Spotlight: Erdogan's latest threat read as consent to Kurdish territory in Syria

Source: Xinhua| 2017-06-08 21:07:41|Editor: xuxin
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ISTANBUL, June 8 (Xinhua) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent threat of responding militarily to any attack from northern Syria actually means a tacit approval of Kurdish fighters' control over the area, though such an eventuality is widely seen as a national security threat to Turkey, analysts said.

The presidential remarks confirmed that unless attacked, Ankara would not target the Kurdish militia forces, known as the People's Protection Units (YPG), who have carved out three autonomous cantons in Syria's north over the years, Cahit Armagan Dilek, director of the 21st Century Turkey Institute, told Xinhua.

Ankara sees the YPG as the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) outlawed for its decades armed struggle for autonomy in southeastern Turkey, a predominantly Kurdish region.

Erdogan said last week that Turkey would restart a military operation without asking for anybody's approval in case of a slightest attack or harassment from northern Syria.

The statement boils down to no action by the Turkish side unless provoked by the YPG and others, Umit Ozdag, an independent lawmaker and senior security analyst, said on Halk TV last weekend.

Erdogan's remarks were aimed at the United States, which Ankara has long criticized for offering military support to the Kurdish fighters.

Turkey is concerned that the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish region in its southern neighbor may evolve into a state ruled by the YPG and whip up the appetite for independence by its own nearly 20 million Kurds.

Back in April, the Turkish president vowed that Turkey would never allow the emergence of a YPG state in Syria.

Erdogan's wording in his statement last week may serve, however, to manipulate public perception at home as man on the street may see in it Ankara's resolve at first glance.

Noting the Turkish public is not fully aware of the developments in Syria, Dilek said Erdogan has been making statements that would make one think that Turkey can impose its will in Syria.

A terror attack on Turkey from YPG-held territory is widely considered improbable.

"An attack by the YPG on Turkey is not a plausible scenario," Yasar Yakis, a former Turkish foreign minister, told Xinhua.

For Dilek, a former staff officer in the Turkish military, Erdogan's remarks came down, when read from the perspective of foreign powers, to a sort of pledge that Turkey would not move militarily against the YPG, seen by the U.S. as a reliable ground force in the fight against the Islamic State (IS).

"Taking the hint, the YPG would not think of attacking Turkey until it ensures its gains in northern Syria," he said, adding Washington would not let the group do such a thing either.

Despite vehement Turkish opposition, the U.S. began on Tuesday an offensive with the YPG to drive the IS out of Raqqa in northern Syria.

Ankara accuses the YPG of forcing out Kurds who do not follow its line as well as local Arabs from areas it captured to realize its territorial ambitions.

"Turkey has legitimate interests in trying to prevent the establishment of an uninterrupted Kurdish belt on the Syrian territory, because such a belt will encircle Turkey from south and it will cut Turkey off from Syria," commented Yakis.

In his view, Turkey should keep in mind, however, that its ability to achieve its policy goal in Syria is not unlimited as it is up to the Syrian people to determine Syria's future status.

"Turkey has interest in negotiating with the Syrian Kurds an amicable solution to this problem, even by involving the Syrian regime," he added.

Turkey supported rebel groups in Syria until it mended ties last summer with Russia, a staunch supporter of Damascus; but Ankara still refuses to cooperate with the Syrian government headed by President Bashar al-Assad.

Shortly before the Raqqa campaign began, Washington supplied the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces with a huge amount of weaponry, including anti-tank weapons and armored vehicles.

Many feel in Turkey the U.S. is laying the groundwork for a YPG state as part of a larger plan to break up Syria.

Noting the amount of weaponry the U.S. has provided to the YPG is way above what is really needed in the battle, Dilek stated "the YPG has now transformed into a regular army."

"If there is an army, then it is inevitable for a state to emerge," he added.

The number of YPG fighters trained in recent years by U.S. special forces is estimated to be as many as 15,000 to 30,000.

"A PKK state is being established on our border," maintained Ozdag on Halk TV.

It is widely argued that it is now hard for war-torn Syria to keep its territorial integrity.

"Under the current circumstances, it is rather difficult for Syria to maintain its territorial integrity and political unity," remarked Dilek.

Ozdag was even more blunt about Syria's future, saying: "It is now clear nobody can gain control over all of Syria, because al-Assad does not have the necessary manpower, while Russia has no such an intention."

Dilek feels that Russia is content with keeping under its control a small state ruled by al-Assad along the Mediterranean, while leaving the northern, southern and eastern parts of the country to U.S. control.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his concern about a possible breakup of Syria last week, saying the de-escalation zones in the country should not be used to set the stage for its disintegration.

Four de-escalation zones were recently created in Syria to help resolve the conflict through peace talks.

In contrast, Yakis is not all that pessimistic about Syria keeping its territorial integrity.

"Syria's territorial integrity may still be maintained," he argued, noting the YPG has several times said it does not aim, at least for the moment, to proclaim independence.

He underlined, however, that the consequences would be more disturbing for Turkey if Syria breaks up in the end.

The analysts do not think it is much probable that Turkey would attempt to intervene militarily in a YPG-held area, as Ankara would then find itself confronted by all the parties involved in the raging Syrian war.

"If Turkey extends its military operation beyond the present territories that are controlled by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), it may irritate not only the U.S. but also Russia," said Yakis.

Turkish troops waded into northern Syria in August last year with FSA support, but ended the so-called Operation Euphrates Shield at the end of March after capturing an area of around 2,500 square km along the Turkish border, as the U.S., Russian and Syrian troops all moved to block the Turks' advance toward YPG-held Manbij at the time.

Turkey should not be expected to conduct a military operation against the YPG, remarked Dilek, noting Erdogan's threat against the Kurdish militia is conditional.

He argued that Washington would not launch the Raqqa operation with the YPG before making sure that Turkey would not take military action against the group.

Reports appeared in Turkish media in recent months suggested that Turkey may consider driving the YPG out of its Afrin Canton.

Two of the three YPG cantons on the Turkish border are united on the eastern side of the Euphrates River, while the one in Afrin is isolated in northwestern Syria.

"Turkey should refrain from taking a military action in Afrin, unless there is a provocation from the YPG side," cautioned Yakis. "Every step Turkey should take has to be in the direction of disengagement from the Syrian imbroglio."