Afrin Matters

On 19 January 2018 Turkey announced that it was going to attack Afrin, a Kurdish area on its border with Syria, and an outlying part of the largely autonomous mainly Kurdish area, The Democratic Federation of Northern Syria widely known as Rojava. Turkey has been at war with the Kurds inside Turkey for many years, in a long campaign to eliminate the Kurdish culture, and Kurdish national leader Abdullah Öcalan has been held in solitary confinement in a Turkish prison since he was captured with US help in 1999.

President Erdogan launched the Orwellian-named ‘Operation Olive Branch’ to attack and destroy what he called a “nest of terror” on Turkey’s borders, claiming that the Kurdish forces there, the YPG and the YPJ are simply forces of the Kurdish PKK, banned in many countries as a terrorist organisation. He also claimed that he would be fighting Islamic State forces, which have no presence in the area.

Many might see the PKK and the 1984 Kurdish uprising when its military campaign began as an inevitable response to the attempted Turkish elimination of Kurdish identity. For many years it was a criminal offence to use the Kurdish language, even in private, and many were imprisoned for it. The wearing of Kurdish clothes, the use of Kurdish names and other aspects of Kurdish culture were also banned. Although there was some lessening of the anti-Kurdish laws in the 1990s, the situation for them and all opposition groups has worsened considerably over the past year or so, with Erdogan increasing military operations inside the country and imprisoning many of his political opponents.

Erdogan claimed that the attack on Afrin would also be against Islamic State, but Turkey has provided the major support for IS, by taking part in the smuggling of oil from their occupied regions, as shown very clearly by intelligence reports published by the Russians when they first became seriously involved in military support for the Assad regime in Syria. The only IS fighters in Afrin are some from the forces defeated by the Kurds who are now fighting with Turkey against those who defeated them.

Eight days later a larger protest took place against the attacks led by Turkey, again with the Kurds defiant. But the Kurds in Afrin were clearly out-numbered by their attackers, largely armed with rifles while the Turkish Army is large and well-equipped. But like much else that now happens in Syria it was probably the Russians whose action – or in this case, failure to act that would be the determining factor.

The Russians back Assad, and Assad rightly sees the Turkish invasion as an attack on Syria. But Russia also sees the advantages of a closer relationship with Turkey, hoping by doing so to weaken NATO of which Turkey is a member. Once the Russians had allowed the Turkish Air Force to operated unhindered over the area a military victory for the Turkish invasion seemed inevitable, even it it might be slow. Two months later they had occupied the centre of the city, with Kurdish forces withdrawing but promising to keep up military opposition through guerilla warfare. Though the war was won, it is not yet over.

Erdogan had promised to advance further towards the rest of Rojova, but his moves in that direction have met with opposition from the US who had previously allied with the Kurds to fight Islamic state. The US had stood aside and watched the invasion of Afrin but so far seem to be standing firm against further Turkish advances.

Defend Afrin, stop Turkish Attack

Stop Turkey’s invasion of Afrin


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