Cengiz Aktar
Dec 28 2018

Let’s say you conquer Rojava, then what?

In the Orient, the conquerer does not look ahead much. Valour and booty are enough for him; he does not see beyond his euphoria for victory.

Turkish social media has been exuberant with war cries since U.S. President Donald Trump announced last week the imminent pullout of U.S. forces from Syria. Supporters and opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have coalesced, becoming a single fist. They have started to curse the Kurds, the heathen. Mouths are fed this way in the Orient, you know.

Those who say that nothing is solved by wars, invasions, violence, and blood are again a minority. The moment they open their mouths to say something, the operations to repress them start -- just look at the investigation into 170 intellectuals and activists who wrote a letter to Turkey’s parliament earlier this year opposing the military incursion in Afrin.

The territory envisioned by those calling for a Turkish invasion is 40 kilometre deep and 911 kilometre long. It is 32,880 square kilometre! It is larger than Belgium!

Let’s suppose Turkey manages to seize that territory with the support of jets and tanks, how would Ankara retain it? Let’s suppose you, Turkey, opened branches of the Turkish postal service and state banks. Let’s suppose you distributed food and money. What would you do with those people who, unlike Turkish Cypriots, will always see you as an invader?

Let’s suppose, similar to what the Jewish state did to Palestinians in its early days, you drove out the Kurds and other local groups you did not like using the undisciplined armed gangs under your order and you moved the families of those gangs to those places. 

How will you manage a situation that Israel has been unable to manage for 70 years despite its stronger army? Keep in mind your status as an invader, your international isolation, your military that is tied to the West, and your unsteady economy.

In the medium term, how can Ankara retain the Syrian territories it has seized? How will Turkey permanently hold invaded lands despite the risk of total isolation, despite the opposition of Damascus, Tehran, Moscow, and the West?

Let’s not forget, Turkey is the only country that officially invaded Syrian territories and loudly declared its plans to invade more. Damascus demanded the presence of Iran and Russia, yet they have not consolidated any territory, despite being invited to join the fray. 

Other powers, like the United States and France, which recently announced that it would stay, have acted together with the local Kurds and deployed in Syria a small number of troops.

Let’s see how the regime in Ankara, which has collapsed the economy and continues a rhetoric of war against Syria, Iraq, Cyprus, and Greece, will manage to hold things together when additional disputes begin with Great Britain and France in Syria.

Let’s put aside those assumptions, and the technicalities of the issue. What does Ankara and the masses that back it both from the left and the right, want to achieve with this invasion? What is behind those words about “Turkey’s security”? Only a deep and old phobia against Kurds and a lack of vision and stupidity that come as a result.

The Kurds in Syria and Turkey are relatives that were cut off from each other by an artificial border marked by a railway. In the old days, the border, which was closed, was temporarily opened during religious holidays.

People are pictured sitting in the Syrian town of Darbasiyah on December 13, 2018 as the Turkish flag flutters on the opposite side of the border crossing with Turkey. Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP
People are pictured sitting in the Syrian town of Darbasiyah on December 13, 2018 as the Turkish flag flutters on the opposite side of the border crossing with Turkey. Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP

Ankara found itself in total shock when Turkey’s official Kurdish phobia eventually returned to its 150-year-old status quo, while the Kurds in Syria masterfully filled a power vacuum and created a de facto local government in northern Syria. Ankara’s colossal oppression of Turkey’s Kurds turned into a worldwide source of prestige after Kurdish fighters’ successes in Kobane and against the Islamic State (ISIS).

Erdoğan’s government refused to shake the Kurdish hand reaching out from Rojava despite the attacks against Kobane and all of Ankara’s insults. In addition to the Kurdish phobia, which is the real factor behind this attitude, radical Salafism added another dimension to the situation. Ankara, which has positioned itself in the region as a sponsor of every group opposing Assad, has no chance today other than being an enemy of Rojava.

Nobody in Ankara thought of looking with a different perspective, of turning peace-seeking eyes to Rojava, which, despite its shortcomings, created a pilot project for decentralised governance in the region. Though the nature of the regime makes such a vision impossible, the Turkish state’s mentality, which is based on survival, failed to seize this historic opportunity. What is left is animosity, war, brutality, oppression, and destruction -- the usual destiny of the region and its people!

In the short run, after Trump’s decision to pull out American forces, the job has neither started nor ended. The fact that France and Britain will continue to support coalition operations against ISIS shows that there has been an implicit agreement with U.S. forces in the territory. 

Moreover, those two countries that ruled the region once are there on behalf of all of Europe, which has suffered greatly from ISIS attacks. Those two countrşes know well that ISIS can be eliminated only with the support of Kurdish forces on the ground and that, contrary to Trump’s nonsense words, Ankara, whose support for ISIS is evident to the whole world, will surely find a way to protect the terrorist group. 

This is why Turkey’s mission to clear ISIS, decided during a phone call between Trump and Erdoğan last week, cannot be taken seriously. Trump is illiterate enough to fail to find Syria on a large-print map. Indeed, the rational answer is that Erdoğan plans to attack Rojava using the fight against ISIS as cover.

Northern Syria, particularly the province of Idlib, has become a concentration camp of jihadist fighters. That area remains a time bomb that nobody - particularly China and Russia - wants to see explode. When the time comes it will fall into the hands of Damascus, despite the involvement of the jihadis’ protector, Ankara. In the end, they will either find shelter under the wings of Erdoğan’s government or be destroyed.

Only time will tell whether Ankara’s Oriental cunning and tradesman’s mentality will be sufficient to solve this multi-variable equation.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.