x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Turkish party calls for armed intervention in Syria to prevent formation of Kurdish region

Call by right-wing party in Turkey's parliament follows capture of Syrian town of Ras Al Ayn by Syrian Kurdish group affilliated to Kurdish rebel organisation operating in Turkish territory.

As the Syrian war continues, Turkey worries that the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish zone in northern Syria could stir up Turkey's Kurdish minority of 12 million people.
As the Syrian war continues, Turkey worries that the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish zone in northern Syria could stir up Turkey's Kurdish minority of 12 million people.

ISTANBUL // A right-wing party in Turkey's parliament is calling for armed intervention by Ankara in Syria to prevent the formation of an autonomous Kurdish region there.

The call comes after the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian Kurdish group affilliated to the Kurdish rebel organisation operating in Turkish territory, captured the Syrian town of Ras Al Ayn on the 900 kilometre-long border with Turkey last week.

Turkey is concerned by the Kurdish gains because the PYD has links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which began peace talks with the Ankara government late last year to end a decades-long conflict that has left 40,000 dead in the south-east of the country.

Turkey worries that the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish zone in northern Syria could stir up Turkey's Kurdish minority of 12 million people.

A Turkish teenager was killed by stray bullets from Syria last week as PYD members fought Islamist rebels in the Ras Al Ayn area.

The Turkish military said on its website yesterday that it was prepared to take action "against possible threats coming from across the border" and would respond to shots fired into Turkey from Syria.

Turkey and the United States regard the PYD, the strongest armed Kurdish group in Syria, as a PKK offshoot. Both groups deny the claim, but PKK flags raised over public buildings after the PYD took control of several small Syrian towns last year triggered outrage in Turkey.

PYD has taken control of several parts of northern Syria since the uprising against the government of Bashar Al Assad began in March 2011. The recent fighting in Syria's northern border area, where the rule of the Damascus government has long collapsed, prompted Kurds to try to establish a "governing council" to administer Kurdish-held areas there, according to a Syrian Kurdish activist.

The plans to formally establish a Kurd-administered zone was not an effort to create a separate Kurdish state in northern Syria, the activist said.

But speaking to reporters yesterday, Turkey's deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, said his country would not tolerate the creation of a "de facto" Syrian Kurdish entity on its frontiers.

Last week, the foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, also warned the PYD that any step "to create a fait accompli" would increase Syria's fragility and "lead to results that are much worse" than the current situation, he said, according to the foreign ministry.

Devlet Bahceli, leader of the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), said the latest fighting in northern Syria was a "great risk for Turkey" and a sign that the PKK, through the PYD, was pushing for Kurdish autonomy in the region to fill the power vacuum there.

"Turkey should declare that it will intervene militarily against the formation of an autonomous administration in northern Syria," Mr Bahceli said on Sunday.

"To this end, concrete preparations should start in our border regions in accordance with military deterrence."

He said Kurds had succeeded in creating a region of self-rule in northern Iraq and were trying to do the same in Syria. "If it goes on like this, Turkey is next."

The Syrian Kurdish opposition activist, who makes regular trips into areas where the clashes between Kurd and Islamist forces are taking place, said fighting in northern Syria had been intense in recent days.

"Security has been getting worse, that is part of the reason why the Kurdish groups are seeking to establish this new governing council to administer their areas and provide some kind of protection for themselves," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The proposed council would come with a constitution and the establishment of a Kurdish army, the activist said. The Kurdish area would be independent of regime control and outside the influence of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC).

Although recognised as the official representative of the Syrian people by western powers and some Arab states, the SNC has struggled to establish any firm presence inside rebel-held areas of the country.

Opposition factions remain deeply divided, with powerful Kurdish groups refusing to join the SNC, while insisting they are opposed to the Assad regime.

The Syrian Kurdish activist acknowledged that the proposed council would represent a drive for Kurdish autonomy - something he said was likely to anger rebels trying to topple Mr Al Assad more than it would anger the embattled president.

psands@thenational.ae

tseibert@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters

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