said on Tuesday during a speech at the Turkish parliament in response to Erdoğan’s comments.
“The economy has collapsed, so the government says war. People say elections, government says war. People say we want to make a living, this government says war. And we say: people neither want you nor your policies of war.”
Musa Özuğurlu, a Turkish journalist specialising on Syria, told Medyascope that this outrage of Erdoğan coincides with Turkey’s military presence in Syria is being challenged both by the US and Russia.
“The threat of a military campaign by Erdoğan is a message against the pressures being put on Turkey to withdraw its troops from Syria,” he said.
These comments of Erdoğan’s are “a response” to Biden’s letter, Veysi Sarısözen wrote on his column today.
But in a furious attempt to get back at Biden, Sarısözen notes, Erdoğan made a “goof” that has not been seen by the national media:
“He was meaning to tell Biden it is actually Turkey that is under threat from Syria, but as usual, he could not hear his own words and he actually made a confession. Turkish policemen were killed in Afrin, but defining this as an ‘attack to our country,’ he declared the soil of Afrin, which is in Syria, as the soil of Turkey.”
The prominent journalist noted that such remarks by Erdoğan represents a “serious test” for the opposition block, dubbed the Nation Alliance, formed by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Good Party and the Felicity Party, because these comments signals that “the parliamentary bill to be sent to the Turkish Assembly be a decision of war”.
Pro-government A Haber, on the other hand, also announced the speech “as a signal for a new operation”, but, of course, crowning it with a high-dose “anti-terror” discourse.
Abdullah Ağar, a security specialist introduced as an ‘anti-terror expert’ by A Haber, said in an interview on Monday, “If we cannot destroy YPG and PKK, it will exhaust us a great deal. Mr. President showed his stance against that.”
“Don’t take Iraq and [war] tunnels as simple matters,” he said, referring to the ongoing cross-border operations in Iraqi Kurdistan since late-April. “These cost us the lives of our soldiers. The faster we clean these, the more advantage we will have. If not, it will be so much harder,” he said.
Turkey has been expecting a major victory in their operations against Kurdish fighters currently continuing on Zap, Avashin and Metina regions of Kurdistan Region of Iraq, but the military leaders of the Kurdish movement have repeatedly announced that Turkey is very far from achieving any victory, and has been since the first day of the operations.
Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) Executive Mustafa Karasu said in an interview in September, “It is definitely the guerrilla who has won the battle during this five-months of resistance.”
“They are confident of victory, they are clear that it is not just a matter of capturing a few caves and war tunnels. There are serious political outcomes of this magnificent resistance that the guerrilla fighters have put up for five months now.”
It is unknown whether Erdoğan would be as “crazy” as top PKK commander Kalkan suggests to wage a new offensive in Syria without the green light of the US or Russia, but the signals given by Erdoğan and Turkish officials at the top levels of the government show that they can and will do anything to restore power in the elections.
Experienced journalist Fehim Işık’s observation however, might provide a useful foresight: “Erdoğan has seen that he will be defeated, and that means he will squeeze the last drops from the state apparatus he has taken control of to stay in power.”