Turkey discusses Kurdish ‘cantons’ of northern Syria

Turkish cabinet discusses in its first post-election meeting Kurdish ‘cantons’ in northern Syria declared by PKK’s Syrian branch Democratic Union Party after Syrian border district of Tel Abyad captured by Kurdish group

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Turkey’s cabinet has discussed in its first post-election meeting the Kurdish “cantons” declared by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), after the Syrian border district of Tel Abyad has been captured by the Kurdish group.

Turkey considers the PYD as the Syrian affiliate of Turkey’s outlawed PKK.

Turkey has long been confronted with armed attacks in its southeastern regions by the PKK, which was founded in 1974 by Abdullah Ocalan - the currently imprisoned leader of the militant organisation - and his supporters. Armed clashes and acts of violence have continued on and off for more than 30 years, and claimed more than 40,000 lives.

Turkish government spokesman Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said, “We keep saying that in northern Syria, no formations which threaten Turkey should be allowed. But recent developments began indicating an emergency situation for Turkey. In the cabinet meeting we have discussed military measures, particularly in terms of operation plans, in order to ensure Turkey’s border security against the incidents happening in Syria,” speaking at a press conference in Ankara following the meeting on June 15.   

“Turkey does not oppose the bombing campaign of the coalition forces against the targets of ISIS. However, we see signs of a formula to make ‘cantons’ join by the coalition forces. Turkish premiership has warned them and given a notice,” he added.

Kurdish “cantons” in northern Syria have been proclaimed by the PYD following withdrawal of Syrian regime forces from mostly Kurdish inhabited areas such as Afrin, Kobane, and Amuda where the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the militant wing of the PYD, took control in July 2012 in the course of the Syrian civil war.

In late July 2012, the YPG also took over the districts of Al Malikiyah, Ra's al 'Ayn, Al Darbasiyah, and Al Maabadah. The districts of Qamishli and Hasaka have been partly controlled by the YPG and partly by the regime forces.

In November 2013, the PYD announced three autonomous areas or “cantons” which are Afrin, Jazira and Kobane from west to the east. The areas have been allegedly liberated as a result of “Rojava Revolution,” claimed by the PYD.

The YPG has clashed with various Syrian opposition groups in order to carve out its Kurdish enclaves in the region. Kobane [Ayn al Arab in Arabic], one of the PYD-controlled “cantons,” was besieged by ISIS in September 2014 and had been the scene of a bloody fight for four consecutive months with thousands of casualties.

In late September, the coalition forces led by the US began their first air bombing campaign against the ISIS positions around Kobane in order to support the resistance of the YPG. Reinforced by Peshmerga forces from the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq and fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the YPG gradually beat back the ISIS forces and completely retook the district in late January 2015.

During the siege of Kobane, Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of Turkey, called his party’s supporters to the streets to rally in support of Kobane on Oct. 6-7, 2014.  

The protests, now called the Oct. 6-7 incidents, triggered bloody attacks on conservative Kurdish groups primarily with the Kurdish Free Cause Party (Huda-Par) supporters by the youth arm of PKK . The HDP is blamed for the attacks and the deaths of more than 40 people.

The takeover of Tel Abyad in northern Syria by the PYD has also been coincided with the election success of the HDP.

Tel Abyad is located between Kobane and Jazira “cantons” and has a strategic importance because it commands the major trade and smuggling routes to Raqqa which is the first major city conquered by ISIS. Now, by taking control of Tel Abyad, the PYD is able to join both “cantons.”

“The capture of Tal Abyad represents a major boost for the region’s Kurds, giving them control of a contiguous stretch of territory from the Iranian border with Iraq to the heart of Syria,” the Washington Post reported.

Moreover, Tel Abyad is across the Turkish border district Akcakale of Sanliurfa within the Raqqa province of Syria. Kobane is also located across the Turkish border district Suruc in Sanliurfa. However, Tel Abyad is mostly populated by Arabs unlike Kobane with a majority Kurdish population which could cause a backlash against the YPG forces in the region.

Omer Dede, a Turkmen commander in the Syrian opposition forces, said, “All the opposition armies of Syria from Daraa to Damascus ask to send fighters and arms. The tribes are arisen. We made a decision not to leave Tel Abyad to the PYD. They are the second Bashar Assad to us. If they try to found a government [canton] in Tel Abyad, the Syrian civil war will move to here.”

Arinc has also complained about the PYD activities in Tel Abyad and blamed them with “ethnic cleansing” following the cabinet meeting which has continued for a 7,5 hours.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also made a statement saying that “Arabs and Turkmens were seemed to be targeted in Tel Abyad. Arabs and Turkmens numbered 15,000 crossed Turkey through the border and the PYD and PKK were settled into the emptied places. It is not a good sign,” at the plane to the journalists in return from his Azarbaijan trip.

“This means it will pave the way for a structure threatening us. Everybody should see our concerns on this issue,” Erdogan added.

Anadolu Agency reported that “Almost 17,000 civilians from Syrian villages and towns have crossed the border into Sanliurfa in past two weeks, as the YPG had been carrying out operations with the help of US-led coalition air strikes in the northeastern regions of Tal Abyad and al-Hasakah to push back Daesh [ISIS] militants.”

Turkey hosts 1.7 million Syrian refugees who escaped the violence in their country in large numbers after the escalation of the Syrian Civil War in 2012.

TRTWorld and agencies