Reading between the lines of Erdoğan’s Victory Day speech
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan delivered a rather short and concentrated speech on Victory Day on Aug. 30 at the reception he held in the Presidential Compound in Ankara.
It is possible to extract certain messages other than the obvious ones after giving it a second read, especially those hidden between the lines.
First, here are the lines from Erdoğan’s speech:
* “Today, we are saying at every opportunity that we must be present in the field, that we must be strong in the field, and that we must achieve success in the field. This is how Turkey demolished the terror corridor that was sought to be established along its border with Syria.
* “We foiled this game by crushing the head of Daesh [Arabic acronym for ISIL] on the Jarablus-Al Bab line and the PYD-YPG in Afrin. We are also taking steps toward foiling another 34-year plot by starting to establish security toward the Qandil direction of our border.”
* “We reiterate at every opportunity Turkey’s determination in not allowing Sinjar to turn into a new Qandil. We hold talks with U.S. officials to seek ways to clear Manbij of terrorists. We also carry out joint works with Russian and Iranian officials to avert any recurrence of the massacre that happened in Aleppo.
* “We are uninterruptedly continuing our preparations in order to eliminate one-by-one terrorist positions in the east of the Euphrates [River]. We are pursuing active policies regarding all the issues that concern the interests of our country, ranging from Cyprus to the Aegean Sea, and we are strengthening our presence on the ground accordingly.”
Below are the messages between the lines:
* Erdoğan is talking about a geography spanning the East Mediterranean, Greek territorial waters, Cyprus, Syria, and the Qandil Mountains of Iraq along the Iranian border, where the PKK has had its headquarters based for nearly 30 years. That also means Ankara is considering its national security in the defined geography as a whole, whether about the control of the migration flow through the Aegean, the oil exploration dispute around Cyprus, the Syria civil war, or the chronic PKK presence in Iraq.
* This is the first time Erdoğan clearly says the “terror corridor” along Turkey’s border with Syria was spoiled with two military operations: The Jarablus-Al Bab line against Daesh/ISIL in 2016 (and only five weeks after the attempted coup from within the military) and the operation against the YPG in Afrin, the Syrian extension of the PKK. The YPG was picked to be the ground partner of the U.S. against ISIL amid objections from its NATO ally Turkey despite the fact that the PKK is designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. government along with its its organic links with the YPG. Both of those operations were possible thanks to cooperation with Russia.
* The “34-year plot” is a direct reference to the PKK. The PKK started its systematic acts of terror against Turkey with the aim of establishing a Kurdish state in August 1984. Nearly 50,000 people were killed since. It can be concluded that Ankara sees the operations of Jarablus-Al Bab and Afrin and the ousting of the YPG from Manbij in cooperation with the U.S. as steps directed at the PKK headquarters in Qandil, while also seeing Sinjar in northwestern Iraq as another step toward that target. Sinjar is a region bridging the north of Iraq to the north of Syria, which is crucial for the PKK’s strategy for its geographical endurance.
* Erdoğan links the fight against the PKK with the ongoing talks with Russia and Iran (within the framework of the Astana Process) and with its Western allies, the U.S. as well as France and Germany, about the situation in Idlib, that is the reference given regarding Aleppo. When Aleppo was evacuated, tens and thousands of civilians were transferred to Idlib, a Syrian town very close to the Turkish border in northwestern Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Aug. 31 in Vienna, where he was attending a European Union meeting, that there are “extremist” elements in Idlib and they have to be separated from the civilian population, otherwise a Syrian military operation on Idlib could result in a disaster. In the meantime, Turkey recently put Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in its list of terrorist groups.
All those points indicate that Ankara is on the verge of another move in the region for its national security, this time in coordination with not only Russia but the European Union too. The American call about the future of Syria and the PKK is likely to play a crucial role in this equation.