Across the Kurdish-held territories of north-eastern Syria, people are steeling themselves for a long-threatened assault by Turkish forces – which now seems imminent after Donald Trump withdrew US forces from the area.
The Kurds took advantage of the chaos which has reigned in Syria since 2011, fighting off the Damascus regime to build their own autonomous statelet, known as Rojava.
Despite the threats posed by Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic State and Turkey – which views the local Kurdish forces as terrorist groups affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) – the region has thrived compared to the rest of war-torn Syria.
Many now wonder if the independence must be sacrificed in a deal with Assad to ward off the Turks: Trump’s decision to abandon his Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) military partners has been keenly felt as a betrayal. More than 11,000 men and women of the SDF gave their lives fighting Isis before the group was defeated in March this year.
“America’s attitude will create a negative impact on the whole region, and what has been built up here, the peace and the stability in this region – this American decision will destroy all the advances, particularly with regards to security,” said Amjed Osman, a spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Council.
“We have always said that Erdoğan’s threats are serious. There is no serious international will to bring an end to the Syrian crisis. The Turkish threats mean that the situation in this region will return to point zero. There will be chaos once again,” he added.Advertisement
There is much speculation that the impending attack has been prompted by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s domestic troubles: in important local elections this year the Turkish president lost control of four of Turkey’s major cities, including the capital, Ankara, and economic centre Istanbul. The rejection of his Justice and Development party (AKP) by voters all over the country – including crucial Kurdish blocs – was widely viewed as a recrimination for the government’s handling of Turkey’s economic crisis.
The last time Erdoğan’s grip on power slipped, in 2015’s general election, the president restarted the war with the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK). The attempts at a new Turkish incursion into Rojava are seen by many as a fresh attempt to shore up support by rallying Turks around a nationalistic cause.
“The [Turkish] government is in the middle of a deep crisis and they are gradually falling from power. Thus, Erdoğan is seeking every opportunity to fulfil his Ottoman fantasies,” said Bahoz Erdal, a member of the PKK executive committee, on an affiliated radio station.
“Erdoğan has nothing but the war on the Kurds to maintain his power. It was proved in the latest elections that the [party] the Kurds back would come to power.”
The idea of a US exit was first floated in December last year. Since then, across hundreds of kilometres of border, the SDF has been digging defensive ditches and tunnels to slow any incoming Turkish vehicles.
Small Turkish incursions in 2016 and 2018 incurred large territorial losses for the SDF: a new Turkish assault, a Nato ally with a powerful air force, is a bigger threat in the minds of many than that posed by Isis.
“Resistance is life” is the Syrian Kurdish mantra – one that Osman echoed on Monday.
“We are here on the ground, in our own land. We have a military force, we have a political will, we have a people who support our military and political forces.
“We will not just wait here for the Turks to come – our military forces will resist.”
Source: The Guardian