Unfettered by global condemnations and warnings, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched an invasion on a sovereign state, targeting Syria’s Kurdish population in a ferocious attack.
Through his “Fountains of Peace” Operation, Erdogan hopes to crush Kurdish resistance fighters, especially the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) fighters and Syrian Kurdish fighters who are members of the Syrian Democratic Army. But this is only part of Erdogan’s grand plan for Syria, since he has greedy ambitions for hegemony in the region extending to Syria and northern Iraq and not ending there.
The operation is a desperate attempt by Erdogan to regain the momentum of his Islamist expansionist ambitions that were reversed by the fall of the Islamist regime in Egypt in June 2013 and then the fall of some of his staunchest allies including former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir. A pattern of anti-Islamist sentiment has grown in the region, with countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates banning the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood.
Moreover, the Libyan army led by Khalifa Haftar is closing in on liberating the capital Tripoli from the clutches of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government and its allied jihadist militants despite the military and financial support it receives from Turkey and Qatar. Erdogan has had to gamble militarily in Syria in order to try to break the cycle of defeats he has been suffering across the region. That has been made even more pressing because of domestic disgruntlement against his tyrannical rule following years of oppression and iron-fist policies.
Destroying the Kurdish resistance has always been high on Erdogan’s agenda, and the latest invasion of Syria by Turkey is an attempt to finalise the problem once and for all by occupying the Kurdish-populated north of the country in order to quell any possible rebellion and calls for independence emanating from the region.
As a result, Erdogan is committing his latest genocide against the Kurdish population in Syria through a new operation that carries a name that has nothing to do with its true aggressive nature. It is similar to the “Olive Branch” Operation carried out by the Turkish army in 2018, which ended up in the massacre in Afrin in Syria that saw the deaths of some 500 civilians.
Early Turkish army reports indicate that the invasion in its first day left over 270 Kurdish fighters killed, and indications of a massacre can be found in reports that over 40 civilians were also killed directly as a result of shelling or even murder either by Turkish forces or allied Syrian militant groups.
Hevrin Khalaf, a Syrian Kurdish politician and leader of the Future of Syria Party, was killed in the bombing. This brave woman had been an advocate of democracy in Syria and had resisted the Turkish invasion. Women and children were reportedly killed and injured during the first hours of the incursion. Over 100,000 civilians have also fled northern Syria, causing a new human catastrophe in the war-torn country.
Moreover, an estimated 100,000 members of the terrorist Islamic State (IS) group including women and children are held in Kurdish-controlled camps in the region. Among them are about 12,000 foreign fighters of various nationalities whose countries have refused to permit them to return home. These terrorists are now on the verge of escaping as fighting breaks out with the Turkish invaders. The Kurdish fighters have declared that they will prioritise defending their homes and territory rather than guarding the prisoners, which signals another catastrophe in the making.
Should these IS fighters flee, they will likely either join their terrorist comrades in Syria and Iraq or attempt to reach Libya or Egypt in case they decide to fight on in the region. This is what Erdogan hopes to attain as he has used the services of IS to serve his vile ambitions over the past five years.
Other IS members may choose to return to their European countries of residence, which would spell disaster for European security. This danger has caused European Union members to condemn the Turkish attack and demand an immediate halt to it, particularly as the fallout from this operation will be felt in European cities later on. France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway and Holland have frozen weapons exports to the Turkish regime in an attempt to force Erdogan to yield to demands to cease his military operation.
Similarly, the members of the Arab League have condemned the Turkish attack on northern Syria and have vowed to issue a series of sanctions against the Turkish state even if they have not yet indicated what these will be. It goes without saying that the Arab states’ resolutions unfortunately leave a lot to be desired in terms of a truly decisive stance against Turkish ambitions for hegemony.
Prior to Erdogan’s military campaign, US President Donald Trump committed one of his worst mistakes thus far by announcing the complete withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria where they had been part of the International Coalition to fight IS. Many considered Trump’s move to be a stab in the back for the Kurds, who had fought side by side with the US in combating IS and had managed through enormous sacrifices to assist in destroying its so-called caliphate.
Turkey has not spared the remaining US troops in its blind shelling of the region, even as the Pentagon has announced it might retaliate if this occurs again. The United States has also declared that it is mulling over imposing sanctions against the Turkish regime if it does not cease its hostilities despite the US abandonment of the Kurdish fighters. Meanwhile, Erdogan has praised his invading troops, labelling them “Muhammadan forces” in an attempt to paint the atrocities being committed by his marauding army in religious colours. As usual, the genocidal operation has been applauded by Erdogan’s Islamist allies in Qatar and by Muslim Brotherhood members and media across the region.
However, Erdogan’s attempts to portray himself as a leader for the Muslims or a modern form of caliph will always fall on hard ground. His expansionist ambitions have been met by realities that he appears unable to understand, namely that in the 21st century and regardless of how much force he can muster the Turkish army’s capabilities remain limited in the face of regional powers including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.
This is not even to mention the forces of the three global powers of the United States, Russia and China, all of which will mean that Erdogan’s dreams of a new Ottoman caliphate are simply delusions. Erdogan’s real concern should not be ruling over the rest of the Muslims across the world, but ruling the rest of the Turks in fact, since they are growing weary of his mad adventures. Erdogan’s days as Turkey’s president are numbered regardless of the draconian measures he uses to instil fear into the hearts of Turkish citizens.
“Aggression unchallenged is aggression unleashed” wrote the Roman writer Phaedrus (15 BCE - 50 CE), a saying that seems to describe how the international community has treated Erdogan’s repeated war crimes. Until Erdogan’s aggression is met firmly, the world will need to brace itself for the next genocide to take place in Syria or elsewhere, as the Turkish president drives the region into wars that sooner or later will have global repercussions.
The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.