Turkey's Idlib move aimed at Kurds' Mediterranean ambitions

The prospects of Kurdish aspirations mean a geopolitical ploy whose ramifications for Ankara indicate the path to the creation of a Greater Kurdistan.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – By deploying its army into Syria’s Idlib Province on Sunday, Ankara effectively aims to block Kurdish ambitions of reaching the Mediterranean Sea.

Gaining access to the sea is a goal long-sought by the Kurds to break their homeland’s landlocked condition.

“We have to disrupt the terror corridor [they] want to create from the east to the Mediterranean,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, using a phrase to delegitimize the Kurdish region in northern Syria that stretches from the border with the Kurdistan Region to the enclave of Afrin.

The prospects of Kurdish aspirations mean a geopolitical ploy whose ramifications for Ankara indicate the path to the creation of a Greater Kurdistan that would encompass about 20 Kurdish-majority provinces in the east and southeast of Turkey.

“We do not wish to witness another Kobani [moment]. We are not going to allow that,” Erdogan told an audience, reminding of the early 2015 US-backed Kurdish victory against the Islamic State (IS) that for months laid a siege on the border town of Kobani.

Kobani’s months-long resistance widely reported by the media became a historic milestone for the nearly 40 million-strong Kurds suppressed by and divided between Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey.

Erdogan is already distraught by the Kurdistan Region’s September referendum on independence from Iraq that saw 92.7 percent of voters backing statehood.

The state-owned Anadolu news agency said the Turkish army’s presence in Idlib per an agreement last month with Russia and Iran, as well as the Syrian regime it opposes, would serve as a “security wall” to stop the Kurds.

The Moscow-Tehran-Ankara deal, though, primarily focuses on creating de-escalation zones to decrease any risk of conflict between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army and al-Qaeda allied groups in Idlib, with Turkey being the guarantor for the latter.

The agreement signed in Astana is a reminder of last year’s Russo-Turkish bargain that with Ankara’s pulling of support from the Islamist rebels led to a complete and bloody fall of Syria’s second largest city Aleppo to the Assad regime.

In return, Ankara received a nod from Moscow to make an incursion into the IS-held towns of Jarablus and al-Bab to deny the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) a chance to unite the isolated Afrin with the rest of their self-declared autonomous region in the north.

The YPG which is spearheading the war on IS has been eyeing to capture parts of Idlib to reach the sea.

The pro-government Islamist Yenisafak newspaper came out with the headline: “Today Idlib, Tomorrow Afrin.”

A far-right ally of Erdogan’s administration, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahceli, too, said Afrin should be their next target.

Erdogan’s spokesperson recently reiterated his country’s readiness to stage an invasion of the Kurdish area covering over 360 villages and home to over one million people—hundreds of thousands of them internally displaced Syrian Arabs.

US partnership with the YPG in fighting Islamist groups has enraged Erdogan who views Kurdish self-rule and territorial expansion as an existential threat.

Yenisafak described Ankara’s deal with Moscow and Tehran as “the biggest blow” to Washington which it claimed was in collaboration with Israel helping the Kurds build “a terror corridor.”

“Pentagon and its terrorist ground force PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] are going to be trapped in Afrin,” read the paper, emphasizing the Turkish stance that the YPG is the same as the PKK, a view not shared by the US.

US designation of al-Qaeda-linked group Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) that rules in Idlib as a terrorist group stoked Turkish fears that after dealing with IS, the Kurdish-American alliance would march on to Idlib.

Remarks last August by the US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter IS Brett McGurk that accused Ankara of having a role in Idlib’s becoming “the largest al-Qaeda safe haven since 9/11” were met with protestation from Turkey and created further worry there.

Meanwhile, Kurds expressed willingness to work with the US in clearing Idlib from the HTS, should Washington decide to act.

Hediya Yousef, the Co-President of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, better known as Rojava or Western Kurdistan, told the British newspaper the Guardian in May that their Mediterranean plans required backing from Washington.

A long-time opponent of Erdogan’s Syria policy, the seasoned Turkish columnist Ertugrul Ozkok was quick to congratulate Turkey’s latest move in the Syrian theatre where it has shifted alliances.

“We are now indirectly acting with Assad. I have always said Turkey’s interests lie in Assad’s strongly regaining control of the whole of Syria,” he said in his Sunday column for the major Hurriyet newspaper.

“Kurds’ dream of reaching the Mediterranean will be finished.”


Editing by Karzan Sulaivany