Turkey’s new offensive in northern Syria is reminiscent in many ways of the invasion of Cyprus in 1974, showing Ankara’s expansionist tendencies once again, according to Greek and Cypriot analysts.
Turkey launched its “Operation Peace Spring” on October 9 in order to clear an area between the towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al Ayn in northeast Syria of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey sees as extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK has been branded as a terrorist organization.
The pretext for this military operation is that Ankara wants to create a safety zone in order to relocate some two million Syrian refugees out of the 3.6 million who are currently on Turkish soil.
The operation started after US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of US armed forces from the area. This was seen as a “green light” for Turkey to proceed with Operation Peace Spring. Turkey has been threatening to fight the Syrian Kurds since 2014.
The withdrawal of US forces — which had served as a buffer between the Syrian Kurds and Turkey — gave the latter a good excuse to for all practical purposes invade and occupy land in northern Syria.
Turkey’s aims are fairly obvious. Turkey does not want an independent Syrian Kurdish state on its southern border; since Syrian and Turkish Kurds are so closely related, Ankara would feels threatened by such a development.
Turkey is worried that an internationally-recognized, independent Syrian Kurdish state could legitimize the independence aspirations of Turkish Kurds, who constitute roughly 15 percent of Turkey’s population.
The euphemistic title “Operation Peace Spring” cannot hide Turkey’s intentions to expand its borders. This seems clear at this point.
Its new tactics are similar in some ways to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. At the time, the excuse for the invasion of the island was to protect the Turkish-Cypriots of northern Cyprus. Forty-five years later, there are about 45,000 Turkish troops still there, supposedly to protect Turkish Cypriots’ rights.
Meanwhile, Turkey established a pseudo-state they named the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is a puppet state recognized only by Ankara.
At the same time, Ankara does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus — a full member of the European Union — as a nation, and continually refers to it as “Greek Cyprus.” In this light, it is very unlikely that Turkey desires the reunification of Cyprus and seems more content with having the northern, occupied part as a piece of Turkish land.
On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on the Turkish plan for a “safe zone” in northern Syria. After receiving what it views as the blessings of the White House, now Russia will step in to aid Ankara’s plans of essentially expanding its borders.
Under this deal, Russian military police and Syrian border guards will first facilitate the withdrawal of Syrian Kurdish forces from the Turkish border area. Russians and Turks will then jointly patrol the area which is now occupied by the Turkish military.
The two forces will “facilitate the removal of YPG elements and their weapons,” according to the memorandum signed by the two sides.
Now Erdogan appears to have gained the support of both Russia and the US to proceed with his ambitious, and hostile, plans towards his neighbors.
The disturbing “Blue Homeland” map Ankara drew up and published a few months ago shows the Turkish border expanding into part of northern Syria and well inside Greece’s territorial waters, reaching all the way to Crete.
Athens and Nicosia are worried about the support Turkey is getting from both the Kremlin and Washington, and the way Erdogan is flexing his military muscle in Syria.
Meanwhile, all of Europe is passively watching Ankara’s bullying in the Eastern Mediterranean, limiting its reactions to lukewarm verbal warnings and tired statements about international law.