While most people know about the fighting in the Syrian Civil War between troops loyal to president Baschar al-Assad and the rebels, mainly lead by the Free Syrian Army, there are other actors that are involved in this longstanding conflict. Al-Assad is backed by Russia and Iran while the US supports opposition groups through military means. One of these groups is the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces). The Kurdish military alliance YPG is the head of this opposition group and is in charge for military operations.
The Kurds in Syria strive for autonomy in the northern territories of Syria which they call “Rojava”. Al-Assad has so far acquiesced the Kurdish autonomy aspirations for a strategic reason – he wants to ensure their support. At the same time, the Kurdish military alliance YPG has been supported by the US. The latter supply the YPG with about 2000 soldiers and military instructors in order to fight against the terrorist organization ISIS. The YPG has been very successful in pushing back ISIS from large territories controlled by the latter. Since the main aim of the US in Syria is the fight against ISIS, they approve of the military achievements of the YPG in this matter.
There is yet another actor involved who through his latest actions in Syria sparked controversies in the international community: Turkey. It opposes the government of president al-Assad and intends to bring him down. Turkey is also involved in the fight against ISIS terrorists in Syria. As it is commonly known, however, Turkey is strongly against Kurdish movements aiming at the independence or autonomy of Kurdish territories. They want to prevent the formation of a Kurdish state at any cost, mainly because they fear the loss of eastern regions in Turkey which would then become part of Kurdistan.
At the end of January, Turkey started a military offensive in the Kurdish areas in northern Syria around the city of Afrin. They are now fighting against the YPG based on the claim from the Turkish government that the YPG has strong ties with the Kurdish party PKK. The latter is classified as a terrorist organization not only by Turkey but also by the EU and the US. The Turkish government states to have already “neutralized” more than 450 fighters of the YPG within the last two weeks. One might assume that this would cause reactions from the national community. It is not proven that the YPG is involved in the terrorist activities of the PKK or that they are connected in the first place. They both strive for the autonomy of Kurdistan, but according to experts, there is no certainty at this point about whether both groups work together. So, the military invasion of Turkey in northern Syria can be considered dubious, in fact, it may be tantamount to breaching international law. And the political leaders of the Western world? Even though they are united in their fight against ISIS and hence approved of the YPG regaining ISIS territories, their gratitude towards them seems limited.
The US in particular, which worked hand in hand with the YPG, now seems rather passive. Turkey even announced their military invasion to the US a few days before the operation went into effect. The statements coming from the US concerning Turkey’s military attack against the Kurdish YPG have been ambivalent so far. While the White House expressed that it would ease off its military support for the YPG, the Pentagon stated the opposite. If the US sustains its support for the YPG, this could have negative consequences for the relation between the two NATO partners. But if the US ends the military backing of the YPG, the latter might not be able to fight against ISIS as effectively anymore. This is contrary the US goals concerning the containment of terrorism. Turkey also pursues this goal, but the avoidance of a Kurdish state is of primary importance.
Nevertheless, Kurdish soldiers and civilians are killed in northern Syria by the Turkish army while the world watches. Not only were the arms and weapons used by the Turkish military against the Kurds imported from Western states such as Germany and the UK but Western governments been very reluctant to react in the face of this new conflict. The last thing Syria needs is another armed war in its northern territories, especially regarding the fact that the parties involved have been working towards ceasefires in the main conflict. The people of Syria deserve a life in peace and dignity after more than seven years of a bloody civil war.
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