In the last few hours reports have emerged that the Turkish army is bombing the Til-Emarne (al-Amarne) village of Jarablus with artillery fire and jets and also attacking YPG targets in Ain Diwar (eastern Rojava) and Afrin (western Rojava). Kurdish sources have reported dozens of civilian injuries and deaths. Turkey’s incursion into Syria has already confirmed what many thought it was, an act of aggression against Kurds.
Pro-Turkey propaganda is rife, stating that Jarablus was “liberated” by the Turkish army with no bloodshed as opposed to the “YPG”- implying that the YPG are an invading, brutal army that kills and murders innocent people unnecessarily as opposed to the more “legitimate” Turkish army. But the reality is that there was no “fighting” to liberate Jarablus because there was clearly an agreement between ISIS-Turkey. The relative ease with which Turkey took over Jarablus has raised significant strategic and policy questions. Why did ISIS fight so hard to keep Kobane or Manbij but not Jarablus? Why did it dig itself in, plant hundreds and thousands of mines and booby traps across Kobane and Manbij, lost thousands of its fighters engaging in a guerrilla warfare and fight for territory house by house, street by street but no sign of its signature strategies in Jarablus? Why did it give in so easily and without any bloodshed in Jarablus?
Perhaps the response can be found in that ISIS fighters were witnessed simply exchanging their clothes for that of the Turkey supported al-Nusra ‘uniforms’? Whatever the truth in this regard, the reality is, the crux of the ISIS-Turkey agreement was that following the spectacular loss in Manbij it was better strategically to allow Turkey to control Jarablus, effectively cutting off the possibility of unity between Kobane and Cezire cantons with the Afrin canton and effectively establishing the “buffer zone” that Turkey had long been seeking. This process leaves ISIS to recoup and continue its attacks towards Afrin in the East and south of Kobane canton and Cezire in the southwestern area of Rojava-north Syria. This strategy also involves increasing suicide attacks and car bombs in Cezire, while the ongoing lack of a humanitarian corridor imposed by Turkey and supported by the Barzani government in KRG (northern Iraq) ensures a pressure cooker environment for the enclosed autonomous zones.
Now there are suggestions that Turkey and its co-conspirators are set to “liberate” Manbij using the YPG’s presence as a pretext for war -when it is well known that the YPG has left the city, with only the democratic local councils that they encouraged and supported and the Manbij Military Council, made up of local fighters left behind. This process effectively derails the argument that the Kurds are ‘land grabbing’, not to mention that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) contains a large number of Arabs and other ethno-religious groups who have joined in the liberation of towns and cities under ISIS control, and which was responsible for the liberation of Manbij.
But history repeats itself again, Turkey’s so called war on ISIS in Syria codenamed “Euphrates Shield”, is simply another thinly disguised attempt to attack the Kurds, as was the case last year when instead of attacking ISIS it attacked the PKK in the Qandil Mountains in south Kurdistan. Back then too the US had traded in the Kurds for access to the Incirlik (Adana) military base. But now the geostrategic implications of this incursion into Syria are much bigger than just the Kurdish-Turkey conflict. Alluding to this, Turkey Prime Minister Binali Yildirim stated that the invasion of Syria is based on “defending Syria’s territorial integrity”- but the Assad government has strongly condemned the incursion as a clear breach of its sovereignty; as it reflects Turkey’s increasing aspirations for regional leadership and hegemony.
Turkey’s rise to neo-Ottomoanism has been supported by Europe’s utter failure in dealing with the flow of people into Europe, resulting paradoxically in Europe throwing billions of Euros towards Turkey to “stop the refugees”. In turn, Turkey has responded by ferrying refugees back into Syrian territory, shooting, killing, and beating refugees across the Syrian border. Even more paradoxically, the US has aided and abetted Turkey in its invasion and violation of the territorial integrity of Syria and entry into Jarablus with air-cover support, despite the fact that Turkey has been allied with al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (previously Al Nusra) and ISIS in both Syria and Turkey. Joe Biden’s recent visit and statement earlier this week in support of Turkey alluded to the presence of Turkey in Syria being a long term notion. The resulting consequence was a US backed invasion of Jarablus, when less than a week before the US were helping to provide air support for the SDF’s liberation of Manbij. While this can be seen as a clear message from the US to the Kurds, this shift in alliance must also be viewed as a timely reminder for the Kurds to maintain ideological and military integrity and to remain unaligned with any particular side.
The invasion of Jarablus is also a reflection of the recently bolstered Erdogan’s political power play and his control of the country following the recent failed military coup. The US has rewarded Erdogan for the massive military and civil servant purge that occurred and reaffirmed the iron-clad control over the country by providing it with air cover for its invasion of Syria. The US is clearly aligning itself with the Erdogan’s autocracy, perhaps in a misguided effort to control the situation in Syria while avoiding “boots on the ground”, a mistake it made during the 2003 Iraq invasion and which cost it dearly in a number of ways.
But the US is sorely mistaken if it believes that it can maintain a proxy war in Syria and control the increasingly unstable Erdogan regime. The visible involvement of Iran, Saudi Arabia and its smaller ally states complicates the geopolitical situation further. Likewise, the EU remains completely paralysed in producing a coherent and concise approach towards Turkey, not only in light of the recent invasion, the ongoing treatment and abuses of refugees within Turkey, but also the ongoing human rights violations towards minorities such as the Kurds, Alevis and others, which are occurring internally inside Turkey.
Instead of Turkey’s containment and continued support for the Kurds and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SYD), a combination of Arab, Kurdish, Armenian, Assyrian and other ethno-religious groups, in fighting and pushing back ISIS- something which it has been doing successfully, the US and EU continue to remain weak willed, choosing what appears to be realpolitik over ethical and democratic politics. However, this approach is questionable considering the large scale global public opinion and support for the Kurds and the incontestable fact that to date they have been the most successful forces in eliminating ISIS but also creating democratic, inclusive and peaceful regions.
What is clear is that the Kurds will be in a state of perpetual war for some time to come, whether the conflict involves Turkey, ISIS or its other offshoots, or Assad, or all at the same time. It appears that the state of peace for the Kurds has come to mean a perpetual state of resistance and self-defence. But if there is one thing that the last year or so has demonstrated is that the Kurds are very good at the art of war and self-defence. Not to mention that the bygone years of state sponsored terror and abuses towards the Kurds can no longer be hidden, which has led to increased condemnation of Turkish state terrorism and US and EU’s support for the regime. This combined with the visible global support for the Kurdish forces and the SDF in their heroic resistance against ISIS ensures ongoing international interest and visibility of the issue.
What is clear is Turkey’s next move: to encroach into and destabilise Rojava with attacks on all three cantons and ‘retake’ territory for its Islamist allies. The Kurds most difficult strategic and military play is yet to come.
Originally published on the Kurdish Question.