Tolerating critical voices won’t weaken Turkish Syria op
Turkey has long been fighting multiple terror organizations, mainly the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C).
The first two organizations figure among the world’s bloodiest terror groups and have claimed the lives of tens of thousands people in Turkey, Iraq and Syria. The third is a new-generation terror group that attempted to topple Turkey’s democratically elected government by mobilizing its members within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). The fourth is also a very dangerous far left terror organization that has killed scores of innocent civilians through attacks over the last decades.
Both the PKK and the ISIL have killed hundreds of people through suicide bombings and armed vehicle attacks in recent years sparking nationwide rage at all kinds of terror. Both terror organizations have long been using the chaotic situations in Iraq and Syria as a launch pad for attacks against Turkey.
Over the decades, Turkey has launched numerous cross-border operations in northern Iraq using both air and ground forces. All these operations were in line with the relevant articles of the U.N. Charter that provide for the right to self-defense.
As turmoil in our southern neighbor has deepened over the years, the country has become a new safe haven for various terror organizations, including the PKK’s offshoot, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and some jihadist terror groups.
The YPG has won legitimacy through its partnership with the U.S. in the fight against the ISIL and has captured around 25 percent of Syrian territories. Apart from the Afrin district, around 600 kilometers of the Turkey-Syria border is under the control of this terror organization.
It was under these conditions that Turkey launched “Olive Branch Operation” in Afrin on Jan. 20, to eliminate the threat posed by the YPG to the Turkish people. As revealed by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, five people have already been killed because of 82 rockets launched by the YPG in the last 12 days, a figure that speaks for itself.
Furthermore, almost all political parties openly support the current operation as well as future military campaigns against terrorists. In this sense, “Operation Olive Branch” has received strong public and media support.
That said, there are surely those in Turkey who have differing views and approaches regarding the situation in Syria, just as it should be in all democracies. In a country with 80 million people, a few have tweeted their opposition with regard to the operation while some pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers made dissenting statements on the military campaign in Afrin.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has declared its full support to the operation but at the same time has questioned the role of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Some civil society organizations, such as the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), has sought to draw attention to the impacts of wars on public health through a written statement with a call for immediate peace.
The government and the judiciary’s response to such calls and opposing views have been fierce. All 11 members of the TTB central council have been detained while hundreds of others who have either tweeted or issued similar statements face legal prosecutions. The accusations are grave. They are depicted as terror-lovers and traitors and are charged with promoting terrorism.
However, the TTB’s statement was simply reflecting the perspective of medical scientists concerned with the negative impacts of war situations. If the government had not made a statement on the issue, it would surely have gone unnoticed.
Obviously, this kind of pressure on the freedom of expression is unacceptable in any condition. Democracies are regimes under which everyone feels no hesitancy to speak out within the constitutional boundaries. Tolerance, on the other hand, is the cornerstone of a healthy society. Zero tolerance is a kind of a virus that slowly undermines the democratic structure of a society.
A large portion of the Turkish people and institutions has already demonstrated a very strong support to ongoing operations by the Turkish army. Tolerance given to dissenting voices would legitimize, not weaken this support.