In Turkey / Türkiye

YPG advances in northern Syria, Ankara’s red lines crossed

Today’s Zaman, Tuesday, Feb 2, 2016

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria have extended their reach to the west of the Euphrates River, an issue that is regarded as a “red line” for Ankara. They have their eye on uniting the cantons in the north of Syria to form a unitary Kurdish entity, according to a report by a Turkish current affairs weekly.

Syrian Kurdish YPG soldiers at checkpoint in northern Syria (Hasim Soylemez, Cihan)

Syrian Kurdish YPG soldiers at checkpoint in northern Syria (Hasim Soylemez, Cihan)

In an interview with the Aksiyon weekly, Servan Derwes, the spokesperson for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), largely made up of YPG forces with contingents of Arab tribesmen from northeast Syria, expressed his anger at Turkey and claimed that the YPG had already advanced into territory west of the Euphrates. “Anyone who doesn’t believe can come and see.”

“Turkey is helping [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] ISIL. Turkey is crossing the border [into Syria] at Jarabulus and allowing ISIL to breathe. Whoever helps the terrorists is a terrorist to us, and we will fight them,” he said, referring to Turkey. “By moving into the area west of the Euphrates, we have squeezed ISIL.”

Map of Kurdish populated areas in Syria

Map of Kurdish populated areas in Syria

Turkish authorities previously warned the YPG not to go west of the Euphrates or risk facing a Turkish military response. If the political party affiliated with the YPG, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), establishes itself west of the river, Turkey is worried that the Syrian Kurdish PYD will be able to unite the cantons of Kobani, Jazira and Afrin and establish an unbroken Kurdish entity in northern Syria.

Ankara fears that further expansion by the YPG will fuel separatist sentiment among its own Kurdish minority. It views the Syrian Kurdish PYD as a terrorist group because of its affiliation to Turkish Kurdish militants from the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

For the US-led coalition, the PYD and its armed wing the YPG have recently emerged as a leading ground force in the fight against ISIL. Turkey has been critical of the US for supplying weapons and munitions to PYD forces in their fight against ISIL.

Conflict map of northern Syria, June 2015

Conflict map of northern Syria, June 2015

The PYD was excluded from the first round of Syria peace talks held by the UN in Geneva on Friday. The PYD and its allies say their exclusion undermines the process and have blamed Turkey.

According to the report in Aksiyon published on Monday, Commander Simko, the YPG’s regional point-man for the area including the Tishrin Dam, located on the Euphrates and which the YPG gained control of in late December 2015, said the dam was of immense importance due to its electricity production capability and because it was the “gate to Afrin.”

“By taking this [Tishrin] dam, we [the YPG] have crossed west of the Euphrates and taken a historical step” Simko said. The Tishrin Dam has the capability to supply nearly all of the electricity for the Rojava region in northern Syria.

Another of the commanders of the YPG base near the town of Qamishli in northern Syria by the name of Bozan was reported by Aksiyon to have said that the YPG units needed a few months to eliminate the ISIL threat in northern Syria, upon which their attention would turn to Turkey. “We need a few months. Then we [the YPG] will assist the YPS in Turkey,” he said. The Civil Defense Union (YPS) is a military unit established by the PKK and the PKK-affiliated Patriotic Revolutionist Youth Movement (YDG-H).

“The coming of spring will be enough. Our job in Turkey will be hard but not impossible. Nothing will be the same again. The big resistance will begin in the spring,” Bozan was quoted as saying.

Rojin Derik, the 23-year-old commander of the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) on the front line, told Aksiyon regarding Turkey’s ‘red line’: “That’s what [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan always says. … He has said that before. Now he’s saying that we shouldn’t go west of the Euphrates. We [the YPG] have died here. That is the biggest evidence that we were here.”

“He [Erdogan] sees Jarabulus as his own land. But Jarabulus is part of Rojava. These lands cannot be part of Turkey’s ‘red line’,” she said. “And even if they were, they no longer are.”

“As you see, we are talking with you five kilometers west of the Euphrates. Ahead of us is ISIL. These are the facts,” she said.

U.S. official visits Kobani after exclusion of Syrian Kurds from Geneva

President Barack Obama’s envoy to the US-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) visited the town of Kobani in northern Syria over the weekend, days after the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) was excluded from peace talks in Geneva after Ankara’s threat to boycott the event.

Brett McGurk’s visit to the town of Kobani was the first known visit by a senior U.S. official to Syrian territory since the beginning of the U.S.-led campaign against ISIL in August 2014, The Associated Press reported on Monday.

However, there has been some speculation that the envoy’s visit, and a separate telephone call by US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken to PYD leader Saleh Muslim, may have aimed to appease Kurdish unhappiness at their exclusion from the Geneva talks.

According to Reuters, McGurk told reporters that the trip was long-planned and not “in any way” related to the Syrian peace talks in Geneva, which are seeking to end a nearly five-year civil war that has killed at least 250,000 people and driven more than 10 million people from their homes.

However, the trip may anger U.S. ally and NATO member Turkey, which is alarmed by the growing sway of Syrian Kurds for fear it could fuel separatism among its own Kurdish population.

His visit is of great importance given the ongoing split between the U.S. and its ally Turkey, which warily eyes deepening cooperation between the PYD and the US administration.

The PYD and its armed wing the People’s Protection Units (YPG) have proven to be reliable allies to the U.S. on the ground against ISIL. During the visit, McGurk said he met an array of officials, including Arab, Kurdish, Christian and Turkmen representatives. McGurk posted photos of the trip on his Twitter feed, including a shot of a cemetery where he said he “paid respects to over 1,000 Kurdish martyrs” from the battle of Kobani waged by the YPG, with US-led air support, against ISIL.

YPG says it has crossed Turkey’s “red-line” in Syria

Rudaw News Network, Feb 3, 2016

The Syrian Peoples Protection Units (YPG) have announced that they have extended westward from the Euphrates River in their fight against Islamic State (ISIS). The spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Servan Derwes criticized repeated Turkish threats to crush the SDF-YPG (while the SDF consists of various non-Kurdish tribal elements the YPG is still the primary backbone of that group) were it to cross Turkey’s “red-line” in their fight against ISIS, which still occupies areas in a 60-mile wide strip of northwestern Syrian border territory west of the Euphrates, by pointing out that they are already west of that river.

“Anyone who doesn’t believe can come and see,” he told the Aksiyon weekly according to Todays Zaman. “Turkey is helping ISIL,” he continued, “Turkey is crossing the border [into Syria] at Jarablus and allowing ISIL to breathe.”

“Whoever helps the terrorists is a terrorist to us, and we will fight them,” he said in a clear challenge to Ankara. “By moving into the area west of the Euphrates, we have squeezed ISIL.”

Aksiyon also interviewed the YPG Commander Simko on Monday who described the Tishrin Dam the group seized from ISIS in December as the “gate to Afrin.” A reference to Syria Kurdistan’s remaining unconnected westernmost canton. “By taking this dam, we have crossed west of the Euphrates and taken a historical step,” Simko added.


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