The president of Turkey says about the intention to attack the positions of the Kurds in Syria and Iraq from the air Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in the summer. So the start of the air operation was only a matter of time. And so on the evening of November 20, a week after the explosion in the center of Istanbul that killed six people and injured 80 others, the Turkish Air Force launched a series of attacks on the positions of representatives of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) banned in Turkey and the Syrian Kurdish Self-Defense Forces (YPG) in Northern Syria and Iraq.
According to the Turkish army during this offensive called “Clawed Sword” about 90 objects belonging to the Kurdish rebels were destroyed, including bunkers, tunnels and ammunition depots. In addition, “184 terrorists were neutralized,” the statement said. It is impossible to verify this information from independent sources.
Ankara considers the YPG to be a Syrian cell of the PKK, which is also banned in Germany and on the list of terrorist organizations in Europe and the United States. Turkey holds the YPG and PKK responsible for the recent Istanbul bombing, which has been labeled a terrorist attack in the country. For their part, the YPD and PKK deny any involvement in the attack.
At the same time, the YPG enjoys the support of the United States. A few years ago, the Syrian-Kurdish self-defense forces played an important role in driving the jihadist organization Islamic State (IS) out of Syria.
Erdogan threatens ground offensive in Syria and Iraq
According to Syrian activists, the current Turkish offensive in Syria and Iraq has killed at least 35 people, including a dozen soldiers from the Syrian government army. At the same time, there were no casualties in northern Iraq, they said.
After the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, Turkey often attacks the northern regions of this country. Thanks to military operations and cooperation with rebel groups, Ankara managed to gain control of part of the border areas.
Now Erdogan is taking the next step by threatening a ground offensive. “We did not say in vain that we would come one evening,” he said. Turkish experts believe ground offensive very likely, but when exactly it will start is still unknown.
Kurds promise Turkey retaliatory attacks
In turn, the Kurdish rebels announced their intention to retaliate, and they were not long in coming. On November 21, a rocket fell in the Gaziantep region on the Turkish-Syrian border. Two people, including a child, were killed. According to the Turkish Ministry of Health, 19 people were injured.
Did Ankara coordinate the military offensive with Moscow and Washington? The relatively mild reaction of both countries and Erdogan’s statement of November 21 suggest that at least. Among other things, the Turkish president said: “We have communicated with all parties through diplomatic channels and have taken several steps in accordance with this and will continue to do so.”
Sinem Adar, a Turkey expert at the German Foundation for Science and Politics (SWP), also doubts whether Ankara took this step alone. She recalls that the US consulate in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, warned its citizens two days before the start of the Turkish military offensive, urging them to leave these areas.
Turkish offensive in Syria and Iraq and criticism from Germany
According to the Kurdish Community of Germany (Kurdische Gemeinde Deutschland), Ankara’s targets during the offensive were mainly infrastructure facilities such as hospitals and transport, as well as areas with civilians. This is based on Turkey’s military strategy to exhaust and alienate the civilian population from the parties, thus losing popular support, the organization says. In addition, these attacks are aimed at driving the Kurds from their homeland and causing demographic changes in the region, according to the Kurdish community in Germany.
As early as November 20, several of Germany’s political parties – the FDP, the Greens and the Left Party – condemned Turkey’s actions and demanded that Ankara immediately stop the airstrikes, which are in violation of international law. On November 21, the German government already appealed to Turkey with a call for restraint. German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christopher Burger called on Turkey to respond proportionately and to respect international law. The situation in northern Syria and Iraq is already very tense, he said. Moreover, respect for international law means above all that citizens are protected in all circumstances, Burger added. Turkey justifies its offensive in Syria and Iraq with the right of self-defense guaranteed by Article 51 of the UN Charter. “However, the right of self-defense does not include the right of retaliation,” said Burger.
The Kurdish community in Germany demands that the German government adopt the same attitude towards Turkey as towards Russia. When international law is violated, double standards should not be applied, according to representatives of the DW organization. “War causes suffering, brings death and tears apart people from their native land. This applies equally to Kurds and Ukrainian citizens. Therefore, we demand a clear condemnation of the attacks and, if necessary, the entry into force of the sanctions mechanism,” continued members of the Kurdish community. They accuse the German government of failing so far to besiege the conservative AKP government. According to the organization, today this government is destabilizing the entire Middle East, and the West approves and tolerates it.
An explosion in Istanbul as a pretext for a long-planned offensive?
According to many experts, Ankara’s large-scale offensive came as no surprise.
They believe that the Turkish authorities had been planning it for a long time and were just waiting for an opportunity. According to Ismail Küpeli, a Duisburg-based political scientist, such military operations and offensives are part of Turkey’s basic policy to nip the Kurdish push for autonomy or independence in the bud. In addition, such military actions should also ensure that, by playing on the nationalistic feelings of the population during a crisis, score political pointssays the expert.
It is remarkable that almost the entire Turkish opposition supported the military offensive in Syria and Iraq. For example, Faik Oztrak, spokesman for CHP, the country’s main opposition party, said on November 21 that his party supports the Turkish army’s fight against terror and terrorist organizations. “These soldiers are our soldiers, this army is our army. Our fight against terror is legal and those who want to get votes at the expense of the soldiers will achieve nothing,” Oztrak added.
The international political situation also looks favorable for Ankara. According to Sinem Adar, an expert on Turkey, Erdogan now has certain assets. In this context, she refers to the ongoing accession negotiations for Finland and Sweden in NATO. Ankara accuses both countries of supporting terrorism and demands that they stop helping the Kurdish rebels and recognize the YPG as a terrorist organization, Adar reminded. At the same time, Russia’s position in Syria has now been weakened by the war in Ukraine, she added.
The poor economic situation also plays a role in the resumption of a large-scale offensive, the expert emphasizes. Elections will be held in Turkey in early summer 2023, and according to Adar, Erdogan’s party is concerned about staying in power.
According to official data, inflation in Turkey recently reached 85.5 percent. Many people in the country cannot even meet their basic needs. Critics accuse Erdogan of using military strikes to divert attention from the crisis.
Could the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds spill over into Germany?
According to estimates from the Kurdish community, about 1.5 million people live in Germany Kurds, and experience shows that conflicts in regions of origin can quickly spread to Germany. Most recently, on November 19, there was clash between fans of the Türkgücü club and the second team of the Munich football club Bayern, after fans of the latter unfurled a banner reading “FC Bayern Kurdistan Fan Club”. The police had to intervene. 19 people were injured, including ten police officers and nine Bayern fans.
According to representatives of the Kurdish community, such clashes occur again and again as the Kurds try to build a reputation for criminals. Anything that culturally and ethically points to a Kurdish identity is often seen as provocation and terrorism. This is an attempt to wipe out all that is Kurdish, and it is extremely disappointing for the Kurds in Germany, the organization says.