Turkey threatens to set up ‘safe zone’ in Syria unilaterally

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday the deadline to jointly establish a “safe zone” with the United States in northern Syria has expired, bringing the possibility of a cross-border offensive closer.
author_image Hisham Arafat

ANKARA (Kurdistan 24) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday warned the deadline to jointly establish a “safe zone” with the United States in northern Syria had expired, bringing the possibility of a cross-border offensive closer.

“Unfortunately, east of the Euphrates, we haven’t reached any results with our allies, and thus Turkey will not waste any moment,” Erdogan said in a speech during the opening of the third legislative session of the Turkish parliament in Ankara.

Erdogan also said he wanted to include Manbij in the western Euphrates region and set up the zone along 480 km (300 miles) border, reaching 30 km inside Syria.

“About two million Syrian refugees would be settled in the safe zone, and our plans and projects are ready, and we have shared them with leaders in the latest UN meeting,” he continued.

In the past few years, Erdogan has repeatedly called for the establishment of what he called a “safe zone” or a “peace corridor,” terms rejected by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which govern northeastern Syria.

The SDF prefers the term “buffer zone” as its commanders explained in several conferences and interviews.

In an earlier interview with SDF Commander-in-Chief, Mazlum Abdi, he argued “Turkey had used the term 'peace corridor' and we reject it because our region is already peaceful and not a place of terrorism as Turkey claims,” adding, “We assure that our regions are the safest and most stable areas in Syria.”

Additionally, most people of northeastern Syria region believe that bringing millions of refugees who are originally from the central and desert areas of Syria, including Idlib, Homs, and Hama, would disturb the demographic structure of the region.

This is very similar to what the Baath party ruling the Syrian government in the 1960s did when it brought Arab families from Raqqa, Palmyra, and Homs to northeastern Syria and gave them land. At the same time, the regime tried to move Kurdish families from northeastern Syria to the desert, to Palmyra.

Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian and now a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Kurdistan 24 in an earlier interview that resettling millions of Syrian refugees in the northeast of Syria would serve two purposes for Erdogan.

It would “alleviate the rising anti-refugee sentiment, which he believes cost him victory in the local elections,” Erdemir explained.

It would also “allow him demographic engineering” by bringing a very large number of Arabs into Kurdish majority areas.

Some analysts and officials have warned that such a large-scale population movement could threaten the hard-won stability in northeastern Syria and could easily lead to the re-emergence of the Islamic State.

Editing by Nadia Riva