US denies planning demographic change in Syria

AYŞE ŞAHIN
ISTANBUL
Published 24.06.2015 19:45

The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, has stringently denied any U.S plan to alter the demography or the borders of the region in response to recent allegations that the U.S-led coalition aims to ethnically cleanse part of Syria with the operations it carries out against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

Turkey has expressed alarm over a stretching corridor of Kurdish-controlled territory on Turkey's doorstep, a danger that emerged when the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People's Protection Units (YPG) captured the border town of Tal Abyad from ISIS, combining the cantons controlled by the PYD that run along the Turkish border.

The Kurdish advance that was backed by Syrian opposition forces on the ground and U.S-led airstrikes, handed over the control of ISIS to PYD forces in less than a week, and the capture became a matter of concern for Ankara, which claims there is an intentional demographic change in the domain supported by the U.S-led coalition. Turkey voiced its reservations that the operation against the strategic Syrian towns, not least Tal Abyad, could be a Kurdish aspiration to force out the ethnic Arabs and Turkmens in the region to form a "buffer state" run by the PYD, which Turkey bills as an extension of the PKK in Turkey.

"We don't have such an intention, plan or a policy. The U.S is against the change of borders in that region," Bass told Star Daily. Unsettled by the reports carrying the allegations, Bass continued: "The U.S. strongly supports the territorial integrity of Turkey, Syria and Iraq. But we think the greatest threat to Syria's and Iraq's territorial integrity and unity is ISIS. We press the militants to diminish their power. That's why we thought it was best to break its connection with the Turkish border and Tal Abyad."

Tal Abyad lies between two Kurdish-controlled cantons, Kobani and Jazeera, so its capture is of strategic importance as it opens a supply route between the two spots, triggering Turkish fears that such bridging will ramp up Kurdish power in the region and will ultimately pose a threat to the security of Turkish territory. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previously said he was worried that the PYD and the PKK were filling the vacuum left behind after ISIS receded, and that it could "create a structure" near its borders that might threaten the country.

When asked about cooperation with the PYD, despite the fact Turkey stigmatizes it as an offshoot of the PKK, which the U.S also acknowledges as a terrorist organization, Bass said: "We understand Turkey's concerns, but our cooperation with the PYD is not Turkey-centered. [The cooperation] is not toward blighting the stability of Turkey, neither does it aim to establish an autonomous Kurdish state on the Turkish border."

The PYD's YPG expelled the ISIS attack on the border town of Kobani in January. Since then, the YPG has emerged as the most significant partner on the ground in Syria for the U.S.-led alliance that is trying to roll back ISIS advances. The collaboration between the YPG and the U.S has been a matter of unease for Turkey, which has accused its ally of turning its back on its concerns while fighting against ISIS.

"The limited cooperation with the PYD comprises the airstrikes that the U.S pound around the Turkish border against ISIS," Bass added.

In response to claims of ethnic cleansing carried out by Kurds in the region, Bass said: "We are utterly against the conflict as exploited to permanently change the demography of the region. We don't want to see that happening. In addition to that, we consider that it is significant that those who fled Tal Abyad due to the clashes should have the chance of returning home when safety is restored."

Thousands of Syrian refugees streamed into Turkey's Şanlıurfa province through the Akçakale crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border last week, fleeing the clashes between Kurds and ISIS. Some 23,000 have been admitted from the Turkish border, and some of the refugees began returning. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said at a press conference last week that Turkey shelters the largest number of refugees in the world. Ankara, although it boasts about its open-door policy in the face of international community, complains that it gets little support from abroad to host the indigent refugees.

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