Ankara, National Security – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu informed reporters in Vienna on Thursday that Turkey hopes to end its anti-Kurdish military operation in Syria as fast as possible, hopefully before May, to ensure that the occupied region Afrin in northern Syria can “quickly embrace stability and civilians can return.”
‘Operation Olive Branch’ started on January 20 by the Turkish government to drive out Syrian Kurdish fighters with ties to outlawed rebels in Turkey. The operation took place in Afrin, and has succeeded in killing 3,055 terrorists from YPG/PKK (People’s Protection Unit) and ISIS. On the other hand, the offensive also killed 42 Turkish soldiers and over 150 allied Syrian opposition fighters.
The operation is allegedly based on “Turkey’s rights based on international law, UN Security Council resolutions, its self-defense rights under the UN charter, and respect for Syria’s territorial integrity.”
As the Turkish military seized control of the town Jinderes in Afrin this Thursday, the Turkish government hopes soon to have completed their mission, but the “other side” doesn’t seem to have given up yet. Some Kurdish-allied Syrian Arab militias announced, for instance, their plans to redeploy 1,700 fighters to the Afrin region to fight back against the Turkish offensive on Thursday. Another problem for Turkey is the United States’ support for YPG to fight ISIS in the region. The United States spoke of Turkey’s invasion of Afrin as diverting the attention from the fight on ISIS.
Now that the largest settlement in Afrin is captured, Turkey hopes to send Syrian refugees back to their homeland in the region as victory emerges. The Turkish government has suggested that between 350,000 and 500,000 of them can be sent to Afrin. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the following on the issue:
We are not in a position to continue hosting 3.5 million refugees forever. We’ll solve the Afrin incident, we’ll solve Idlib, and we would like our refugee brothers and sisters to return to their own country.
There have been raised questions, however, whether this is just “electioneering” talk to get reelected in 2019, as he has previously favored Syrian refugees receiving Turkish citizenship. He said in July 2016, “Turkey is also your homeland… We are going to help our Syrian friends in offering them the chance, if they want it, to acquire Turkish nationality.” Erdogan seems to have learnt since then that about 80% of Turks resent Syrians, according to analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners.
Political scientist Cengiz Aktar opined of Erdogan’s statements that,
it’s clear this kind of talk – rhetoric – is intended for internal consumption of elections. It’s a pipe dream; nothing of this kind [will] happen, for a number of reasons. Will these [Syrian] people – would they like to go and live there [Afrin]? The Kurds will object to it, the Syrians will object to it, Russians will object it, the Iranians will object to it, the Arabs will object to it, the entire world will object to it. What Erdogan may do, he may relocate [pro-Turkish] Arab [militia] proxies, a kind of border force inside Syria; this is a very old tactic.