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Turkey's occupation of Syria


The only victor in Syria now is death

None speaks about anything else

What is certain is the jubilation of corpses

These are lines written by Syrian writer Samar Yazbek four years ago.  Samar,  like lakhs of people who rallied in the popular agitation against Syria's dictator Bashar Al-Assad part of the storm that hit Syria like some other Arab countries.  When a people who were destined to be suppressed in the prison of autocracy for decades,  came out into the streets with dreams of a new world and era,  the writer hoped that it would be the dawn of a new history.  But Bashar's military repressed that popular force;  those like Samar were either expelled or put in jail.  Gradually that gave way to a civil war which got intensified by interference from outside too.  On one hand,  there was Russia that lined up in favour of Bashar,  while on the other the foces of the dissident SDF (Syrian Democratic Force) that was deep ino an anti-IS struggle,  was joined by the US-led allies in the front.  Thus when events were moving with internal conflicts and military interventions,  the jubilation as Samar observed,  was reserved for just corpses.  With a count after eight years now, about five lakh people have lost their lives,  and as many became refugees too.

Turkey had limited itself to doing only what was warraned, essential and urgent from a neighbour.  But now recent events cause concerns whether Turkey has deviated from that stance. For, the Turkish troops have now occupied north-east Syria.  As per claims by Turkish defence ministry,  the troops have overpowered three hundred extremist in the area within three days.   Countries including the US have come against against Turkey's intervention.  Trump has also warned that if the forces are not immediately withdrawn,  US will be forced to move to next steps including embargo.

The latest military incursion by Turkey is inhuman and likely to further complicate the problems.  The area where Turkish troops have entered is the Kurdish majority belt at the Turko-Syrian border where Bashar's forces have fully lost control and is now under SDF.   Kurds who had fought as guerillas are now part of this.   Earlier,  the enemy that SDF had to face was IS more than Bashar's troops.  When IS captured many Kurdish areas,  the force that came in the rescuer's garb was US with allied trops.   In addition,  the nearly 60,000-strong SDF fighters received effective training from the allied troops too.  After driving away IS from the region through 'Joint Operation',  the allies announced that they were leaving.  It is only on the heels of that announcement that Erdogan's military has descended there for the so-named 'Operation Peace Spring'.

Turkey's rationale is that America has given a haven to Kurds under the cover of anti-IS operation, and that is a threat to Turkey's security.  Turkey also alleges that the Kurd armed segment called People's Protection Unit (YPG) belonging to SDF has clandestine tie-up withTurkey's dissidents PKK Party,  which demands an independent state.   Therefore,   Turkey's leadership including Erdogan justifies the occupation with the dictum that the goal of Operation Peace Spring is to eke out the terrorists of the region.  Even if this argument is taken at its face value,  it leaves two issues.  One,  equally important as border security is the right to self-determination of a people.  With the crisis of Kurds having to live as a stateless people,  and with that being raised in the new era as a major human rights issue,  Turkey's dodging of that dimension under the pretext of mere technicality and adopting the path of occupation,  begs justification.  Two,  in any military operation,  the first and major victims are the civilians of the war zone.   And the outcome of Turkey's operation will not be anything different.

Turkey's current move has also to be read as  a retreat from the humanitarian stances it adopted in recent times regarding war,  occupation and refugee influx.   There is a district called Fatih in Istanbul.  The population there is composed more of refugees from Syria than Turkish natives.  Fatih is a place that Erdogan without thinking twice offered to Syrians who crossed the border.  Fatih is now called 'Little Syria'.   Although Turkey's government has not recognized them officially as refugees,  it has not abandoned them either,  and the refugees received essential aid too.  It was when European Union countries rejected the refugees arriving from countries in West Asia and Africa,  that Turkey accepted lakhs of such refugees. Given this antecedent,  the latest turn of events caused by Turkey is baffling observers.   Whatever that be,  this move is sure to rewrite the politics of West Asia in general,  and the politics of Turkey and its ruling AK party in particular.

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