Turkish Intervention in Syria: Two Birds With One Stone
By: Hüsnü Mahalli
Published Friday, July 27, 2012
Turkey’s historic persecution of Kurds was never limited to Turkish territories. In light of the Syrian crisis, Turkey is contemplating creating a buffer zone inside Syrian territories and is using Kurdish control south of its border as an excuse to justify military intervention, perhaps with Western support.
Istanbul - In the spring of 1991, the late Turkish President Turgut Ozal did not hesitate to seek the help of his friend US President George Bush, Sr.
At the time, Turkey was being “invaded” by a big wave of Iraqi Kurds due to rumors that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein intended to launch a massive assault on the northern Kurdish region of the country after his withdrawal from Kuwait.
Bush replied by sending the so-called Hammer forces to Turkey. They were made up of around 100 US, British, French, and German warplanes, which were supposed to spend a month in the region under the pretext of protecting the Kurds and providing them with humanitarian relief.
The US also surprised everyone by taking a unilateral decision – without going back to the United Nations – declaring the area north of the 36th parallel and south of the 32nd parallel a no-fly zone, where Iraqi planes were forbidden to fly.
All the Turkish governments that followed had to renew the mandate of this force.
Opposition leaders at the time, including Bulent Ecevit, Suleyman Demirel, and Necmettin Erbakan, described it as an occupation force aimed at creating a Kurdish state. They all later became heads of governments.
They all agreed to renew the force’s mandate, which remained in Turkey until the US occupied Iraq in March 2003. Although France and Germany later pulled out, these foreign troops provided air support for Iraqi Kurds who seized the opportunity to create their autonomous federal state, even before the US occupation.
Turkish media and politicians have recently begun to speak about the issue again. They believe this scenario may be repeated in Syria, following the failure of Washington and its allies to reach a decision on direct military intervention through the UN Security Council.
At the beginning of the uprising in Syria, Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had spoken about the necessity of a buffer zone or strip inside Syria’s territories and along their common borders. They aimed to prevent refugees from coming to Turkey, which was expecting an influx of 100,000 displaced persons by the end of last year.
This could explain the establishment of more new camps all along the Turkish border with Syria, reaching from Antakya on the Orontes to Qarqamish on the Euphrates. The latter lies opposite the town of Jarablis which was taken over by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) two weeks ago.
The takeover of the border town forced the Turkish government to close all its land borders with Syria, with the exception of two.
Turkey is also expecting a further influx of refugees, which could exceed the 100,000 mark. But the number is enough to call in the help of their ally, the US, to repeat the experience that took place in northern Iraq in 1991.
Turkey also hosts FSA camps. Their numbers are growing due to the daily influx of deserters from the regular Syrian army.
There is also information of a large budget set by the US – in coordination with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey – to “buy” the biggest number of high ranking officers. They want to convince them to flee to Turkey and are coordinating with the FSA, which controls several border crossings along the 300km stretch.
On the other hand, the Kurds are in total control of the entire border strip between Syria and Turkey, spanning from Ras al-Ayn until the outskirts of Qamishlo, close to the Iraqi borders.
The latest developments in the Syrian Kurdish areas were recently discussed by Erdogan and his military and security chiefs, who aim to tackle any surprise developments. There is also information about a new Turkish plan for reinforcements along the border with Syria, in an area stretching some 480km.
Ankara is also attempting to convince the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, Masoud Barzani, to be its interlocutor with Syrian Kurds, even those affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is banned in Turkey.
Turkish analysts say that the PKK has taken control of the Kurdish part of Syria with a green light from the Syrian regime, in order to disturb and embarrass Turkey.
Yesterday, Erdogan threatened to intervene if northeastern Syria becomes a launching pad for PKK fighters to carry out operations against Turkey. In a televized interview, he said he would soon send Davutoglu to northern Iraq to discuss the latest developments in the Syrian Kurdish region.
In the same interview, Erdogan explained that Turkey “has not and will not stand idle concerning the developments in northern Syria.” It will take the necessary measures to tackle any threat emerging from that region.
He maintained that creating a buffer zone or security strip in those areas is one of the alternatives proposed for discussion in the Turkish government to counter any provocation from Syrian Kurds.
After accusing the Syrian regime of giving the PKK “custody” of several areas in the north, Erdogan warned that “Turkey is capable of exercising its right to pursue Kurdish rebels inside Syria, if necessary.”
“In the end, this is part of changing the rules of engagement” of the Turkish army towards Syria, he continued. He also repeated his criticism of Barazani for supporting Syria’s Kurds.
He added that “[Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad and his inner circle will soon be outside power in Syria,” noting that Syria “is preparing for a new era, but some countries are only delaying the process.”
Away from this, inside a safe house in Turkey, Ubed Muse, a Kurdish commander of a Syrian rebel group, asked for Turkish support to fight the Syrian regime. He also announced that he is ready for a campaign against the PKK.
Speaking to AFP, “during a break from the bloody battles in which he has led a band of 45 rebels near Aleppo,” Muse said, “I wish we could get some armed support from Turkey." He indicated that if his fighters could get help from Turkey, they would return the favor by hitting the PKK.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.