Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Wednesday that his country had started a long-promised military operation, dubbed Peace Spring, in Syria, that aims to clear the border area of Kurdish fightersMOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 09th October, 2019) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Wednesday that his country had started a long-promised military operation, dubbed Peace Spring, in Syria, that aims to clear the border area of Kurdish fighters.
Kurds are one of the most ancient peoples of Anterior (Western) Asia and one of the largest ethnic groups in the world today approximately 30 million people identify as Kurdish. They live in Turkey, the north of Syria, northeast of Iraq, Iran, and South Caucasus. Despite the their large number, Kurds have never been able to achieve statehood.
The relationship between the Kurdish people and Turkey is the most strained. Kurds make up the majority of the population of the Eastern Anatolia Region, which occupies up to 30 percent of Turkish territory.
A large part of modern Turkish Kurdistan became a part of Ottoman Turkey in the 17th century after the Kurdish territory a historical region in West Asia was partitioned between the Ottoman Empire and Iran. After World War I, the 1920 Treaty of Sevres provided for the establishment of an independent Kurdish state. However, the agreement was rejected by Turkey and did not enter into force.
The Turkish leadership's views on the Kurds are reflected through the Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923, according to which non-Muslim communities consisting of Turkish citizens of Jewish, Greek and Armenian decent are recognized as national minorities. Kurds, in accordance with this law, do not belong to the national minorities' category.
The official policy of non-recognition was marked by bans on Kurdish language, culture, education and media. Any attempt to speak against this were strictly punished as a manifestation of "Kurdism," separatism and other related charges.
This led to an increase in Kurdish resistance in Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, several previously underground Kurdish parties and organizations emerged to the public eye. The most popular was the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), founded by Abdullah Ocalan in 1978. The PKK is a left-wing extremist organization that prefers violent and terror tactics. Its influence spread to a significant part of Syria's Kurds. In 1984, the party openly launched an armed struggle against the Turkish authorities. By 1998, the PKK battle groups were defeated, and Ocalan was arrested and sentenced to death. His death sentence was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment.
In 2000, the PKK officially announced it was giving up violence and terror and instead transitioning from armed resistance to political negotiations in the fight for the rights of the Kurds. However, in August 2003 there were a number of clashes between the PKK and Turkish forces near the city of Siirt. In 2004, the PKK started using terror tactics to achieve its goals again.
The conflict between the Turkish authorities and the PKK claimed more than 45,000 lives. Ankara considers the PKK a terrorist organization and one of the main threats to national security. The United Nations and the European Union followed suit.
In October 2012, the Turkish authorities started negotiating with Ocalan, and a road map was developed in which both parties committed themselves to resolve the protracted conflict. Subsequently, the parties repeatedly accused each other of default.
In March 2013, Ocalan issued a statement in which he called for a ceasefire and urged the fighters of his organization to withdraw from Turkey. In the spring of 2013, PKK military units were withdrawn to neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan after the regional government gave its consent and regrouped in the Qandil mountains near the Iraq-Turkish border.
On July 24, 2015, the Turkish Air Force launched airstrikes against PKK positions in northern Iraq. The Turkish leadership officially stated that attacks were aimed at ensuring national security. In response to this, the PKK stated on its website that the truce with Ankara had become obsolete.
Since 2015, the Turkish army has carried out intermittent strikes against PKK targets in northern Iraq, where the organization's camps, shelters, command posts and weapons storage facilities were now located.
About 1,000 military and police officers, as well as about 500 civilians, have died in attacks carried out by Kurdish rebels since the ceasefire ended in July 2015. According to the Turkish Defense Ministry, security forces neutralized more than 10,000 members of the PKK during this period.
Until recently, Syria was not a place of serious confrontation between the Kurdish minority and government forces, but the situation started to change after a civil war broke out in 2011. Initially, the Syrian Kurds fought against the government of President Bashar Assad.
After the Islamic State (IS, banned in Russia) terrorist organization, which was fighting against the Kurds in Iraq, became Assad's main opponent, the Syrian Kurds stopped fighting Assad's forces and turned all their efforts to resist the advance of IS fighters. The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey believes to be linked to the PKK and therefore a terrorist organization, has played a key role in the national Kurdish movement.
The People's Protection Units (YPG) is the party's armed wing, of which there is also a female branch.
The PYD is a part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance formed on October 10, 2015, which also includes various Arab opposition groups that are members of the Syrian Arab coalition, as well as Assyrian and Armenian forces. Damascus believes that the SDF alliance's actions are illegal and considers the fighters of the formation separatists.
Turkey is a part of the US-led international anti-terrorism coalition in Syria. The coalition has been fighting IS militants in Syria since 2014, acting without the consent of the country's authorities.
Its goal, according to Erdogan, was to eliminate IS terrorists and Kurdish paramilitary structures. Later, then-Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said that the operation's goal was to "prevent the Kurds from creating a corridor from Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea." The operation was supported by the Free Syrian Army in the province of Aleppo and lasted until March 2017.
During the operation, Turkey occupied the border town of Jarabulus on the Euphrates River, cleared IS fighters from a 100-kilometer (62-mile) section of the border and then moved south to Al Bab. Turkey's invasion divided the northwestern and northeastern Kurdish enclave, thereby preventing the creation of a unified Kurdish autonomy on the Syrian-Turkish border.
The second operation conducted by the Turkish army in Syria against the Kurds, dubbed Olive Branch, began on January 20, 2018. It was held in the predominantly-Kurdish district of Afrin in northern Syria. Ankara started the operation after Washington had announced its plans to deploy a Kurdish armed corps along the Syrian-Turkish border.
Turkish officials said the operation in Syria was in compliance with international law and treaties while also observing the principles of the country's territorial integrity. In turn, the Syrian authorities qualified the actions of the Turkish army as aggression and violation of Syrian sovereignty.
By March 10, 2018, the entire border strip inside Afrin, as well as a number of large cities, including Bulbul, Rajo and Jindires, came under the control of the Free Syrian Army and Turkish Armed Forces. The operation resulted in the consolidation of Turkish forces in the area.