DIPLOMACY >Ankara warns PYD over ‘demographic change’ in northern Syria

Deniz Zeyrek - ANKARA

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Ankara “will not permit its red lines to be crossed” in northern Syria after a key town on the Turkish border was captured by Kurdish forces from extremist jihadists, warning Kurds not to force Turkmens and Arabs out of the region.

According to evaluations made by the Foreign Ministry, which were presented in two high-level security meetings last week, Turkey will continue to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on all platforms, but it will not allow the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and captured the border town Tal Abyad from ISIL last week, to cross Turkey’s red lines in Syria.

The points made in the document, prepared by the Foreign Ministry and obtained by daily Hürriyet, have been approved by the President’s Office, Prime Ministry and the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). 

Accordingly:

- Turkey’s sees ISIL as a terror organization. Hence, it will continue to fight against the group and be a part of the international coalition fighting ISIL.

- The fight against ISIL will continue on its own course, without any regard to the PYD or other terror organizations.

- The PYD has been informed at the highest level about Turkey’s conditions. It has been told not to collaborate with the Bashar al-Assad regime and not violate Syria’s territorial integrity. The PYD has been told that all Syrian people will together decide the future of Syria and that it is unacceptable that the PYD will not be a part of it.

- The PYD, however, acted pragmatically, acting together with the al-Assad regime on one side while bargaining with ISIL on the other side when their interests overlapped, declaring cantons in defiance of Syria’s unity.

- The PYD’s fight against ISIL has won the sympathy of the whole world. Turkey is also pleased that ISIL has been impeded. That is why no objections were made to the allies’ military and logistical support to the PYD.

- However, no one can act in their own interest just because they are fighting ISIL and violate the principals established in hundreds of meetings held for Syria. The demographic structure of the region cannot be changed through a fait accompli.

- The reaction to the PYD’s forcing out of Turkmens and Arabs in the region, and replacing them with Kurds, has been conveyed to the United States, the United Nations, the U.N. Security Council, the European Union Commission and NATO secretary-general. The U.S. has recognized Turkey’s claim and conveyed it to the PYD administration at the highest level.

- The U.S. is giving open support to Turkey’s opinion and demands regarding the Kurdish region in northern Syria, especially Tal Abyad.

- Ankara has conveyed to the notified parties a message that “you cannot overlook that the humanitarian tragedy in the region is being shouldered by Turkey while a perception operation about the PYD is in process.”

- A region in northern Syria, free of al-Assad forces and ISIL, can create a basis to realize Turkey’s buffer zone proposal. If this happens, it could be possible to: 1) Pressure the al-Assad regime, 2) Unify the moderate opposition forces, 3) Stop the refugee flow in Syria and provide humanitarian aid on Syrian soil.

- It is unacceptable that the PYD has closed the Akçakale-Tal Abyad border to crossings from Turkey to Syria.

- ISIL’s retreat from Tal Abyad has revealed the possibility of progress via Aleppo and Idlib. The Turkish Armed Forces should have made its military planning accordingly. This should be the way to explain the precaution taken on the border to our allies.

- Turkey’s sincerity in the fight against ISIL is still being questioned. We should remove the perception that ISIL’s human and logistical sources go through Turkey.

Senior officials in Ankara have been raising fears about the PYD’s progress in Tal Abyad since its armed wing, the People’s Defense Units (YPG) and Women’s Defense Units (YPJ), ousted ISIL from the town last week, together with the Burkan al-Firat. Ankara accuses the PYD of ethnically cleansing Arabs and Turkmens from the area, a claim that Kurdish forces have repeatedly denied. 

Pro-government media have also lamented the ouster of ISIL from the area, saying the “PYD is more dangerous than ISIL.”

PYD: No ethnic cleansing

Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) leader Salih Müslim has strongly denied its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), committed “ethnic cleansing” against Arabs and Turkmens in northern Syria with the intention of establishing a “Kurdish corridor” while clearing the Tal Abyad region in northern Syria of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants. 

“These [claims] are not true. A reality is that [we] are to protect the entities there. There is no corridor. We are fighting against ISIL’s jihadists and the international community sees us as the ones who are the most effective in this fight against the ISIL. And we are satisfied with it,” Müslim told CNNTürk June 21. 

The statement follows strong reaction from Turkish officials, who accused the YPG of committing ethnic cleansing in some parts of northern Syria to facilitate a demographic change so they could claim sovereign rights along the Turkish-Syrian border. 

“[Claims on ethnic cleansing] are in contradiction with everything. It contradicts with our brotherly relationship [with Arabs and Turkmens]. That would be very wrong if we would do so while we were suffering from discrimination. Some circles are trying to ignite a Kurdish-Arab military conflict,” Müslim said. 

Although the PYD is fighting in cooperation with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) against ISIL and the Bashar al-Assad regime, Müslim said the mentality of some groups within the FSA was not much different from those in ISIL. “We are disturbed by them. No one said anything while ISIL’s flag was waving in Tal Abyad for three years. The FSA is insufficient on its own. They are weak because they are not supported. What we ask them is to accept secularism and democracy,” he said. 

Müslim said he had no contact with the Turkish government on recent developments but expressed his intention to keep in touch with Ankara at all times. “My only demand from the Turkish officials is that they overcome their Kurdish phobia,” he said.

June/22/2015

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