The operation to clear the PKK terrorist group's Syrian affiliate Democratic Union Party (PYD) armed Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) from Afrin in Syria is imminent as Ankara has deployed troops to its border with Syria for a possible cross-border operation backing the Syrian opposition.
The government is supported by some mainstream parties, which say Turkey's national interests should come first, while some other parties argue that it should not be carried out.
Turkey has long voiced its concern over the emergence of the PYD in northern Syria, and its YPG being supported by the U.S. as a partner in the fight against the Daesh terrorist organization. Despite the PKK being listed as a terrorist group by the U.S., EU and Turkey, Washington has ignored the organic ties between the two groups, and has supported the YPG militarily and logistically, beginning with former President Barack Obama and followed by President Donald Trump's administrations.
Ankara opposes the U.S.'s partnership with and support for the YPG, arguing that support for the group is against the principles of the alliance between Turkey and the U.S., which are both NATO members, and as Ankara considers the YPG to be a threat to Turkey's sovereignty. In addition, Ankara argues that the aim of the PYD to establish an autonomous region in northern Syria, which threatens the territorial integrity of Syria and poses a threat to the demographic and ethnic sensitives in the region, as the YPG has been accused of oppressive practices toward Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen populations that are critical of their political ideology.
Ankara has called for the White House to halt its support for the group in Syria, but despite repeated warnings, Washington has not taken a step back from its, pushing ties between the two countries to historic lows amid the other disagreements between them.
Ankara argues that partnering with the YPG does not serve the fight against terrorism, as there are no good or bad terrorists and since all terrorist groups must be fought against with legitimate forces and the local moderate opposition in Syria.
In line with these sensitivities and the presence of Daesh in northern Syria along Turkey's southern border, the Turkish military launched Operation Euphrates Shield on Aug. 24, 2016, which ended in March, 2017. As a result of the operation in which Turkish troops backed the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the Syrian towns of Jarablus, al-Rai, Dabi, and al-Bab were cleared of Daesh terrorists and civilians were able to return home.
With the current operation, Turkey now aims to clear the YPG from its borders so the PYD cannot establish an autonomous region, which Turkish officials call a "terror corridor," by connecting the northwestern Afrin canton to the Kobani and Jazeera cantons in the northeast.
Daily Sabah has gathered parties' positions on a possible operation into Afrin.
The Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which has ruled single-party governments for 16 years, has voiced determination to clear all terrorist elements from Turkey and along its borders, including the PKK and its Syrian affiliate, Daesh and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), the perpetrator of the failed July 15 coup attempt in 2016.
AK Party chairman, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has repeatedly said that the government will clear all terrorist threats at their roots before they are able to make a move toward the country. As such, launching an operation into Afrin is seen as a step taken in advance before the YPG can establish a "terror corridor" along the Turkish-Syrian, referring to the PYD's goal to establish an autonomous region. Operation Euphrates Shield, launched on Aug. 24, 2016, was also conducted with the same policy in mind of clearing Daesh terrorists in Syria through the cross-border operation before they could continue attacks in Turkey. Erdoğan said on Tuesday that the offensive would aid the Syrian opposition "so that they can protect their own territories."
"America will come from 11,000 to 12,000 kilometers, it will set up an army here, and it will name it what? Border protection? Whose border protection?" Erdoğan also criticized the U.S.'s recently announced plan to form a 30,000-strong border security force, which will include the YPG and which U.S. officials confirmed over the weekend. During the AK Party parliamentary group meeting, Erdoğan said Turkey will "shortly root out all terror nests in Syria," starting with YPG-held areas. The government also says that following an Afrin offensive, it will continue on to Manbij and areas east of the Euphrates River currently held by the YPG. The AK Party says regional sensitivities will be protected and all measures will be taken to avoid civilian casualties in the possible cross-border operation.
The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) sees an Afrin operation as a matter of national sensitivity and has called for common sense for the issue since there might be other plans of other states for the region.
CHP Deputy Chairman Öztürk Yılmaz said on Monday that one should differentiate the domestic matter from this issue, adding that the U.S. acts to divide Syria even more rather than uniting the country, referring to the latest move to build a border force from YPG ranks.
"This army's aim is to suppress Turkey, Syria and Iraq," Yılmaz said.
CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also called on the U.S. and Russia to stop providing weapons to terrorist organizations in the Middle East, particularly the YPG and Daesh.
"It is our duty to warn [about this issue]. If you enjoy drinking human blood, then go ahead, send weapons. Do not send weapons to the PKK and its wings or Daesh and its wings," Kılıçdaroğlu said. He added that every weapon sent to the Middle East would only increase the suffering in the region and lead to more bloodshed.
"Thus, we have to warn the U.S. and Russia, as well," he said at the CHP parliamentary group meeting in Ankara.
The CHP received 25.1 percent of the vote in the last general elections in 2015. According to a recent survey by the Objective Research Company (ORJ), 25.9 percent said they would vote for the CHP in an upcoming election.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) supports the government in a possible Afrin operation, asserting that it is necessary to prevent the emergence of a terrorist bloc.
"It is our just right to block the terrorist corridor with an operation into Afrin at dawn. Afrin should be cleared and the terrorist's camps in Manbij should be destroyed," MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli said on Tuesday at the MHP's parliamentary group meeting.
He also commented on the U.S. move to establish a border force from the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and People's Protection Units (YPG) ranks along Syria's northern and northeastern borders, saying that it undermines Turkey's territorial integrity.
He also said that the U.S. has been using the fight against Daesh as a pretext for its actions.
Recently, the MHP has formed an alliance with the AK Party to join forces in the 2019 presidential election. Bahçeli previously announced that they will not nominate a candidate, instead agreeing to back President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who will run for re-election from the AK Party.
"The MHP will act in accordance with the Yenikapı spirit and will support Recep Tayyip Erdoğan," Bahçeli said on Jan. 8. The announcement was welcomed by the ruling party and talks were held to discuss a future alliance. Bahçeli had previously called the alliance a "people's alliance" while Erdoğan had termed it a "domestic and national alliance."
The MHP received 11.9 percent of the vote in the last general elections held in 2015. According to a recent survey by the Objective Research Company (ORJ), 10.8 percent said they would vote for the MHP in an upcoming election.
HDP, HÜDA PAR split on AfrIn
The two parties which receive votes from predominantly Kurdish electorate, the People's Democratic Party (HDP) and the Free Cause Party (Hüda Par) have different positions on the issues. HDP says that a possible Afrin operation cannot be accepted, saying that Afrin is one of the few places in Syria that has managed to stay war-free and an operation would bring the war to the city, while Hüda Par says it is a country's right to ensure its security against both domestic and external threats.
Speaking to Daily Sabah, the party's press representative said that an operation would bring the region back to 2011 and would cause a war that could spread throughout the region.
The HDP Central Executive Board released a statement on Tuesday that said an operation into Afrin would have big costs both for Syria and Turkey.
In October 2014, amid the Daesh siege on YPG-held Kobani, HDP officials, including the party's co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, called for a major demonstration, dubbed as the Oct. 6-7 Kobani protests, in which more than 40 people were killed and some 500 were injured in clashes between pro-PKK and religious Kurdish groups and security forces throughout Turkey, especially in the southeast.
This was a major blow to the HDP and Demirtaş, who repeatedly said that they aim to be an umbrella party appealing to all of Turkey instead of a regional or ethnic party. Later calls, however, found little support. The HDP has come under fire for close links to the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and European Union. Members of the party have so far declined to call the PKK a terrorist group, and they have attended the funerals of several PKK militants, two of whom were suicide bombers that killed 10 civilians in multiple attacks in Ankara. The HDP received 10.75 percent of the vote in the last general elections in 2015. According to a recent survey by the Objective Research Company (ORJ), 8.5 percent said they would vote for the HDP in an upcoming election.
The Free Cause Party (Hüda-Par), a conservative party that draws its support predominantly from Kurdish provinces in the east and southeast, argues that it is natural for any sovereign country to work for domestic safety and security against external threats. In terms of Turkey's planned operation against the People's Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin, the party argues that the control and command mechanisms of terrorist groups attacking Turkey internally and also those groups operating in Syria are in the hands of actors outside the region. In a written statement to Daily Sabah, party spokesman Said Şahin said that the "armament and patronage the U.S. provides to the PKK's Syrian affiliate PYD [Democratic Union Party]" have made the group delusional about U.S. friendship, which they will sooner or later understand is not a permanent arrangement. Hüda-Par adds that "non-state actors must understand this, but it also must be considered by the countries in the region."
Hüda-Par was founded in 2012 and led by Chairman Zekeriya Yapıcıoğlu. It is one of the two parties that receive votes predominantly from the Kurdish-populated provinces in the east and southeast of Turkey. The party had also voiced support for the April 16 constitutional referendum, which was led by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
"The U.S. is strengthening its occupation and presence in the region under the name of a border security force. The PYD is just a pawn used by the US," the statement said, stressing that "Turkey should come up with solutions against this threat."
Good Party, Felicity Party support steps taken for national security
The nationalist İYİ Party and the conservative Felicity (Saadet) Party have similar positions on government's aim to clear the PKK affiliates from Afrin.
A press representative from the İYİ Party (Good Party) told Daily Sabah that they would support whatever serves the national interests.
The Good Party, which mostly consists of former MHP dissidents, was founded in October 2017. Party Chairwoman Meral Akşener was a prominent figure among MHP dissidents who heavily criticized the policies of Bahçeli the MHP's chairman of 20 years, after the general elections on June 7 and Nov. 1, 2015. The intra-party debate ended when the dissidents were dismissed from the party.
According to a recent survey by the Objective Research Company (ORJ), 5.5 percent said they would vote for the Good Party in an upcoming election.
Meanwhile, speaking at Parliament yesterday, the party's general-secretary, Aytun Çıray, said they are against the operation since they do not believe there is an important cause to die for, a move interpreted as an intra-party divison on the issue.
Çıray also called on the U.S. to give up its policies that are not suitable with its alliance with Turkey, referring to its latest plan to build a border force in northern Syria from YPG fighters.
The Saadet Party (Felicity Party), a small, religiously conservative party, says it supports the government's steps taken to protect national security against external threats, as it is a natural right as long as they are made within international law.
The Felicity Party's deputy chairman in charge of foreign relations, Hasan Bitmez, told Daily Sabah that an offensive into Afrin to clear out the YPG must be conducted in a way that "would not damage the Astana or Sochi processes."
"The offensive should not draw Turkey into a long-term swamp and it should be calculated carefully to minimize the risks," he said.
Bitmez said that the U.S. steps and policies in the region must be taken into consideration, as they may have long-term impacts in the region. He said that the government must take into consideration the regional actors, including Russia, and take measures and steps on regional developments accordingly. The Felicity Party had received 0.7 per cent of the votes in the Nov. 1, 2015 general elections.
* Contributed by Şeyma Nazlı Gürbüz