Ebid Mihemed Heji was a boy from Kobane in northern Syria. He was 12 years old. He lived in the village of Zorava, west of Kobane. At noon on 16 August, the Turkish army shelled his village. Ebid and five others were hit by artillery. One of them was a 2-year-old, Khelil Jihad Shekho.
Another child, 11-year-old Temim Feysel Hamid, was exposed to a similar Turkish attack, on the same day and at the same time. Pieces of a mortar shell hit his body as he was playing on the street in the Zirgan district of Hasakah.
Ebid’s photograph was taken at the morgue and Temim’s was taken in hospital. Ebid lost his life, while Temim and others survived with injuries.
These children are not the first victims of Turkey’s attacks on Kurdish children and unfortunately they will not be the last.
Every day, we see and read news about similar attacks targeting civilian settlements.
Such attacks have continued systematically throughout 2022.
Since January, up to 13 August, at least 33 civilians were killed and 124 were wounded as a result of Turkish attacks on North and East Syria (Rojava). Some 3,763 attacks of various kinds took place in the region during this period.
Twenty-three of the 33 civilians lost their lives in the last two and a half months. During this period, there were 1,420 attacks and in additon to the deaths, 57 people were wounded.
Following the Tehran summit in July, Turkish attacks have moved to a new level.
Since 19 July 2022, Turkey has attacked several times almost every day. Assassinations of Kurdish warriors who fought against the barbarity of Islamic State (ISIS) have also started to occur more frequently. 19 July is an important date for Kurds as it is the anniversary of the Rojava Revolution. On 19 July 2012, the Kurdish people declared self-government in Kobane, and then North and East Syria developed a society-oriented administrative model. From the very beginning, Turkey has used every possible method to try to prevent this. It first directed ISIS to fight in Kurdish-controlled regions, and when ISIS was defeated, it entered into the territory directly. And immediately prior to this important date this year, a trilateral summit of Iran, Russia and Turkey was held in Tehran. At this summit, it was decided that rather than directly invading the region, Turkish soldiers could carry out attacks without crossing the border.
Turkish attacks have concentrated on the Shahba and Manbij regions to the west of the Euphrates; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly announced that Ankara will conduct a military operation there. However, this is an area where Iran and Russia are also partially active, because Shahba in particular is the gate to Aleppo, and Turks entering here pose a risk for the future of Syria. Russia and Iran have encouraged Turkey to attack east of the Euphrates, where American troops are deployed. If Turkey attacks here, US soldiers will either withdraw or come face-to-face with the Turkish soldiers. Both of those possibilities could create spectacular outcomes for Tehran, Damascus and Moscow. Of course, Turkey is also aware of this. However, Turkey cannot conduct cross border operations in this region due to US objections. Instead it is attacking targets with heavy weapons and drones deployed at the border. Interestingly, the United States has not expressed any discomfort about those attacks. I guess Washington is not too bothered by them. The United States may think that acquiescing in these attacks will keep Turkey satisfied and prevent a cross-border operation, but this does not satisfy Turkey situation, and is not stopping the attacks.
Turkey is trying to step up incursion attacks
These attacks are not sufficient to appease the Turkish government as it wants to create a buffer zone covering the territories between Afrin and the Iranian border. Although Ankara says its aim is to settle Syrians in this buffer zone, its real intent is to form a Kurdish-free region in this part of northern Syria thus putting pressure on all regions where Kurds live. The idea is to suppress the Kurds’ struggle for their rights and freedoms for another century. This idea is not just a part of Erdoğan’s propaganda plan for upcoming presidential elections in Turkey – it is evident that his election plan is based on blood and violence. However, even if Erdoğan is overthrown, any new government that replaces him will have to continue with the same project, though their tactics or allies may be different. (This is a separate and worthwhile topic).
The Turkish regime knows its ongoing attacks are not sufficient to realise this project. In Erdoğan’s words, it wants to connect the pieces. But it has to get approval from two places: Washington and Moscow. The US administration will not approve a move that might help ISIS regain its strength. The US is also reluctant to voice the rights of the Kurds in relation to this project; what makes Washington hesitant about Turkey’s cross-border operation plan is its concerns about ISIS. Moscow, on the other hand, insists that Ankara and Damascus should settle this matter.
Outcomes of the Putin-Erdoğan summit
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdoğan met in Sochi on 5 August, Russia’s plan has become more clear. Erdoğan said that Putin had told him to “talk with Damascus”. He then stated that negotiations between two neighbouring countries have been continuing at the level of intelligence services. One after another, Turkish officials announced that it was time to make peace with Damascus.
Russia has been looking for a suitable gateway to circumvent the embargoes imposed on it due to the war in Ukraine. Turkey, on the other hand, wants a breather for its economy, that has hit rock-bottom. Their mutual needs are driving Ankara and Moscow closer. They are reconsidering their positions in Syria in the light of to this new situation. Being aware of Turkey’s need for Russia in Syria, Moscow made a new move and imposed the Ankara-Damascus reconciliation on both sides. Thus, Russia is planning to engage the governments of the two countries in such a way that they both will be dependent on Russia.
Can Ankara make peace with Damascus?
A reconciliation between Ankara and Damascus is not that easy.
First of all, one should consider what both parties want. Let’s examine the Turkish side first.
When anti-government protests erupted in Syria in 2011, Turkey started to follow a policy with two main aims (which was the reason why the protests in Syria turned into a civil war). The first aim was to prevent the possibility of Kurds gaining status, and the second is the overthrow of the Bashar Assad government and to replace it by a radical Islamist Ikhwanist administration. Thus, not only would the Kurds in Syria be restrained, but also the country itself would come under Turkey’s control. And the Turkish government rolled up its sleeves to realise these two aims. It brought together armed rebel groups and formed an army. It paved the way for groups like ISIS and turned Kurdish regions into a bloodbath. It even established a ‘Syrian government’ in İstanbul. In order to overthrow Assad and defeat the Kurds, it gathered thousands of Salafists, then under the name of the Syrian National Army (SNA). So much so that the former leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and his successor were killed in areas controlled by Turkey. However, at the stage we have reached, Turkey has realised that it cannot achieve those two main aims simultaneously. And Putin wanted Turkey to make peace with Assad anyway.
Turkey is left with only one aim in Syria: beating the Kurds!
And Turkey saw fit to give up one of those aims in order to realise the other. There is nothing Turkey would not compromise so as to harm the Kurds. We are talking about a state that went as far as sending ISIS into Kobane. There is no reason for it to refrain from making peace with Assad as long as the result will be elimination of the Kurds.
This is how the signs of rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus started to appear. Ankara agreed a compromise with Damascus so that all weapons in Syria would be directed against the Kurds. Negotiations are now ongoing. Ankara has only one condition: destroy the Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). A less important parallel target might be opening up space for groups affiliated to Turkey.
However, implementing this Turkish plan is not a piece of cake. Damascus also has its demands. It wants Turkey to dismantle the military and political groups it has formed as an alternative to the Syrian ones. Damascus also wants see the Kurds weakened and does not accept the current status quo in North and East Syria. It actively supports Turkey’s current attacks as it believes it will weaken the Kurds in the region. But Damascus also wants to see liquidation of Turkish-affiliated groups fighting against the Kurds. As a move against the Kurds, Turkey in turn proposes to recognise the existing Syrian regime and to ensure reconciliation between Damascus and the ‘opposition’ groups. Hence the situation is complicated for both sides.
If Ankara liquidates Turkish-affiliated groups in Syria, then it has to be prepared for three possible outcomes. Firstly, as a result, Turkey will be left with no weapons in Syria. Secondly, some rebel groups would not accept this, and would fight against groups that do. And finally. Turkey would be forced to withdraw from the occupied Kurdish areas. For Ankara, agreeing to give up the Turkish-affiliated groups will mean hitting rock-bottom in Syria.
Strategic opportunities and traps for the Damascus government
On the other hand, for the Syrian government, reconciliation with Turkey if Turkey does not accept Damascus’s conditions will mean it has shot itself in the foot, because Turkey will revert to plans to overthrow Assad at the first opportunity.
Under the current circumstances, Damascus is at a historical turning point. By reconciling with North and East Syria and accepting the rights of Kurds as well as other ethnic and religious groups, it could not only ensure its legitimacy, but also strengthen its hand to remove Turkey and its affiliates from Syria. But Damascus’s current mentality does not send optimistic signals for embracing such a move. The second possibility is a compromise between Damascus and Ankara. This, however, will mean going back to square one in the Syrian conflict, which will turn all parts of the country into a sea of blood. In this case, not only the Kurds, but everyone will suffer, and the Assad government will cease to exist.
Given this outlook, it is evident that unfortunately, Turkish attacks like those described at the beginning of this article will continue. Turkey gets emboldened as the world remains silent in the face of these attacks. Kurdish women and men, who once fought against ISIS village by village, city by city, street by street, house by house, in order to protect humanity, are being now subjected to Turkish aggression. Shady relations between states are causing Kurdish blood to be shed. But the Kurds are not stepping back; they are building institutions to protect their identity and freedom, they are resisting and not giving up. They are proving to the world that they are honourable people, and they expect humanity to hear their voices.
Note: This has not happened at the time of writing of this article .
Amed Dicle was born and raised in Diyarbakır, Turkey. He has worked for Kurdish-language media outlets in Europe including Roj TV, Sterk TV and currently ANF. His career has taken him to Rojava, Syria, Iraq and many countries across Europe. Follow him on Twitter.