The Platform

Orhan Erkılıç

With all eyes on Gaza, Turkey continues to target Syrian Kurds.

As major media publications worldwide concentrate on the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Turkey’s aggressive acts against civilians in northeast Syria largely go unnoticed. Earlier this month, Turkey began an aerial assault in Syria’s northeastern region, justifying it by stating that militants, supposedly involved in an incident in Ankara, had been trained in Syria. However, the semi-autonomous Kurdish leadership in northeast Syria refutes these claims, pointing out the conspicuous absence of substantial evidence from Turkish officials.

This is not Turkey’s first incursion into Syrian territory. Employing drones, fighter jets, and artillery, Turkish forces have consistently targeted the Kurdish-administered areas in Syria. The resulting damage has severely impacted over half of the power and oil infrastructure in Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria. Such attacks not only challenge an energy-dependent economy but also cripple vital infrastructures. The Suwaydiya power station, a critical energy source for the Jazeera region of northeast Syria, stands as a testament to this, being rendered inoperative due to recent Turkish airstrikes. Given the dependency of potable water supply on electricity, many locals now find themselves without access to basic necessities like water and power.

The underlying strategy behind Turkey’s aggressive campaigns seems clear: to destabilize the economy in the Kurdish-administered areas and erode the local populace’s confidence in their leadership. It’s worth noting that while Turkey has historically targeted Kurdish strongholds in Syria, the scale and specificity of this latest campaign indicate a more expansive and calculated approach. Noteworthy is the fact that the operations have stretched to regions near Hasakah and territories governed by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). This significant expansion in the scope of attacks suggests premeditation, indicating that the list of infrastructural targets might have been drafted well before the incident in Ankara.

Furthermore, Turkey’s ire isn’t restricted solely to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The broad brush of their operations seems to paint almost all Kurdish establishments and areas as targets. And even though Turkey ardently claims to be rooting out terror hubs in Kurdish regions of Syria, there is a glaring lack of evidence showing Syrian Kurds launching any retaliatory attacks on Turkish soil. The overarching goal of such expansive military endeavors appears to be the displacement of Kurdish inhabitants, with an aim to replace them with populations more amenable to Turkish interests. Turkey’s prior activities in Afrin stand as evidence, which many international observers, including Amnesty International, have labeled as more ethnic cleansing than counter-terrorism.

Drawing from history, the expansive reach of the Ottoman Empire stands as a testament to Turkey’s historical influence across vast regions. It seems the contemporary Turkish Republic, in its foreign policies, exhibits ambitions of revisiting such expansive influence, especially in neighboring territories. Their current strategies against Syrian Kurds seem to resonate with this neo-Ottoman aspiration. And while the world’s gaze remains firmly on the Israel-Hamas conflict, Turkey capitalizes on this diverted attention, advancing its objectives in northeast Syria. It’s becoming clear that Syrian Kurds, previously pivotal allies in counter-terrorism endeavors, are now falling out of favor in Western geopolitical calculations. Erdogan’s stark warnings to the U.S. about its alliances in the region highlight the tensions. However, the integral role of Syrian Kurds in the broader fight against extremism and maintaining regional balance should prompt a more considered international response.

Manish Rai is a geopolitical analyst and columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region and the editor of geopolitical news agency ViewsAround (VA). He has done reporting from Jordon, Iran, and Afghanistan. His work has been quoted in the British Parliament.