Deniz BARAN - Turkey
On Saturday, January 20, the Turkish jets bombed the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG)-held province of Afrin in northwestern Syria. Alongside earlier artillery shelling of the YPG positions, the air bombing was only a preparation for the ground operation, which would be called as the “Olive Branch Operation,” and began in the following day. Since then, the world keeps an eye on Turkey’s military intervention in northern Syria.
YPG, which is the armed wing of Democratic Union Party (PYD) and affiliated to the terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been in conflict with Turkey for decades, had been perceived as a grave danger for Turkey’s border security for a long while. In addition to that, there have been great concerns about the possibility of YPG’s potential access to the Mediterranean. Given these concerns, in recent years, the primary goal of Turkey's foreign policy in Syria has been to keep the YPG’s enclave fragmented and landlocked rather than toppling Bashar Assad, the President of the Syrian regime.
Behind these concerns there was the fact that, with the breaking of the IS-imposed siege on the Syrian Kurdish town Kobane in early 2015, the YPG has increasingly become the US's main local partner on the ground in the fight against IS. The US gradually dedicated its resources from the Syrian opposition groups to the YPG. Meanwhile, Turkey's concern was heightened after the collapse of the Kurdish peace process in Turkey in 2015 Therefore, Turkey was alarmed in this new period yet still hoped that once IS was defeated in Syria and Iraq, the PYD’s utility for the US would lessen. However, it did not become the fact, rather, by time Ankara has witnessed that the US–PYD partnership evolving into a more strategic alliance rather than being just a marriage of convenience. Also, Russia’s close interaction with YPG and Russia’s support, even if not a complete support, to them became another ominous factor from Turkey’s point of view.
Before the Olive Branch Operation, Turkey had already had two military operations in Syria, both of which targeted YPG: The Euphrates Shield Operation in August 2016, with which Turkey prevented the creation of territorial continuity between Syrian Kurdish cantons and Turkey's military entry into Idlib, with which it effectively stopped the YPG’s expanding any further westward towards the sea.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkish Republic, had already clearly given the signal of the third military operation into Syria, which would target the YPG’s enclave in Afrin. With this recent operation, Turkey was going to aim to make an end of YPG’s activities, which have been threatening for Turkey’s border security.
Despite the fact that such an operation would infringe the territorial integrity of Syrian Republic, the grave danger posed by YPG for Turkey’s national security and Syrian Republic’s unwillingness or/and inability to hinder YPG’s dangerous activities made Turkey’s any military operation against YPG legitimate according to international law. By directly targeting YPG, Turkey was not only going to secure its borders and also initiate a pushback strategy against the territorial gains of the PYD-YPG and obstruct their way to the Mediterranean. Plus, the operation was also going to send a message to the Syrian Kurds that the presence of superpowers US and Russia in Syria would not prove sufficient to shield them against Turkey.
The recent open-ended declaration of the US to maintain a military force in Syria and desire to create a 30,000-strong border force along with YPG became the last straw for Turkey to push the button for the military intervention. Rather than trying to convince Americans to deal with the Syrian Kurds, the situation has led Turkey to explore other options, particularly with Russia -without a green light from Moscow such an operation would not be likely since Russia effectively controls Afrin’s airspace- much more aggressively. Turkey's ongoing Afrin operation is a case in point.
So far, there seems to be a success for the Turkish forces and Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions battling on the ground in coordination with Turkish military. The exact direction of the operation is still yet to seen but it is expected Turkey to liberate Afrin from YPG as soon as possible and lead to the formation of a new local administration until next summer. Even though the Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has recently mentioned that the next step of the Olive Branch Operation would be the capture of Manbij, the town on the east of the Euphrates River which is held by the US-backed YPG forces, it is a doubtful claim.
Turkish officials display sensitivity to emphasize that the OliveBranch Operation is not against the Syrian Kurds but YPG itself. For instance, “Turkey's steps to protect its national security are ‘definitely’ not a move against Syrian Kurds” said Ibrahim Kalin, Turkey’s Presidential Spokesman, on last Thursday. Also some journalists like Ibrahim Kiras, the Chief-in-Editor of a national newspaper called KARAR, confirms this perception by arguing that Turkey does not have any “etnic-based target” and this can be seen in the rapidly developed ties between Turkey and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq once KRG adopted “friendly attitude” towards Turkey, although Turkey had initially objected the emergence of KRG. So, even though Turkey has reservations for the notions like “Kurdistan or Kurdish state” because it fears that the establishment of such entities would make its own Kurdish population more inclined to secession, Turkey’smain concern is not the existence of the Kurdish entities in the region but whether they are friend or foes for Turkey.
How Do the Different Parties in Turkey See the Olive Branch Operation?
It is the fact that, in Turkey, there is a large spectrum of political groups, thus the approach of public opinion to the crucial political incidents such as the military operations is not uniform. While it is sometimes possible to identify a general trend in the public opinion, sometimes it can be highly fragmented. So it is remarkable to see how the different parties and political groups in Turkey approach the Olive Branch Operation.
Initially, President Erdogan is determined to keep his forces on the ground until the primary goals of the operation are achieved. He clearly stated, “Turkey will not take a step back from Afrin operation”. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also said that Afrin would be cleansed from all terrorist organizations and a 30 km-depth security zone would be established beyond the Turkish border. There is no doubt that the social base of AK Party is not different from their leaders and in the presence of the perceived threat of PKK, they too wish the victory of the Turkish military in Afrin. As the reflection of this wide support, the Religious Affairs Administration of Turkey (Diyanet Isleri Baskanligi) ordered that in all of the mosques, before and after Fajr and Isha prayers, the Sura al-Feth would be recited in order to support the Turkish forces on the ground spiritually. Also we could witness the scenes like this, when the preacher of one of the biggest mosques of Istanbul was emotionally preaching in favor of the Operation and against the “traitors,” the Turkish is military fighting against.
Even though the intensive use of religious terms and means since the beginning of the Olive Branch Operation has been criticized by some people from the Islamic segment, they seem to constitute the strict minority and such scenes are reflecting the current sentiments of most of the people from the Islamic segment.
On the other side, the government officials were not the only ones giving supportive messages for the Olive Branch Operation. As we mentioned before, there is currently a wide support for the operation among the public, thus the supportive messages are coming from the different parties of the political spectrum.
The former President Abdullah Gul and the former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, both of whom are the prominent figures of AK Party even though they currently aren’t in the executive level of the Party, posted tweets supporting the Turkish Military.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of CHP which is the biggest opposition party of Turkey, said in the joint press conference with the Prime Minister Yildirim, “It was a very productive meeting. Operation Olive Branch was inevitably brought to the country’s agenda. Our wish is the completion of the operation without any significant harm.” Even though one of the deputy presidents of CHP, Sezgin Tanrikulu, shared the following post in his Twitter account after the launch of the Olive Branch Operation and expressed clearly that he stood against the operation, the majority of the social base of CHP seems to be in the same line with their President.
Devlet Bahceli, the leader of MHP which is the fourth biggest opposition party in the Parliament and mainly representing the nationalists, adopted maybe the harshest discourse regarding the operation: “Either Afrin will be devastated or the terrorists will be burnt!” Bahceli is known to be in the same line with Erdogan’s decisions for a long while but in this case he seemed to go even beyond him! “Ulku Ocaklari”, the youth branch-like structure affiliated to MHP, organized Qur’an recitation events in many cities to support the Turkish military spiritually and they are very active to share supportive posts on social media.
Also İYİ Parti, the newly established party founded mostly by the prominent politicians drawn apart from MHP, thus has 5 seats in the Parliament, and located in the nationalist side of the political spectrum, is heartedly supporting the Olive Branch Operation. Not only the Founder President Meral Aksener shared a supportive message, also some other senior members of the Party expressed their warm supports. Interestingly, Aytun Ciray, the Spokesperson of the Party, suggested that the Turkish Government should incorporate with Asad.
Temel Karamollaoglu, the President of Saadet Party which is known to be the Party of the famous Islamic deceased leader Necmeddin Erbakan, stated that they were supporting the military intervention into Afrin on the condition that the operation must be conducted very carefully to avoid any harm on civilians and end up as soon as possible. The Tweets of Ali Aktas, the famous lawyer who is one of the popular members of Saadet Party, were also interesting. Despite being supportive to the operation because of the political and strategic reasons, he was criticizing that the religious terms were intensively used, thus the Islamic sentiments were provoked in wrong context in order to justify the military operation. Of course, we can’t consider him as the representative voice of his Party, yet his approach must have been noted to see his remarkable annoyance.
Dogu Perincek, the President of Vatan Party which can be titled as a “far nationalist-leftist” party, did not hesitate to give very warm support for the military operation by tweeting, “Our hearts are beating with Mehmetcik (Turkish soldiers are called as such among the society), the victory will be Turkish Army’s.” As he is known to be siding with the Turkish military in all cases, his warm support was not surprising.
The military circles are, as expected, behind the operation. Maybe the most remarkable message came from General Ilker Basbug, the former Chief of Staff, because he suggested for Turkish Government to incorporate with the Syrian Government for the sake of the Olive Branch Operation.
Talking of the military, the following Tweet of the Gendarmarine Forces’ official account became highly popular as it was the proof of the deep transformation of the Turkish military:
In this Tweet, a few verses from a poem which uses a very Islamic terminology was shared and it was not imaginable until recent years since the Turkish military had been demonstrating an extremely secularist attitude.
Last but not least, some minority communities shared supportive messages for the Olive Branch Operation. The supportive messages of the Turkish Armenian Community and the Turkish Jewish Community were noticeable.
Is There Anybody against the “Olive Branch”?
Even though there seems to be broad public support for the Olive Branch Operation, still there are some parties who are standing against it. HDP, the third biggest political party in the parliament and of which social base is mainly consisted of the Kurdish citizens and some leftist circles, is so far the strongest opposition to the operation. The official statement of HDP is calling the Olive Branch Operation as an “invasion attempt.” Given HDP’s affinity with PKK and PYD, it was not a surprising response.
Along with HDP, most of the leftist political parties and groups are vocal critics of the operation on the pretext of “being against any war.” The editorial policy of some prominent leftist media outlets like Birgun and Sol Haber is clearly demonstrating their stance.
Also some prominent liberal intellectuals acutely criticized the military intervention. Their main reason is that morally they are against the war. In addition to that, they are worried because the solution efforts and hopes for “Kurdish issue” would be severely damaged if such an operation is carried out.
Very recently, 170 intellectuals, artists, former politicians and activists (all of them can’t be considered liberals, but they seem to be sharing same thoughts at the moment) signed a petition to utter their concerns. According to their suggestion, the military means was not the right solution; instead the diplomatic means must have been used.
As conclusion, it is crystal clear that the public opinion in Turkey is overwhelmingly in favor of the Olive Branch Operation, despite some political parties, circles and intellectuals are standing against it. Moreover, the more the Turkish military advances towards Afrin and purges YPG forces from their crucial enclaves in the northwestern Syria, the public support for the operation becomes stronger.
Last Mod: 07 Şubat 2018, 14:24