Erdogan desires to redraw the map and reshape the Middle East in his favour and, to this end, he is not interested in a peaceful and sustainable solution in Syria.
[Manish Rai | Oped Column Magazine]
Turkey is creating a “buffer zone” in northern Syria’s Kurdish-controlled areas, and the United States has agreed to work with Turkey on this. For this purpose, the US and Turkey will establish in the area a joint command and control centre, which is expected to be operational very soon.
Although details of the agreement remain largely sketchy, it has been agreed that Turkey will control the area.
KURDS FEAR EXPULSION
Syrian Kurds rightly fear that Ankara has carved out this “buffer zone” with the intention to expel them from the areas that they had liberated from ISIS after a tough fight against the militant group.
This fear is driven by Turkey’s past behaviours. For instance, Turkish army attacked Kurdish-controlled town of Afrin in January 2018. What’s worse, Turkey regularly shells Kurdish positions and also carries out military campaigns in intervals (e.g. Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch campaigns).
TURKEY NOT VULNERABLE TO KURDS’ ATTACKS
Right from the beginning of the ongoing Syrian war, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been exploiting the conflict to further his expansionist agenda. However, Syrian Kurds are the major obstacle in Erdogan’s expansionist policy in Syria.
Ankara had repeatedly tried to justify its fierce hostility towards the Kurdish forces. According to Turkey’s official version, the Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria are dens for terrorists as well as for outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has been waging a guerrilla campaign against Turkey since 1984.
Turkey have, however, failed so far to provide the evidence of any Kurdish-related terror attacks carried out from Syria.
What’s more, the difference in military capabilities and presence between Turkish military (on Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border) and Kurdish forces (on the other side of the border inside Syria) suggests that Turkey is well capable of securing itself from any potential threats from Syrian Kurdish-led forces or PKK.
The concentration of Turkish troops on the Syria-Turkey border is almost the size of an army corps and includes two armoured brigades, two mechanized brigades and two commandos’ brigades.
On the Syrian side of the border, there is nothing that can militarily match the massive presence and capabilities of the Turkish military.
Turkey have already heavily militarized the east of the Euphrates river in Syria and, hence, secured this zone along the Syria-Turkey border. It is, therefore, near to impossible that PKK has been launching – or can launch in future – any attack on Turkey from Syrian soil. Moreover, Syrian Kurdish forces lacks the heavy weaponry – such as artillery – that are necessary for seriously threatening Turkey.
KURDS VULNERABLE TO KURDS ATTACKS
Turkey, on the other hand, has the military capabilities to easily destroy Kurdish positions and troop formations across northeast Syria. Turkey can do this without even sending a single soldier or tank across the border into Syria and with the help of its artillery and fighter-jets.
Most of the Kurdish majority cities in Syria sit directly on the Syria-Turkey border and are, therefore, extremely vulnerable to Turkish attacks or bombardments. So, it’s the Syrian Kurds who are threatened by Turkey’s heavy military presence and not the other way around.
ERDOGAN COMMITTING ETHNIC CLEANSING TO CHANGE DEMOGRAPHIC
The creation of a buffer-zone is, in reality, Turkey’s outright grabbing of Syrian land. It is similar to Turkey’s previous operation in northern Syrian city of Afrin, where Turkey had committed ethnic cleansing under the cover of counter-terror operation.
This “buffer zone” would give Turkey the control of most of the Kurdish-governed towns and cities like Qamishli, Kobane, Amudeh, Malikiyah (Derik), Ain Issa, and Manbij. Turkey would eventually force the Kurds out of these cities/towns and would send pro-Turkey population to populate the city.
This is one of the reasons that drove Erdogan to proceed with the creation of this “buffer zone”.
ERDOGAN WANTS TO COVER-UP HIS DOMESTIC FAILURES, WANTS SYRIAN OIL TOO
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants a military campaign to distract Turks from his own failures.
Turkey’s economy is teetering. Erdogan’s repeated losses in Istanbul elections further shakes the Turkish leader’s confidence. So, the best way to enhance his ‘strong leader’ image is to launch more military incursions into Syria or increase tensions with the Kurds.
What’s more, the vast majority of Syria’s oil resources would also fall in the “buffer zone” that Turkey seeks to occupy and control.
In effect, what Erdogan seeks is not only the expulsion of the Syrian Kurds from the “buffer zone”, but also possession of the oil reserves in this area.
ERDOGAN’S NEW APPROACH
The Ottoman Empire was a global power which, at its peak, controlled a vast territory – spread across the modern Middle East, North Africa, the Caucasus and the Balkans – before its ultimate dissolution after the World War I.
In recent years, its successor, the Turkish Republic, is trying to increase Turkish influence in the regions of the former empire, especially in Turkey’s immediate neighbourhood.
Erdogan’s new approach in the region has been clearly visible through its engagement in the Syrian conflict after 2011. All of Turkey’s strategic targets and demands since starting of the Syrian conflict – such as ousting of the Assad Regime, preventing a Kurdish autonomous region, declaration of a no-fly zone, creating a “buffer zone” along the east of Euphrates river, protecting the radical groups in Idlib – were part of this approach.
Erdogan’s desire to redraw the map and reshape the Middle East in his favour is clearly reflected from his statements, in which he often questions the Lausanne Treaty. To this end, he is not interested in a peaceful and sustainable solution in Syria in particular.
For its part, the US has to realise it sooner than later that the Syrian Kurds are valuable partners in the US’s efforts to fight ISIS and contain Iranian influence. The US should, therefore, not allow itself to fall prey to Erdogan’s ambitions.
Manish Rai is a columnist for Middle East and Af-Pak region and Editor of geopolitical news agency Viewsaround.