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Erdogan Plans Land Seizure In Northern Syria

Erdogan Plans Land Seizure In Northern Syria
Violating Syrian sovereignty to crush the Kurds.
By Hugh Fitzgerald

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the neo-Ottomanist president of Turkey, who sits plotting and planning in his 1,150 room Ak Saray, or White Palace, is mischief-making again. Now he has announced that Turkish troops will be occupying a 30-kilometer-deep stretch along the Turkish border with northern Syria. The troops will remain for as long as Turkey deems there to be a credible threat from Kurds in the neighborhood. That is likely to be a very long time. It is, however, a greatly exaggerated worry. The Kurds in Syria are no real threat to Erdogan; most of them have already moved away from the border, so as to avoid clashes with Turkish soldiers. Erdogan is determined that the several million Kurds in Syria do not join forces with the fifteen million Kurds in Turkey, especially those Turkish Kurds who are members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, that has been designated by Turkey, the U.S., and the EU, as a terrorist organization. But the PKK has only 5,000 members. How much of a threat can the PKK be to the Turkish army, with its 355,000 active troops? In order to be even more secure, Erdogan plans to carve out of northern Syria a cordon sanitaire, where Turkish troops will remain and Ankara’s writ will run. Naturally Bashar Assad, who has fought for eleven years to regain control of Syria, is furious at this latest act of territorial aggrandizement, at Syria’s expense, by Erdogan.

A report on Erdogan’s plans for Syria, and the Syrian response, is here: “Syria says any Turkish incursion amounts to ‘war crimes,’” Reuters, May 25, 2022

Syria’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that it would consider any Turkish military incursions into its territory as “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”


This is rich, coming from the foreign ministry of Bashar Assad’s Syria. Assad’s regime has murdered more than 600,000 civilians in the course of its civil war; it has used chemical weapons – chlorine gas, sarin, and sulfur mustard gas –on its enemies; the trustworthy Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has provided evidence that over 47,000 civilians were killed under torture in the detention centers and prisons of Assad’s regime. How dare the Assad regime accuse Turkey of “war crimes”?

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday [May 24] said Ankara would soon create safe zones 30 km (20 miles) beyond its southern borders to combat what he characterized as terrorist threats, in a likely reference to Kurdish armed groups in northern Syria.

Hmmm. A “terrorist threat” from Syrian Kurds, according to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, justifies occupying a “safe zone” 20 miles deep. Why, then, does he rant against Israel for wanting to keep control of its own “safe zone” in the West Bank, which is only 30 miles wide?

Ankara has already conducted three incursions into northern Syria since 2016, mainly targeting the US-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG.

Has the Kurdish YPG shot thousands of rockets into Turkey, as Hamas has done from Gaza into Israel? No, not a single rocket nor missile. Do YPG operatives build terror tunnels into Turkey, or by other routes smuggle themselves across the border, in order to murder Turks, by blowing up pizza parlors, buses, and schools, as Arab terrorists from Hamas, the PIJ, and the PFLP have done over many decades to Israeli men, women, and children? Not one. Perhaps the next time Erdogan lectures the Israelis on their need to stop their “incursions” against Palestinians in Gaza or in Arab cities in the West Bank, Israeli leaders can remind him of his incursions into Syria against the YPG, with far less justification, and his seizing a large swathe of Syrian territory in order to deal with an incomparably lesser threat to his country’s security than are Hamas and its fellow Palestinian terrorists, to the security of the Jewish state.

Damascus sees the incursions as a violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
On Wednesday, Syria’s foreign ministry said it had sent a letter to the United Nations secretary-general and the Security Council, describing Turkey’s actions as illegitimate.
“They amount to what can be described as war crimes and crimes against humanity,” it said in a statement carried by the state news agency.

Turkey’s proposed seizure of territory in order to fend off a largely imaginary threat from the Kurds is indeed a “violation of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” But that is very far from constituting either a “war crime” or a “crime against humanity.” If Turkey rounds up Syrian Kurds and puts them in camps, or otherwise harms them, for example by shooting non-combatants, those acts would constitute “war crimes.” Simply seizing and holding the territory where the Syrian Kurds have historically lived, and where some still live, falls far short of that designation.

But it will be instructive to have Turkey and Syria, both led by repressive despots who do not brook dissent, go at each other hammer-and-tongs at the U.N., whether at the General Assembly or the Security Council. The Turkish ambassador will respond to Syria’s complaint, just made to the Security Council, about Ankara’s “war crimes,” by detailing the real “war crimes” that Bashar Assad has committed during the more than 11 years of civil war, especially the torture and mass execution of civilians who supported the revolt, and the use of chemical weapons to kill tens of thousands of Syrians. Let Turkey hold up for the world pictures of the dead men, women, and children, the victims of the Assad’s regime use of chlorine gas, sarin, and sulfur mustard gas, beginning in 2012, with some of the largest chemical attacks occurring in Bayada, Homs December 23, 2012, in the Old City in Aleppo on July 29, 2014, and in Douma, outside Damascus, on July 4, 2018.

A study released in February 2019 tallied the chemical weapons attacks over the course of the Syrian civil war. At least 336 have occurred, with total civilian deaths amounting to 47,000, according to authors Tobias Schneider and Theresa Lütkefend of the Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute. How many more such attacks have there been in the three years since?

These researchers pored over reports of chemical attacks going back to 2012, reviewing the available information on each to verify the details. They collected evidence from “Syrian and international non-governmental organizations, monitoring groups, private firms, local administrative bodies, relevant international bodies, local and international media, and the open source.”

What will the Syrian ambassador be able to reply in response to such charges? He’ll deny any chemical weapons attacks, but who will believe him? He may even claim that it’s all a frameup by the United States, or worse still, by the “Zionists”? Will the Syrian respond to the Turkish ambassador that he and his president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are mere “tools” of the “Zionists”?

Isn’t it likely that along with his indignant denial of chemical weapons attacks the Syrian ambassador, in a tu-quoque defense, will provide details about Turkey’s long history of “war crimes” against its Kurds? He might go back almost a hundred years, to the first major Kurdish rebellion against the Turkish state.

In 1925, an uprising for an independent Kurdistan, led by Shaikh Said Piran, was put down quickly, and Said and 36 of his followers were executed soon thereafter. Other large-scale Kurdish revolts occurred in Ararat and Dersim in 1930 and 1937. The British consul at Trebizond, the diplomatic post closest to Dersim, reported on the brutal and indiscriminate violence by the Turkish troops, and made an explicit comparison with the 1915 Armenian genocide. “Thousands of Kurds,” he wrote, “including women and children, were slain; others, mostly children, were thrown into the Euphrates; while thousands of others in less hostile areas, who had first been deprived of their cattle and other belongings, were deported to vilayets (provinces) in Central Anatolia. It is now stated that the Kurdish question no longer exists in Turkey.” Since then there have been five major Kurdish revolts, and each of them has been put down by the Turks with surpassing brutality. The Syrians will be delighted to recount the history not only of the Turkish troops’ “war crimes” against the Kurds, but of the Turkish attempt to wipe out the Kurdish identity, through such means as banning the Kurdish language in print and media, and even forbidding its use anywhere outside the home.

In the end, like two punch-drunk boxers who have managed to knock each other out, and are sprawled side-by-side in the ring, the Syrians and the Turks will have managed to leave one another publicly embarrassed, chagrinned, shamed. They both have had it coming. At the U.N. let Syria decry the Turkish invasion of its territory, and the Turks’ continuing history of brutal treatment of its own, and of Syria’s, Kurds. And let the Turks hold up for the international media the undeniable “war crimes” that the Assad regime carried out against its own people, 47,000 of whom were killed by chemical weapons. For a brief shining moment, Israel will not be the only one in the dock at the U.N. Savor that moment.

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