OPINION by Ahmet ERGİN, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey
Recent developments with regard to Operation Peace Spring in north-east Syria has garnered plenty of coverage both internationally and locally. I wish to impart my perspective for a more balanced understanding of what is really happening on the ground.
Since the conflict began in Syria, almost 9 years ago and after Syria, her neighbours have suffered the most. As the conflict protracted, terrorist organisations found safe haven there and built up organisational and military capabilities. In the last two years, alone, PYD/YPG a branch of the PKK terrorist organisation, perpetrated over 300 terrorist attacks targeting civilians in Turkey and Syria.
Turkey bore the financial and social burden of Syrians fleeing their country, receiving rather modest support from the international community. The number of refugees Turkey is hosting is nearing the population of New Zealand.
Refugee flows, terrorist threats and instability have reached an unbearable level for Turkey. The best way to eradicate terrorist threats is to establish a safe zone along the border. This would encourage voluntary repatriation of around one million Syrian refugees.
Turkey, since the conflict began, has made every effort to ensure its security and find a solution for the refugees, but without result. As a last resort, Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring The Turkish-US Joint Statement 1 and the Memorandum of Understanding agreed to between Turkey and the Russian Federation 2 on north-east Syria demonstrates that Turkey prefers diplomacy and peace, over use of force.
These documents essentially suggest Turkey put Operation Peace Spring on hold for an agreed period on condition the US and RF facilitated PYD/YPG’s withdrawal from the agreed area. Turkey made it clear that if the provisions agreed failed the Operation would continue because the threat is a matter of national security. Since the provisions are in place and have held steady, Turkey put an end to the Operation. Operation Peace Spring may not have been necessary, had these agreements come earlier.
In spite of these facts, reaction to the Operation was unfair and far removed from reality. I would like the opportunity to clarify.
The Operation was not against Syrian Kurds but PYD/YPG terrorists.
PYD/YPG forms the core of the Syrian Democratic Forces who are inseparable with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK in Turkey. New Zealand, the US and, the EU recognise the PKK, a major threat to the territorial integrity of Syria, as a terrorist organisation. PYD/YPG do not only conduct terrorist attacks in Turkey, but also recruit children as fighters 3 intimidating its dissidents, and repressing populations under its rule, in Syria.
Moreover, if Turkey was an enemy of Syrian Kurdas and targeting them, Turkey would not be hosting, hundreds of thousands of Syrian Kurds who sought refuge in Turkey, throughout the conflict.
PYD/YPG is blackmailing the international community by using DAESH
Turkey is a member of the Global Coalition Against DAESH and the only member of the Coalition whose soldiers fought chest-to-chest against them.
Operation Peace Spring aims to remove all terrorist elements, including DAESH. In 2017, Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria was an Operation that saw significant numbers of DAESH terrorists seized and imprisoned. In spite of Turkey’s dedicated fight against DAESH, PYD/YPG has spread baseless claims that DAESH prisoners may flee, taking advantage of Turkey’s latest Operation. DAESH prisoners can only flee if PYD/YPG frees them. Turkey is committed to her promises and have officially assumed the responsibility of DAESH prisoners where she controls. The international community must not be deceived by PYD/YPG blackmail.
Protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure is Turkey’s top priority.
In compliance with international law, Turkey conducted Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016-2017 and Operation Olive Branch in 2018 and this latest Operation to protect civilians. Turkey has implemented a humanitarian aid campaign in coordination with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) and other relevant international organisations.
Turkey has been fighting against PKK terrorism for 40 years now and will continue to take all necessary actions to ensure its security and fight against terrorism. I believe the international community should be on the right side in the fight against terrorism.
Ahmet ERGİN, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey