Turkey in Syria: #OperationPeaceSpring – Purging Kurds as Religious Duty


Dr Can Erimtan
21st Century Wire

The Kurds are in the news again . . . and this time for the same reason as the last time. After all, as I have written last January, the “West’s love affair with ‘the Kurds’ has been going strong for many decades now” and seems stronger than ever at the moment.

The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (aka the Prez) has now once again vowed to ‘neutralise’ these terrorists (referring to the YPG/YPJ that seem to make up the bulk of the US-backed SDF ‘Syrian Democratic Forces,’ or if you will, the “Kurds”) and he even seems to have received Washington’s backing. Oblivious of most things and preoccupied with other issues, U.S. President Trump has publicly washed his hands in innocence, following a phone call with none other than the Prez and tweeting accordingly, which means there is now serious trouble in the offing for the Kurds. Trump has quite literally credited himself with bringing a temporary respite to the Turkish war with the Kurds, who “have been fighting Turkey for decades. I held off this fight for . . . almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home.” Public opinion in the West was immediately concerned and condemned Trump’s latest political pirouette. The United Nations, arguably acting as the world’s conscience, was not slow in coming forward. The UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis Panos Moumtzis actually saying, “[w]e are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.” And even the sycophantic U.S. Senator  Lindsey Graham (SC-R) has now broken ranks with his president, tweeting furiously that he will call for Turkey’s “suspension from NATO if they attack Kurdish forces who assisted the U.S. in the destruction of the ISIS Caliphate.” Whereas the Kurds’ regional ally Israel has been equally distraught.

PKK-YPG ideological beacon Abdullah Öcalan

Over the past weeks, the Prez has been very vocal about his determination to root out the PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê or Kurdish Workers’ Party) and its Syrian wing the YPG/YPJ (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel or People’s Protection Units/Yekîneyên Parastina Jin or Women’s Protection Units), which to his mind (and those of many Turks) are but one and the same terror organisation – many in the West disagree, but merely looking at their camp sites one cannot but immediately notice giant flags displaying the face of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned PKK leader commonly known as “Apo” and really the brains behind any kind of Kurdish agitation. As a result, Erdoğan has given many a speech threatening swift and imminent action across the border, east of the Euphrates, the territories held by the “Kurds,” and more often than not ominously adding the phrase “one night we could come suddenly.”

Syria’s northeastern stretches constitute the “largest part of the country outside the control of President Bashar al-Assad,” as opined by the Guardian‘s Dan Sabbagh. Sabbagh furthermore explains that it used to be a “Kurdish area [commonly known as Rojava, but that] it is now governed under a communal structure involving a complex set of committees representing seven ‘cantons’ – including Sunni-Arab dominated areas – with each post jointly held by a man and a woman.” But as far as Erdoğan’s New Turkey is concerned, the lands east of the Euphrates are held by Kurdish separatist terrorists, eager to disturb the peace and attack pious Muslims living on both sides of the border. For the New Turkey is a nation of believers, not merely of Turks, as I have said in 2016, believers belonging to “the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam that is being promulgated by Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (or Diyanet),” irrespective of any ethnic or linguistic background. The PKK and the Syrian PYD (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat or Democratic Union Party) and its armed wings YPG/YPJ openly espouse very different values and beliefs – rather than being Sunni Muslims, as most common Kurds tend to be, these Kurds believe in the “precepts and ideas of ‘libertarian municipalism’ developed by the libertarian socialist thinker Murray Bookchin (1921-2006) in an attempt to create a society based on liberty, equality and true democracy.”

“Muhammed’s Army has returned”

As a result, a personally pious Muslim who clearly veers towards Islamism and embraces universalist pretensions like Tayyip Erdoğan, cannot but be vehemently opposed to such people who openly flout their lack of belief in the Prophet and his example.

On Saturday (5 October 2019), he told his party-members in Kızılcahaman that “[w]e have completed our preparations and action plan, the necessary instructions were given. It is maybe today or tomorrow the time to clear the way for [our] peace efforts which is set and the process for them was started. We will carry out a ground and air operation. Our aim is, I underline it, to shower the east of Euphrates with peace.” The Prez then announced that Turkey’s Armed Forces accordingly named their operations across the Euphrates, ‘Spring of Peace’ (or Barış Pınarı or hashtag #BarışPınarıHarekatı or #OperationPeaceSpring). And the following day (6 October 2019), the Islamist newspaper Yeni Akit published the tweet of an anonymous Turkish internet user (employing the Twitter handle @yazi_yorum__), exhorting everybody to “[g]o and tell the unbelievers that Muhammed’s army has returned.” In the New Turkey, Islamic fanaticism and nationalistic zeal go hand in hand, and large swathes of the population readily subscribe to this facile fusion, which allows the Prez and his AKP henchmen to manipulate the crowd at will. In a more matter of fact manner, though, a senior writer at RT America, Nebojsa Malic, summarises the Prez’s intentions as follows: “[o]fficially, [Operation Peace Spring’s] goal is to establish a ‘safe zone’ along the border to resettle some of the 3.6 million [Arab] Syrian refugees. Oh, and also to set up a buffer zone between the Kurdish militias in Syria – YPG and YPJ – from their PKK kin in Turkey, designated terrorists by Ankara.”

Since 2016,Turkey has conducted two major military operations in northwestern Syria — Operations Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch. These operations were also carried out under the aegis of Sunni Islam and Turkish nationalism. Still, the former clearly carried more weight, as these military operations were realised with the help of Jihadi terrorists belonging to the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA or Al-Jaysh al-Suri al-Ḥurr), which Turkey has now conveniently rebranded the National Army or al-Jaysh al-Watani.  In 2012, Ankara’s “AKP-led government simply allowed the FSA to set-up shop on Turkish soil. As a result, the FSA established its headquarters in a refugee camp located in the Turkish province of Hatay, bordering Syria – namely, in the ‘military’ refugee camp known in Turkish as Apaydın Kampı located in the vicinity of Reyhanlı . . . [a] small border town colloquially known as ‘Little Syria’ . . .  The Apaydın Kampı was and still is ‘exclusively reserved for Syrian officers, among them generals and colonels, and their families who had defected,’ abandoning Assad’s camp and instead moving to the [Islamist] opposition.” The camp has been veiled in secrecy from the start: “This camp remains tightly guarded by Turkish security forces to this day. The reporters Gökmen Ulu and Ömer Uluhan insist that the camp only houses ‘AKP supported’ Syrian opposition fighters, adding that access is prohibited, and that even parliamentary deputations are refused entry – such as a . . .   group of opposition MP’s belonging to the Republican People’s Party (or CHP)” in 2014 – a botched trip that received quite a lot of media attention at the time. AKP members, on the other hand, have free access to the site. For example, last July, the current Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar made a visit to the camp, as illustrated on Facebook. And now, these Jihadi fighters are also being employed in Operation Peace Spring, with the Turkish pro-AKP television channel A Haber reporting that the FSA is as eager as ever, quoting the notorious commander of the FSA’s Hamza Division Abu Bakr Sayf: “[w]e are waiting for an order from Ankara. In accordance with these commands we will move to the [area] east of the Euphrates to root out the PKK.”  In addition, the report mentions that the FSA fighters had been busily engaged in training exercises throughout the previous week in preparation of the military manoeuvres across the Euphrates. The A Haber report even adds the salient detail that the Hamza Division and the Suleyman Shah groups have realised war games in the city of Afrin “which had previously been cleansed of terror.” Recently, a video has even emerged showing a fighter of the FSA-affiliated Jaysh Usud al-Sharqiya (or the Lions of the East Army) telling the camera that “[w]e will hit the military positions of Gods’ enemies, atheists, and those filthy Arab infidels beside them.”

Throwing the Kurds under the Bus

POTUS: “My unmatched wisdom”

In the aftermath of the Twitterstorm and other statements and messages expressing disapproval of President Trump’s latest stunt that some would describe as throwing the Kurds under the bus, the latter deftly took to Twitter anew. First actually tweeting about his “great and unmatched wisdom” that would not allow Turkey to commit war crimes (7 October 2019). The following day, Trump backpedaling a bit, tweeted that “Turkey is a big trading partner of the United States, in fact they make the structural steel frame for our F-35 Fighter Jet.” And in the next instance that the Turks “have also been good to deal with, helping me to save many lives at Idlib Province, and returning, in very . . . good health, at my request, Pastor Brunson, who had many years of a long prison term remaining. Also remember, and importantly, that Turkey is an important member in good standing of NATO.” Trump then ended this tweet with the following announcement regarding his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: “He is coming to the U.S. as my guest on November 13th.” And then, he again made another U-turn to tweet that “[w]e may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters.” In the background, Trump is also reserving his financial deterrent by laying down an overt threat of economic warfare against Turkey, tweeting that “… I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!),” should Turkey do anything drastic to Washington’s region Kurdish proxies.

As a result, the New Turkey has now commenced playing a little waiting game, somewhat similar to the one its armed forces played when the city of Kobanê was being besieged in 2014. Its soldiers are ready and gathering at the border, while Turkey’s Islamist FSA allies appear to more than eager to kill the Kurds and their allies, whom they disdainfully refer to as “atheists.”

Purging Kurds and Establishing an Islamic Orde: A Policy of Sunnification

Public opinion at large seems to have a low regard for Tayyip Erdoğan or even for Turks in general. The word that most readily pops up on such occasions as the one we are experiencing right now is ‘genocide’ and subsequently, voices that accuse Turkey of trying to implement a genocidal campaign against the Kurds can be heard all around, with the ‘Armenian Genocide’ as a clear reference point in the back of most people’s minds. As I have tried to explain earlier, AKP-led Turkey is at pains to become a true nation of believers in conformity with Erdoğan’s policy of Sunnification, and I have argued elsewhere that he uses the Syrian theatre next door as a “continuation and sounding-board of this self-same policy, as the Assad regime in Damascus is supposedly led by an Alawite clan,” and thus a heretical regime in orthodox Sunni eyes, which was used as the main argument to whip up support at the outset of Syria’s not-so-civil war in 2011. But now the Prez has succeeded in convincing the population at home that the Republic of Turkey is under constant threat from foreign terrorists, who are more often than not seen as Kurdish separatists – a position that was but last week (4 October 2019) confirmed by the Foreign Minster Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu telling the pro-AKP paper Sabah that. “[a]t the moment, the [region] east of the Euphrates is a matter of vital importance to us. Looking at the difficulties, if we do not take steps now we will be faced with much bigger difficulties tomorrow, the threat will have grown bigger.” And given the fact that the PKK/PYD/YPG/YPJ nexus has subscribed to a clearly a-religious position like ‘libertarian municipalism,’ developed by Murray Bookchin, to replace their earlier espoused and clearly anti-religious ideology of Marxism, it is but an easy semantic exercise to equate the words ‘Kurd’ and atheist or enemy of Islam, and conversely, the nouns Turk and Muslim. The heady fusion of Islamism and Turkish nationalism, that has become the AKP’s hallmark and common currency in the New Turkey, results in the fact that as a social group the “Kurds” in Syria have now been universally identified as the enemies of Islam, as heretics and unbelievers or atheists (or in Turkish spelling küffar). In view of new realignments that have taken place against the backdrop of the New Cold War, the New Turkey is now allied with Russia that has been supporting the legitimate government in Damascus, the “Kurds” have now taken the place of “Assad” as providing a godless enemy that needs to be defeated next door.

In order to be able to implement the AKP’s policy goals more easily, “Turkey’s Gaziantep University will open three faculties in small northern Syria towns, Ankara’s Official Gazette said on Friday [4 October 2019],” as reported by the news agency Reuters. The small northwestern city of Azaz, in the vicinity of the Turkish border town of Öncüpınar, is set to receive an Islamic sciences faculty. The by-now notorious Kurdish city of Afrin, in turn, will receive an education faculty, and Al-Bab, a faculty of economics and administrative sciences. And following the successful completion of Operation Spring of Peace, Turkey plans to establish a safe zone along the border east of the Euphrates, as was previously already agreed with the U.S. confirms Reuters. The news agency then posits that “Turkey says it would like to settle up to 2 million Syrian refugees in the safe zone, and last week state broadcaster TRT Haber published details of Ankara’s plans for a 151 billion lira ($27 billion) construction project there to house up to 1 million.” The state broadcaster TRT has now stated that “[t]he area [east of the Euphrates] will first be cleansed of terror, and shall subsequently be normalised by means of being rebuilt completely,” arguably giving the now despodent Turkish building sector some welcome relief The Prez had already told the world about Operation Peace Spring when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 24 September: “Our intention is to establish the possibility for 2 million Syrians to settle down in a safe zone we plan to set up with the help of the international community that will consist of [an area] 30 Kilometres in depth and 480 kilometres in length in the first instance.” In effect, this would mean that Turkey’s Armed Forces (TSK) and its Jihadi allies (FSA) are planning to extend their purge beyond the military realm, to include Kurdish civilians to be replaced by Syrian refugees hailing from Turkey likely to consists of Sunni Arabs opposed to the Assad government and amenable to the aims and goals of the AKP policy of Sunnification. In response, the Damascus government has issued a statement indicating that “Syria is determined to thwart Turkey’s offenses by any legal means possible.”

War Operations Now Underway

And now, all of a sudden the waiting game has come to an end, as on Wednesday, 9 October 2019, the Prez took to Twitter, following the lead of his American counterpart, to announce the end of the short yet poignant waiting game: “The Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Syrian National Army, just launched #OperationPeaceSpring against PKK/YPG and Daesh terrorists in northern Syria” . . . adding, in an obvious yet vain effort to appease critics and disbelievers, “Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area.” In fact, it seems, in order “to shower the east of Euphrates with peace,” the Prez has now really brought out the big guns.

The somewhat nebulous online news organisation Op Shield promulgated on Twitter that the “Turkish Army has started the most comprehensive operation in the modern Turkish history after Cyprus.”

Will Muhammed’s Army now bring full servings of peace in combination with ethnic cleansing and Islamic righteousness to the area east of the Euphrates?!?  Will Tayyip Erdoğan’s #OperationPeaceSpring lead to all-out war, involving not just the Kurds, but also Assad and Putin?!?  And will Trump’s hand once again be forced to send American troops and planes and bombs back into the Syrian theatre?!?

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21WIRE special contributor Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent historian and geo-political analyst who used to live in Istanbul. At present, he is in self-imposed exile from Turkey. He has  a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans, the greater Middle East, and the world beyond. He attended the VUB in Brussels and did his graduate work at the universities of Essex and Oxford. In Oxford, Erimtan was a member of Lady Margaret Hall and he obtained his doctorate in Modern History in 2002. His publications include the revisionist monograph “Ottomans Looking West?” as well as numerous scholarly articles. In Istanbul, Erimtan started publishing in Today’s Zaman and in Hürriyet Daily News. In the next instance, he became the Turkey Editor of the İstanbul Gazette. Subsequently, he commenced writing for RT Op-Edge, NEO, and finally, the 21st Century Wire. You can find him on Twitter at @theerimtanangle

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