Turkey will resettle some of the country’s millions of Syrian refugees in predominantly Kurdish areas to prevent the formation of a Kurdish state, Family and Social Services Minister Derya Yanık suggested on Sunday.
During a visit to the southern Adana province, Yanık responded to a local shopkeeper’s complaints about the number of refugees who had come to his neighbourhood since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
“They ask why we are looking after them,” said Yanık. “Well, there is a plan behind it if we are doing so.”
“The opposition insistently turn a blind eye to the plan to establish a Kurdish state in north Syria; a plan to establish a terrorist Kurdish state,” she said.
Turkey’s largest opposition parties have frequently taken aim at the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government for its refugee policy, saying the influx of millions has put a severe strain on the country in the midst of an economic crisis.
But Yanık hinted that the government had plans to use the refugees against its long-running foes in the international Kurdish political movement, who she claimed were trying to divide Turkey.
“The establishment of a Kurdish state in that region means the entire southeastern region of Turkey would be split away, like it’s been sliced by a blade,” she said.
The minister referred to predominantly Kurdish territories in northern Syria governed by multi-ethnic autonomous administrations which include representatives from Kurdish, Arab and minority communities.
Turkey claims these administrations are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which it considers a terrorist organisation, and has accused them of attempting to set up a Kurdish state on its border.
The minister’s comments may signal an intent to fight Kurdish influence by changing the demography in areas of northern Syria which were captured by the Turkish military in operations starting in 2016. Something they have already done in the previously Kurdish majority city of Afrin.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to create a “safe zone” to resettle refugees in the large swathe of northern Syria captured by the Turkish military in 2019’s Operation Olive Branch.
In recent months, the ruling AKP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) alliance has discussed plans to launch a new attack in northern and eastern Syria.
Although analysts say the Turkish government is still seeking a green-light for a fresh operation from its international partners, it has continued to bombard targets in the region with artillery and drone strikes.