Jolted by the seizure of Tel Abyad, a small town on the other side of the Syrian border previously under control of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), by Kurdish forces, Ankara is coming to grips with the new reality of Kurds successfully carving out an enclave in northern Syria.
The discrepancies between the global coalition led by the US and Turkey in the fight against ISIL have recently been laid bare. Ankara has continued to express concern over the dominance of the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria. It accuses the Kurdish militia of deliberately attempting an ethnic cleansing of the area in a bid to change the demographic balance of the region in favor of the Kurds.
The fall of Tel Abyad into the hands of the YPG, the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and smaller Syrian rebel groups means the Syrian Kurds effectively control over 400 kilometers of the Syrian-Turkish border. The transition of the region into Kurdish control has also blocked the access routes of ISIL into Turkey. These channels were previously used to import foreign fighters to join the radical terrorist organization as well as get weapons and logistical equipment.
The Turkish government is very uncomfortable with the advances made by Kurdish militia in Syria, fearing it could aggravate separatist sentiment among its own Kurdish minority, which numbers in the millions.
Turkish FM: Kurdish militias persecuting civilians like ISIL and Assad forces
Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, has said the Kurdish militia fighters are persecuting civilians in northern Syria and forcing them to flee in a similar way to ISIL militants and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
“Daesh [another name for ISIL] attacks and kills those it captures. The PYD/PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] seize certain regions and force people living there to migrate,” Çavuşoğlu told Turkish state broadcaster TRT during a trip to Saudi Arabia. “It doesn’t matter who comes; the regime, Daesh, the PYD, they are all persecuting civilians,” he said.
Security Analyst: ISIL being used a terror tactic to force changes of borders
Mahmut Akpınar a security analyst at the Ankara-based Center of Law, Ethics and Political Studies (HESA), explained to Today’s Zaman that the YPG is being shown as a lesser threat, in contrast to ISIL, and both are being used as tools to change borders in the Middle East.
Stating that the YPG’s advance into Syria was the doing of international powerhouses to form an independent Kurdish state in the north of Syria, Akpınar said: “If the PKK [YPG] had taken these lands from the Free Syrian Army or the Assad regime, there would have been [political] ramifications, but because they seize it [the land] from ISIL, there is no problem. They [Western states] highlight ISIL to convince [the world] to accept the YPG.
“This is the reorganization of the Middle East by Western states 100 years after the Sykes-Picot agreement. ISIL is being used as a design tool, it was brought about as a monster, to scare people, thus justifying all land seized from it,” he said.
Finally, Akpınar said the sole beneficiary of the redesign of the Middle East in its current state would be Israel and Iran. “All of the countries that challenged Israel during the Arab-Israeli wars have been pacified. There was Iraq, Syria and Egypt in the Arab-Israeli war, and now all of these actors have been placated.”
The Arab-Israeli conflict refers to the political tension and military conflicts between certain Arab countries and Israel, with the first taking place in 1948 and resulted in the formation of the state of Israel in its current form.
Erdoğan: Kurds controlling border a threat to Turkey
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also voiced concern about the latest YPG offensive, pointing out that Kurds were taking over areas from which Arabs and Turkmen were being forcibly displaced. Erdoğan accused the West of backing what he called Kurdish terrorists and said the outcome could eventually threaten Turkey’s border.
Backed by air forces from the global anti-ISIL coalition, the YPG has made swift gains and pushed back ISIL after months of heavy fighting in the struggle to defend Kobani — another contested town on the Turkish-Syrian border. The retention of Kobani was seen as a turn in the tide against ISIL. Turkey was forced to absorb more than 150,000 civilians during brutal clashes in and around Kobani in late 2014.
Erdoğan said in October that it was wrong of the United States to air-drop military supplies to Kurdish fighters defending Kobani, as some weapons were seized by ISIL militants surrounding it.
“What was done here, on this subject, turned out to be wrong. Why did it turn out wrong? Because some of the weapons they dropped from those C130s were seized by ISIL,” Erdoğan said during a news conference in Ankara.
“I have difficulty understanding why Kobani is so strategic for them because there are no civilians there, just around 2,000 fighters,” Erdoğan said. “At first they didn’t say yes to peshmergas, but then they gave a partial yes, and we said we would help.” The peshmergas, literally meaning “one who confronts death,” are the military forces of Iraqi Kurdistan.
“We see signs that work is being done on a formula to bring in other elements and combine cantons,” he said, referring to two regions controlled by Kurdish forces in northern Syria.