After the defeat of the Islamic State, while developments in Syria are in the interest of the consolidation of the central government, Turkey’s military intervention in northern Syria has focused media attention on this issue. Afrin one of the three states of Rojavayê Kurdistanêis where Turkey’s troops were deployed.
On January 20th, Turkey launched the Olive Branch Operation in Syria’s north-western enclave of Afrin. The main purpose of the operation which began on January 20, was to clear the Turkish border areas of the Kurdish militants, which poses a serious military threat to the country’s national security. Entering Turkey troops to Afrin, immediately, on February 2018, Kurdish forces were found to have agreed with Damascus authorities on the arrival of the Syrian army in Afrin to repel the attacks on Turkey and its allies. Later on, by popping out new allied forces, including Syria`s officials and Kurdish forces, they dare to pose their presence by entering Afrin. Consequently, this action was accompanied by Ankara’s reaction which they responded by bombarding the area. Putting it all together, it is clear that Turkey’s presence in Syria is not causeless.
Invasion or Fight Against Terrorism?
Since November 2013, by establishing Rojavayê Kurdistanê consisting three cantons (east to west) including Kobani, Jazira and Afrin, the freedom of Kurds increased on the border of Turkey. Before the main attempt of Rojavayê Kurdistanê was expanding its cantons, which had a persistent commitment to mobilize the Syrian Kurds in a small, economically sustainable state.
Following such a claim, they could construe the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) dreams as well. In fact, by increasing the sovereignty of Rojavayê Kurdistanê, the PKK deployed the existing situation to reach its objectives by settling its militants in Afrin.Already it is claimed that Turkey’s presence in Syria is not meeting an acceptable excuse while considering the supportive role of Rojavayê Kurdistanê obviously begets an unquestionable reason of Turkey’s presence in Afrin.
Accordingly, it cannot be called as a kind of military invasion, instead of as it comes out, Turkey is in Afrin to accomplish cleaning up the Kurdish forces from the city. Although meeting such an object can be accompanied by heavy casualties among the resident of the city, Turkey’s government trying to avoid as much as possible. As a result, Turkey’s current preference is not to allow the PKK operations to be improved near the borders of this country.
The success of the Syrian Kurdish forces in the fight against ISIS, the creation of independent political structures and the formation of defensive armed forces have a direct impact on the actions of the PKK inside Turkey itself. Moreover, because of holding a geographical significance in order to join cantons and reach the Mediterranean Sea, Afrin is important for the United States (US) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD)/PKK. It has to be mentioned that the US in unobtrusive support of the PKK tries to reach its own interest such as controlling important energy sources in part of Syria, ignores the threat of the PKK in the Middle East. Instead, seemingly it worries about the threat of regaining the power of ISIS in Syria.
What Are the Obstacles and Challenges of Pursuing Turkey’s Goals in Syria?
As it’s mentioned above Kurdish armed forces and the PKK are backed by Americans. Hence, Turkey is likely to face serious rivalry with rival forces in Syria, in particular, the US. Since American leaders have repeatedly failed to keep their word about the PYD, regarding the reduction of it`s power in the Middle East, especially in Turkey’s border, the tension has been increased in the relation of Turkey and the US.
On the hand, due to Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli, NATO has always been the most supportive against Turkey’s external threats. Canikli claims that NATO does not demand Ankara to finish Olive Branch Operation but calling Turkey not to use inadequate force to the threat is noted by NATO.
Russia is also one of the most decision-makers of the Syrian occupation, looking forward to Turkey’s next steps in Syria. Considering Russia’s interests in the Middle East, Turkey’s presence in the north of Syria can undermine the Ankara-Moscow’s relations in the Syria case.On the other hand,the Russians have been involved in these attacks and also by considering longtime hostility of Russia and the US, Russia may not be reluctant to confront Ankara and Washington in Syria.
Flashing back to any other type of confrontation of different forces from different countries,interference of international organizations has been established to solve the army conflicts. But in the current situation in the case of Syria, the United Nations Security Council has not reacted to the recent events in northern Syria. Consequently, Turkey is not facing any significant international impediment to entering the military in northern Syria.
Consequences of Turkish Presence in Northern Syria
Although it is claimed that the Olive Branch Operation comes under the pretext of pursuing the PKK, with a doubtless mind, such an operation cannot be called just a kind of pretext,but the significant factor of Turkey’s presence in the north of Syria is to clean up the boarders from the PKK threat. On the other hand, Turkey’s operation in Afrin is strongly opposed by the Syrian government.
Much of international communities’ expectation from Turkey is not to pursue an army conflict against forced Kurds in the borders of that country. Because they claim that such an opposition can affect the upcoming negotiations of Ankara dispute and it may also exacerbate Turkey’s relations with its coalitions, while that is not the case since the main concern of Turkey’s government is the growing the US-backed terrorist groups on its borders.
*Amin Bagheri is a member of the Iranian International Studies Association in Tehran. His research focuses on Iran and the Middle East.