In Multipolarity, Turkey / Türkiye

Compilation of news reports on New Cold War.org. Nov 21, 2016

Turkey strikes headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces near Manbij

Published in Kurdish Question, Monday, Nov 21, 2016

map-of-syria-showing-cities-of-manbij-and-jarablus-near-turkish-borderThe Turkish army on Sunday evening launched air and artillery strikes on the Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) headquarters west of Manbij, killing and injuring several fighters.

“Turkish state launched airstrikes against the Syrian Democratic Forces near Manbij. There are wounded fighters,” the Democratic Union Party (PYD) said.

Sharvan Darwish, the SDF spokesperson in a statement said that at least four fighters were killed and injured, accusing Turkey of using the withdrawal of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Manbij to attack villages under control of the SDF-linked Manbij Military Council.

The Turkish air force reportedly bombed the villages of Yilanli, Qurt Weran and Sheikh Nasr today.

“Following the withdrawal of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Manbij after completing their defensive duties, liberating the city and the expulsion of ISIS terrorists, Turkey started heavy artillery strikes on the area,” the Manbij Military Council said.

It said the Turkish army supporting the Euphrates Shield operation started bombing the village of Sheikh Nasr one day after the withdrawal of the Kurdish YPG forces.

“We in the Manbij Military Council condemn and denounce these terrorist operations against our troops and villages, and target civilians,” the council said in a statement. “This shows the colonial mentality of the Turkish state.”

The SDF-led Manbij Military Council called on the international community to pressure Turkey and to stop Turkish interference in northern Syria. The council has been responsible for the security in Manbij since the YPG withdrawal from the town.

“The YPG had largely left Manbij and that the leadership elements were gone. They did leave some people in place to train the Manbij Military Council so that ISIS can’t re-infiltrate and take the city that so many had fought so hard to take,” US coalition spokesperson Colonel John Dorrian said on Wednesday.

“So that’s what was happening there and I can verify for you that the YPG elements have indeed moved out of Manbij,” he concluded.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg. Source: ARA News

Additional reporting by Kurdish Question:

According to reports, Turkey backed FSA groups have captured Sheikh Nasr village from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) this morning. Photos circulating on social media allegedly show SDF members taken prisoner by FSA militants.

Meanwhile the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has said that Manbij Military Council (MMC) fighters have beseiged Turkey backed FSA groups in Sheikh Nasr.

SOHR has also recieved a videotape showing the military commander of the MMC, Adnan Abo Amjad, promising to return fire and target Turkish warplanes after Turkish airstrikes targeted the MMC and killed one of its fighters.

Turkey has been accused of hindering the fight against the Islamic State (IS/ISIS) with its attacks on the SDF, which it sees as a Kurdish force. The SDF, which also includes the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) is the most effective force fighting IS in Syria and recently launched the Wrath of Euphrates operation to liberate the jihadist groups de-facto capital Raqqa.

Turkish PM Binali Yildirim acknowledged on Turkish television programme that they did not want Kurds to make gains in Rojava-Northern Syria.

Source: Local sources


Turkey’s proxies’ advance on al-Bab to be contested by Syrian government with support from SDF and Iran

Published by IHS Jane’s Terrorism & Insurgency Centre, Nov 21, 2016 (enclosed is the introduction to the subscriber-only article), Nov 21, 2016

The Syrian government, the U.S.-backed and predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) share an interest in preventing Turkey from controlling al-Bab. They are likely to co-operate militarily against Turkey, even in the event of Russian objections.

Russia and Turkey risk being dragged into a confrontation by their respective proxies, despite their likely intent to impose a ‘spheres of influence’ arrangement in northern Syria.

Turkish allegations of Iran backing Kurdish militants against it would indicate increasing risk of an escalating scale of Turkish cross-border operations into both Iraq and Syria. According to social media, the Syrian government dropped leaflets over the town of al-Bab on 14 November warning the inhabitants that it would soon begin an operation to retake the town from the Islamic State.


Turkey’s plan to invade South Kurdistan (northern Iraq)

By Nihat Kaya, Kurdish Question, Nov 17, 2016

The Iraqi Army and Peshmerga forces made unexpected advances in the first days of the operation to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State group. However in the run-up to and following the U.S. elections these advancements have almost entirely stopped. The fundamental reason for this is that everybody is waiting for the Republican Party to declare its intent on the matter. The change in administration has created a power-vacuum, and this is causing some idleness in the forces participating in the operation.

There are also the forces that were left out of the Mosul operation during Obama’s tenure; Turkey being the main one. Turkey’s main objective during this period is to once again gain an active role in Iraq and Mosul affairs. To achieve this it is trying to bridge the gap -created due to pressure from the U.S.A and Iraqi government- between itself and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). It is also using Kurdistan Workers Party’s (PKK) presence in South Kurdistan and the ‘I’m fighting terror’ excuse to extend its military influence outside Turkey’s borders. Both of these initiatives are important for Turkey and interconnected.

At the moment hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles, as well as thousands of soldiers are stationed at the Hac Billeting Station, 5km from the Khabour Border Gate with South Kurdistan (Northern Iraq). Using PKK presence as an excuse, the Turkish state wants to enter South Kurdistan and if possible even Mosul. Reports in the media also suggest that the planned cross border operation is different to previous years. Until now the Turkish state has engaged in 29 cross border operations against the Kurdish Freedom Movement, however they had never declared national mobilisation before. This time the AKP government has made a call for mobilisation. It is well known that national mobilisation calls are made when one country goes to war against another. It is also done when an army is struggling. In fact in previous years the Turkish army would have refrained from any action or discourse that would show it to be weak against the PKK; this time it hasn’t.

In all appearances the Turkish state seems intent on invading Iraq. It is trying to create the legitimacy for this with its ‘war on terror’ discourse. The practical military leg of this plan is to march to Mosul and reach Sinjar through Tel Afar and/or enter and invade certain areas in South Kurdistan under the guise of attacking PKK bases in Qandil. In any case the aim is to form a safe zone against the PKK in South Kurdistan. This plan will mean that Turkey will need to occupy almost one third of the region. If one or both of these plans is realised the Turkish army will become an occupational force in both Iraq and the KRG. To avoid this accusation the Turkish state is trying push the KDP to form a political cover for legitimising and rationalising its presence there. Internationally Turkey is exploiting its membership to NATO and the transition phase in the U.S. to achieve its goal. And by declaring national mobilisation it is hoping to fill the gaps that may grow in the military sphere.

This is the framework the Turkish state and army are working within at the moment. To add to this Turkey also has military-buildup in South Kurdistan and has occupied certain areas. This was done in alliance with the KDP, otherwise the Turkish army would not have been able to enter and pass through areas controlled by this party so easily. Furthermore, the KDP –despite many reports about Turkish presence in the area- did not make any statements verifying or denying them.

Could the KDP support the Turkish state with a plan of this scope and objective? Under normal circumstances support for a plan that would mean occupation by the Turkish army -let alone against the PKK- would be the end of the KDP in South Kurdistan. The KDP would be accused of treason. In reality the party does not have mass political support anyway. In fact it is the PKK, because of its fight against the Islamic State, which has grown in popularity. Also add to this that the people blame the governing KDP as being largely responsible for the financial crisis in the Kurdistan Region and it becomes clear that the KDP is surviving due to its military power. However a military alliance between the Turkish state and KDP against the PKK could weaken this aspect of the Massoud Barzani-led party as well.

On the other hand however, it seems very unlikely that the KDP will refrain from allying itself with the Turkish state and army. Like the AKP, the KDP also blames the PKK for any criticism it receives from the people and other political parties. So much so that every crisis in the KRG is assessed and framed as an attack by the PKK against the KDP. The PKK’s presence in any form is deemed as an existential threat. This is another reason why it is impossible for the KDP to remain uninvolved in the Turkish state’s plans. Equally though, it doesn’t seem rational for it to support these plans openly either. So then the likelihood is that the KDP will ally itself with the Turkish state on the sly and support the attempt for an invasion in an underhanded manner.

Source: Yeni Ozgur Politika


Are Kurds killing and displacing Arab civilians in Raqqa operation?

By Sinan Cudi, Kurdish Question, Nov 18, 2016

The Wrath of Euphrates forces finished the first phase of the operation to liberate Raqqa from the Islamic State (IS) group on 14 November. The statement revealing the details of the first 10-days of the operation was released by the Operations Room in the Hîşa village; recently alleged to have been hit by anti-IS coalition airstrikes. The statement, read by the Operation Room’s spokesperson Cihan Ehmed said 36 villages, 31 hamlets, 7 strategically important hills and two important regions providing water and electricity had been liberated in a 550km area from the IS group. It was also stated that 167 IS militants had been killed and 4 taken prisoner.

The statement added that the IS group had tried to mount 12 VBIED attacks but that all of the vehicles had been destroyed. A large number of weapons and other vehicles had also been disposed of, with 240 mines being defused. The statement said that only four Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters had been injured in the first phase of the operation.

It also mentioned that the siege of Raqqa was continuing but that people in the liberated areas would be allowed to return to their homes once the defusing of mines had been completed.

The statement also refers to the claim about the Hîşa (Hisah) Village, which is the topic of this article and says, “Although we have not found any evidence that civilians were harmed during the operation, we are continuing to investigate claims.”

Putting aside the content of the statement about the Hîşa village, the fact that the statement was made in the village where the alleged attack was said to have occurred is a message to those making these claims. That journalists were allowed to enter and investigate in the village following the press release is further proof of the SDF’s and Wrath of Euphrates’ Operation Room’s confidence that claims are false.

Similar claims have been made before. Every time IS is struck a blow, lies such as ‘Arabs are being displaced’, ‘there is ethnic cleansing going on’, ‘demographics are being changed’, ‘civilians are being killed’, are put into circulation to disrupt the war against the jihadist group.

The underlying message repeated with these claims is this: ‘Kurds are killing Arabs, displacing them, appropriating their land and trying to create a Kurdish state.’ From afar this may seem plausible too. After all, we live in societies where people have drunk from the poisoned chalice of nationalism and been infected by its ideas and would, if given the chance do the above to people.

However it is important to emphasise certain facts.

Firstly, most of the fighters taking part in the Raqqa offensive are Arabs. The components of the fighting force taking part in the operation are in proportion to the population of Raqqa. This means that Kurds make up 25% of this force, relative to the Kurdish population living in Raqqa.

Secondly, for more than a year, since the al-Hawl offensive, Kurds are not acting unilaterally. The commanding and fighting forces in all operations and military actions are being decided upon by the SDF. There is a common order and command centre. Which means that there is an army jointly administered by Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians and Turkmens.

And finally, if Kurds had intended to and wanted to displace Arabs they would have started with the Arab population moved by the Baath regime into Kurdish settlements as part of the Arab belt-cordon initiative in the 1960s.

It is possible to list many more facts, but three is sufficient for those who are listening.

What is interesting however though is that those making these claims are completely silent about the massacres committed by Turkish warplanes in Afrin and the Shehba region, the razing of Kurdish villages and displacement of thousands of Kurds.


Syrian Democratic Forces are 12 km from uniting Kobane and Afrin cantons: Commander

Kurdish Question, Nov 17, 2016

An Army of Revolutionaries (Jaysh al-Thuwar) commander within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has said the group are 12km from uniting Rojava’s central and western cantons.

Speaking to Sputnik, Army of Revolutionaries commander Hesen Efrini said their aim was to unite the central Kobane and western Afrin Cantons in Rojava-Northern Syria Federation.

Efrin said they had recently liberated 10 villages from Islamic State (IS/ISIS/ISIL) in the al Bab area to get within 12km of the coveted city.

Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels also continue their march to al Bab in Syria’s north. With the SDF also closing in on the strategically important city, it is expected that the two forces will clash at some point. Turkey wants its rebels to take the city to prevent the unification of the cantons and a contiguous Kurdish entity in the region.

In a surprise statement made by the Pentagon yesterday, the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition declared that it was not backing the drive by Turkish forces and Syrian rebels to retake al Bab from the jihadist IS group. U.S. Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition fighting the jihadist group in Syria and Iraq said the decision had been taken unilaterally by Turkey.

The lack of coalition support for the Al-Bab operation illustrates the strained ties as Turkey and its allies adopt disparate strategies for defeating IS in areas the jihadists still control in northern Syria.

“What we would like to do is to continue to work with them (the Turks) to develop a plan where everyone remains focused” on defeating IS, Dorrian said.

Turkey has been accused of weakening the fight against IS by targeting the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a major component of the SDF in its fight against IS. Turkey accuses the YPG of having ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is fighting the Turkish state for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey’s southeast.

Source: Sputnik Turkish, AFP


How Russia views Turkey’s role in Syria

By Vladimir Avatkov, Al-Monitor,  Nov 18, 2016

As experts on Russia and Turkey are wondering just how receptive U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will be to their agendas in the Middle East, Moscow and Ankara have been involved in a series of talks over Syria.

Indeed, Turkish officials have become frequent guests in Moscow. The most recent visit, on Nov. 1, brought high-ranking military and intelligence officers, triggering rumors about a potential joint pursuit of ideas over the fate of Syria. But as the content of the negotiations remains confidential, Russia believes the significance of these contacts goes beyond Syria.

One needs to understand the world’s perception of what drives Turkish foreign policy and the political situation in the country.

The way Russia sees it, Turkey is going through a feverish transition process that has a direct impact on its political course, including contacts with key global actors.

To the United States, which has seen Turkey as its right-hand man in the region, Ankara has become much too independent regarding its international policy.

As for the European Union, even if its leaders toy with the idea of integrating Turkey, they see it as a supporting partner state, not as a country with big geopolitical ambitions. The U.S. policy of becoming involved in the politics of countries of interest is showing signs of failing in Turkey, as lately there seems to be very little chance of changing the regime, be it through revolutionary or evolutionary ways.

Turkey’s power-loving president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, doesn’t understand the EU’s attempt to compel Turkey to accommodate the flow of refugees from the Syrian war. Not only did Erdogan ignore the European logic of managing the situation, he tried to use the refugee crisis to his own advantage. However, in his attempt to elevate a regional actor to a world power, he overestimated his potential.

With that rift, as well as complications in Turkey’s relationship with the United States, the political situation pushed Turkey to reactivate ties with Russia. Ankara found it possible to start a dialogue on the most sensitive issues, including Syria.

Since August, Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin have conducted two state visits with each other and had numerous telephone conversations. The parties agreed to resume cooperation on key economic projects, and Russia has gradually lifted anti-Turkish sanctions. Even so, there have been doubts about the relationship’s progress all along the way, especially regarding geopolitics and security-related issues.

As an active NATO member, Turkey until recently interacted frequently with potential NATO member states and insisted on increasing the alliance’s presence in the Black Sea so that it didn’t turn into a “Russian Sea.” Moreover, Turkey has its own opinion about developments in the Caucasus and Central Asia, and this opinion rarely coincides with Moscow’s.

However, Syria is undoubtedly the major issue. The view in Moscow is that Erdogan, seeing the rapid regime transformations in 2011 during the course of the Arab Spring, was planning to use the moderate opposition to his own advantage, change power in the neighboring country and in due time construct a natural gas pipeline from Qatar. Despite their previously friendly relations, the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad became a primary political goal for Erdogan. Thus, Turkey made a U-turn in its rhetoric and actions, and yesterday’s friend turned into a “dictator” and “assassin.” For Moscow, which rejects regime change accomplished in illegitimate ways and which has had a very positive relationship with Syria, it was unacceptable.

Nevertheless, both Moscow and Ankara from the very beginning insisted on the integrity of the states in the region, though each had its own reason. Turkey, with a large share of the region’s Kurdish population, was apprehensive of the possibility of creating Kurdish states or autonomies. Although Russia interacts with all subjects in the region, it maintains the principle of Syria’s territorial wholeness, which actually narrows the gap between Erdogan’s and Putin’s positions.

More and more voices in Turkey are rising against the United States for favoring the division of Syria and the region according to ethnicity, which contravenes the interests of Turkey, with its big Kurdish faction. Besides, despite the controversy at the interstate level, the Turkish population seems to assess Russia’s position on Syria in a rather positive manner. And as a source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, some in the Turkish military favor strengthening ties between the two countries. The idea of buying Russian air-defense systems has surfaced again.

Russia neither objected to nor expressed support for Turkey’s military Operation Euphrates Shield. It seems that in the course of talks, Putin and Erdogan have reached a certain agreement on the issue, although it is too early to talk about an alliance. What could be asserted is that Russia and Turkey are negotiating not only about the gas pipeline, but also the destiny of Syria after the war on the Islamic State (IS) is over.

In the supposed dialogue, Turkey is maneuvering to save face and step up its influence in northern Syria, while Russia aims to save face and all its opportunities in the Syrian Arab Republic, including the military bases. Can we expect Turkey to try to expand its influence to northern Iraq as well? Taking into account the instability of regimes in the Middle East and the necessity to speed up the victory in the operation against IS, Moscow could agree to this on the condition Ankara demonstrates a consolidated, independent course.

It is important that Ankara’s and Russia’s general staffs and intelligence services establish good communication. This could be the first sign of stabilization of their bilateral relations and improved regional stability.

Moscow perceives Turkey as fighting and searching for its new identity. The fight and search are not easy; they include the arrests of those who oppose the “New Turkey,” and Erdogan’s policy that Turkey’s present-day borders were imposed by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and do not correspond with the aspirations of Turkey in the south and west. There’s an opinion in Russia that interfering with these self-searching processes will increase instability in the already unstable region.

Strengthening Ankara’s independent policy has its risks for all major players. Yet it gives Moscow hope for more transparency in cooperation. Historically, Turkey lies at the crossroads of major economic, political and military routes. The given geopolitics is not likely to change, but it is possible to influence the perspectives of development.

Vladimir Avatkov is a Turcologist and director of the Moscow-based Center for Oriental Studies, International Relations and Public Diplomacy. He is also an associate professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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