Turkish forces are shielding Syrians and Kurds
I would like to set the record straight regarding Operation Peace Spring as some of the pieces in the Bangkok Post over the past few days have especially been concerning in terms of facts.
I wish to address in particular two commentaries published respectively on Oct 12 and 16, 2019. But before then, I would like to underline that the aim of this operation has been to eliminate a long-standing terror threat against Turkey’s people and national security, to ensure the security of our borders, to neutralise terrorists in the region, to save the Syrian people from the oppression and atrocities of terrorists. Turkey’s counter-terrorism efforts in Syria will also contribute to the territorial integrity and unity of Syria by disrupting separatist agendas and lay the ground for safe and voluntary returns of displaced Syrians.
The operation has been conducted on the basis of international law, in accordance with our right of self-defence under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and resolutions of the UN Security Council on fight against terrorism.
As an active member of the Global Coalition against DEASH since its inception, Turkey fought against DEASH in Syria more than any other country and paid the heaviest price. Turkey was the only country engaging in chest-to-chest combat against DEASH terrorists in Syria. Successfully conducting two major counter-terrorism operations, namely "Euphrates Shield" in 2017 and "Olive Branch" in 2018 in northwest of Syria, Turkey cleared an area of over 4,000 sq km from DEASH and PYD/YPG terror organisations, neutralising nearly 4,600 terrorists. Both operations targeted only terrorist elements and their hideouts, shelters, emplacements, weapons, vehicles and equipment. This allowed more than 360,000 Syrians to return to their homes.
In addition to DEASH, direct terrorist threat to Turkey comes from PKK and PYD/YPG (the Syrian offshoot of PKK, PKK itself is recognised as a terrorist organisation also by the US, EU and NATO.) I thus underline; Turkey does not fight Kurds; our target is these terrorists.
And let me emphasise, Turkey has no plans whatsoever to modify the demographic structure in the operation area. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, PYD/YPG terrorist organisation has oppressed and intimidated the local population, the Syrian Kurds in particular, and forcibly displaced them. Indeed, the crimes which PYD/YPG committed against humanity have been documented by independent international organisations; PYD/YPG has applied oppression and violence foremost against Kurds, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Arameans — and all the people of the region; they have recruited child soldiers, engaged in demographic engineering as well as forced conscriptions and they have smuggled ammunition to PKK.
The allegation that Operation Peace Spring would damage efforts to reach a political solution in Syria is far from reality. In close cooperation with other Astana guarantors and the UN, Turkey is one of the few countries that exerted maximum and genuine efforts to establish the Constitutional Committee. Turkey is committed to the territorial integrity and political unity of Syria.
With a separatist agenda that undermines the principle of territorial integrity and political unity of Syria, on which a political solution must be built upon, PYD/YPG cannot be regarded as a legitimate representative of any segment of the Syrian people. On the contrary, fighting against such a terrorist organisation will only contribute to the advancement of the political process.
The piece on Oct 12, by Eli Lake from Bloomberg is very unfortunately based on an interview with "Mazloum Abdi" of YPG, also known as Ferhat Abdi Şahin and other names, who has led the "Special Forces" which are the units created by the PKK leadership to perpetrate deep impact, sensational terrorist attacks, among them many in Turkey.
The opinion by Gwynne Dyer published in your paper on Oct 16 contains elements that are not acceptable. Some of them show how he himself sees the world and we cannot change them, but I will try to address some of the outstanding factual mistakes that require correction so that your readers are better informed.
First, Syrian Kurds need no protection from Turkey as Turkey has no hostile agenda as regards them. With even a modest effort, one can easily find out that among the nearly 4 million Syrian refugees fleeing their country for their lives and finding shelter in Turkey, there are around 300,000 Syrian Kurds as well. For someone who makes an objective assessment of the situation, it cannot be too difficult to make a difference between Kurdish people and terrorists. Turkey is fighting PKK/PYD/YPG terrorists who are also responsible for the killing of thousands of Kurds.
Secondly, SDF is the rebranded version of YPG. Gen Raymond Thomas, commander of US Special Operations explains in an easily online-accessible video how they changed their name overnight in an effort to gain legitimacy. These show clearly how one group recognised as terrorist was used to fight another. This is a wrong strategy, one that disregards Turkey’s security concerns.
In a world of freedom of expression, all opinions are free to be expressed but their value and credibility are very much connected to how much they are based on realities rather than biases, misinformation or ignorance.
Evren Dağdelen Akgün is Ambassador of Turkey to Thailand.