Turkey furious over Macron's meeting with Syrian Kurds

Macron's promise of continued support for SDF draws Turkish ire.
author_image Rawa Barwari

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Turkey's Foreign Ministry on Friday condemned French President Emmanuel Macron for welcoming representatives from Kurdish-led Syrian forces who delivered the Islamic State its territorial defeat, bringing an end to the self-proclaimed caliphate only weeks ago.

Macron hosted a delegation which included officials from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at the Élysée Palace earlier that day and promised them the "continued active support of France" in the fight against the Islamic State, a group the palace said continued to pose a threat to world security.

In a written statement, Ankara accused Macron of "attempting to give artificial legitimacy to a terrorist organization and its extensions."

Turkey is the only country that calls the Kurdish-led and Western-backed SDF, a prominent force that fought the Islamic State and other Islamist groups for much of the Syrian civil war, a "terror group."

"This is a very wrong step which is incompatible with allies' relations," read a statement quoting a spokesperson for the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Turkey and France are NATO members, along with the United States, which militarily equips and supports the SDF on the ground and from the air.

Paris is also at odds with Ankara after Macron made April 24 a national day of commemoration of the Armenian genocide, a chapter in history that Turkey aggressively denies.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's administration sees Kurdish self-administration in post-Islamic State Syria as an existential threat due to a large restive Kurdish population within its own borders who demand self-rule and cultural rights enshrined in the constitution.

There has as of yet been no public reaction from Erdogan himself or his foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who both typically employ anti-Western rhetoric over Kurdish aspirations for an independent Kurdistan.

"We remind again the importance of not allowing the advancement of agendas targeting Syria's political unity and territorial integrity and that Turkey will not hesitate to take measures it deems necessary," the spokesperson was further quoted as saying.

A fighter of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syrian Kurdistan runs back to her place in formation after receiving her military card in January 2015. (Photo: Reuters)
A fighter of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syrian Kurdistan runs back to her place in formation after receiving her military card in January 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

The official French press release said Macron reiterated France's commitment "to the security of Turkey and de-escalation along the Syrian-Turkish border," in a remark that appeared targeted to appease Turkish objections to Kurdish interests in Syria.

Turkey invaded parts of northwestern Syria, including al-Bab and Afrin of northern Aleppo, in 2016 and 2018 respectively to crush Kurds' aspirations of autonomy in the region. This lead to the displacement of 140 thousand Kurds from the latter in what critics charge is a sustained campaign of demographic change.

Right after March 31 nationwide local elections in Turkey, Erdogan renewed his long-held threat of staging a third invasion operation into Syrian Kurdistan, particularly in the town of Manbij, as his ruling Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost the control of both the capital Ankara and Istanbul, the country's economic powerhouse.

France, along with the US, has been one of the major world powers backing Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Unlike Washington, that contributes much more in military terms, Paris has not shied away from voicing support for the Kurds' political demands in both countries.

Friday's meeting between Syrian Kurdish leaders and the French leadership was not the first of its kind at Élysée, with an earlier one being held shortly after the Kurds delivered the Islamic State its first major defeat in the battle of Kobani. In early 2015, Macron's predecessor François Hollande hosted Asya Abdullah, the then co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the ruling faction in Syrian Kurdistan, and Nesrin Abdullah, a commander of the Kurdish Women's Defence Force (YPJ).

French officials, including President Macron and his Defense Minister Florence Parly, have been working to dissuade US President Donald Trump from implementing his abrupt decision to withdraw some 2,000 American troops from northeastern Syrian, a step they say would leave the Kurds exposed to war with Turkey and confrontation with Damascus.

France also keeps several hundred troops in Syrian Kurdistan in support of the continued fight against the Islamic State and for the stabilization of areas liberated from the jihadist group's brutal rule. 

Editing by John J. Catherine