Turkey, Syria, US? ‘Whatever choice Afrin Kurds make, they will pay a very high price’
The northern Syrian city of Afrin has come under heavy shelling from the Turkish army as Ankara ramps up its operation to dislodge the Kurdish fighters, whom it sees as terrorists, from the region.
The bombardment came after a pro-Syrian government militia arrived in Afrin to join the fight against the Turkish military. The Turkish president’s spokesperson said the shelling had forced the group of fighters to retreat to the east of Aleppo.
But other reports suggest the pro-Syrian government forces have taken up positions in Afrin.
Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle-East studies at the University of Oklahoma, told RT he thinks the Kurds have fallen victim to America’s power-play in the region.
RT: There seems to be a complex web of alliances emerging in northern Syria. Could you explain to us the relationship between the Syrian government and the Kurds and what Damascus may have been hoping to achieve by entering Afrin?
Joshua Landis: Damascus is very interested in maintaining the sovereignty of Syria. Ever since the Turks threatened to invade over a month ago, Syria and the Kurds have been in negotiations. The Kurds of course, want autonomy, they don’t want to give up their arms, Assad wants them to give up all the arms. Turkey seems to be willing to go along with this. The Russians were on the phone to Ankara trying to smooth the way for a Syrian takeover. But Turkey was adamant that the YPG had to leave Afrin, put down their arms, and completely surrender. And for some reason, the Turks are not satisfied that that is going to happen. They have been warning and saying – if Syria goes in to defend the YPG, Turkey will invade both of them. Why is it not satisfied? We don’t know. Is this because the reports have come out saying that Erdogan’s popularity has gone way up because of the invasion and he doesn’t want to stop it? We are unsure. This is a mystery. Only two days ago Turkey said it was fine if the Syrian army went in, and today it is saying it is not fine. The Kurds and the Syrians have been competitors but they are allies in this situation against Turkey which is the common enemy of both.
RT: We know that the US has been providing weaponry to the Kurdish YPG which are now being used in the fight against Turkish forces. How damaging is this for US relations with their NATO ally Turkey?
JL: The US has been supplying a lot of weaponry to the Kurds east of the Euphrates. When the US first entered into Syria, Turkey and the US came up to an agreement that everything west of the Euphrates was Turkey’s; everything east of the Euphrates the United States’. Manbij is a sore point but that is still to be decided on. But that is the way it has been and the US has been giving a lot of weapons to the YPG. Now it is obviously telling the YPG “Do not attack Turkey with these weapons because the moment you do that, you will justify everything that Erdogan says is going to happen – that you are connected with the PKK.” So, the US is sitting on the Kurds and in essence is telling the YPG “You have to sacrifice your brothers in Afrin to preserve US help east of the Euphrates.”
Huseyin Bagcı, a professor of international relations at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, said nobody knows what type of alliance can be established and who is leaving which alliance tomorrow considering Afrin crisis in Syria.
RT: Turkey and Kurdish groups are both US allies yet openly in a military standoff. Do you expect the Trump administration to step up its involvement to resolve the Turkish-Kurd conflict?
Huseyin Bagci: The Americans are the other part and definitely they have great interest to stay in Syria because the Kurds provide them the opportunity to stay there. And also with Turkey as an ally… I do not expect a military confrontation between Turkey and the US. Definitely the YPG is now enjoying the protection of America, but at the same time the YPG is dealing with the Bashar Assad regime. It is a very complicated political and military situation there. Nobody knows what type of alliance can be established and who is leaving which alliance tomorrow.
Bashar Assad wants to keep his country under his control; Afrin is still Syrian territory. And the Kurds are now looking both to Turkey and to Bashar Assad. They have a strong choice. Whatever choice they make, they have to pay a very high price. But definitely, they would not choose Turkish side, they would probably cooperate with Bashar Assad because in the long run he is the one who can provide them political autonomy.