President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump held a meeting that was critical in terms of timing and content. The two leaders met against the backdrop of a heated debate on the future of bilateral relations.
This was the state of play ahead of Erdoğan’s visit: anti-Americanism was on the rise in Turkey due to Washington’s political and military support for the PKK terrorist organization affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), as well as U.S. assistance to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). Amid American objections, Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring against PKK/YPG militants in northern Syria. Consequently, the Trump administration came under pressure to further strain Turkey-U.S. relations. Congress proceeded to impose sanctions on Turkey, which had already been removed from the F-35 joint strike fighter program. Although the Turks reached an agreement with the United States on the proposed safe zone in Syria, the terrorists continued their attacks against Turkey, repeatedly violating Donald Trump’s deal.
The historic meeting, which took place amid tensions between Turkey and the United States, did not solve all outstanding problems. The Americans did not pledge to stop arming the PKK in Syria nor did they take any steps toward extraditing Fetullah Gülen, the man behind the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. The United States did not offer to invite the Turks back into the F-35 program either. In return, Turkey reiterated its commitment to protecting its vital interests in the region — a continuation of ongoing practices.
In other words, there was no major policy change on either side. But the meeting was relevant nonetheless since Turkey and the U.S. agreed to stop the further deterioration of their bilateral relations — thanks to Erdoğan’s dialogue with Trump. It was also a good idea to invite a select group of senators to the leaders’ meeting, as the Turkish president seized that opportunity to share Turkey’s concerns and perspective with the legislative branch. At the end of the day, the two NATO allies decided to keep talking, no matter what happens.
The Turkish delegation spent the most time on undermining the Western public’s romantic view of PKK/YPG terrorists. Before and during Operation Peace Spring, there was an uptick in efforts to glorify the group in the Western media. Unfortunately, Western media outlets continue to misportray PKK/YPG as a modern, democratic movement fighting Daesh terrorists. Journalists and politicians collaborate to mislead the Western public by concealing the links between the PKK/YPG and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The Turks demonstrated to their counterparts that the SDF was directly linked to PKK/YPG terrorists. The key piece of evidence was an official CIA document about Ferhat Abdi Şahin, popularly known as Mazloum Kobani, being a PKK member. President Erdoğan shared that document with Trump.
The Western public has also been misled to believe that Syrians see the PKK/YPG as saviors. Whether Erdoğan brought up this issue in the White House is unclear, but I would like to bring to your attention an interesting study.
A recent Gallup poll established that the population of PKK-controlled areas, Hasakeh and Rawls, overwhelmingly supported Operation Peace Spring. According to the study, 64% of Arabs and 23% of Kurds said that they supported Turkey’s counterterrorism operations. That’s 57% of the general population. Gallup highlighted the ideological differences between the Kurdish community and PKK/YPG terrorists, adding that displaced local residents felt good about returning to their homes. Asked who they thought made a positive impact on the ground, 55% of the population said Turkey — followed by the counter-Daesh coalition (24%), Russia (14%), the United States (10%) and Iran (6%).
To be clear, this isn’t Turkey claiming to enjoy popular support. It’s a legitimate survey by Gallup, a credible pollster. But most international media organizations won’t report the findings of this study. They will instead paint a rosy picture of PKK/YPG activities.