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Turkey’s ‘Operation Peace Spring’ further splinters the Syrian opposition

The Turkish military operation has sparked a great deal of controversy among Syrians opposed to both the government and the PYD, including political entities and figures, intellectuals and artists. 

13 October 2019

AMMAN﹣Last Wednesday, Turkey launched “Operation Peace Spring” in Syria, east of the Euphrates. Relying on the Syrian National Army (SNA), made up of Syrian opposition factions, the operation targetes areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that Ankara considers to be an extension of the internationally-designated terrorist group Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The goal of the “Operation Peace Spring,” as made clear by Ankara, is  to create a buffer zone by removing SDF fighters who are also considered by many Syrians, both supporters of the Syrian government and its opponents, as separatists. Further, Ankara is promoting the idea that the buffer zone will allow for the safe return of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey to their country of origin.

Nonetheless, the Turkish military operation has sparked a great deal of controversy among Syrians opposed to both the government and the PYD, including political entities and figures, intellectuals and artists. 

Predictably, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, which enjoys close ties to President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), issued a statement in support of “Operation Peace Spring.” They consider the operation to advance the mutual “interests of the Syrian revolution and the Turkish brothers in combating the terrorism of (PYD-YPG – PKK), and the recovery of Syrian territory and the preservation of its unity.” In response to the operation, the statement noted that “by God’s will, areas to the east and west of the Euphrates, like all of Syria, must become free.” 

They also stressed that the military campaign does not target Syrian Kurds, adding that “our Kurdish brothers are a genuine component of the Syrian people and that they should not be blamed for offenses committed by separatist, terrorist militias.”

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (SNC), currently headquartered in Turkey, also expressed its support for the Turkish military offensive in a statement published a day before the operation was launched, affirming its “commitment to combatting terrorism and working with partners in Turkey to defeat terrorist organizations and return areas and cities under occupation back to the Syrian people.” Adding that it “called upon the Syrian interim government, its ministries and directorates to be prepared to work in any liberated areas.”

This position, however, prompted the Kurdish National Council (KNC) -one of the most prominent Kurdish political entities, representing 13 Kurdish parties opposed to SDF-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AA)- to suspend its membership in the SNC on Sunday. Prior to that, in a statement last Friday, the KNC denounced SNC support to the Turkish offensive which the council considered “reckless and contradicts the general opinion of the international community.” The statement also warned against “the returning of Syrian refugees in Turkey to areas east of the Euphrates,” describing it “as a form of demographic change by Ankara.” 

Alia Mansour, a representative of the SNC in Lebanon, also published a series of tweets condemning the Turkish military operation. She found it surprising that “the opposition can sit with representatives of Bashar al-Assad but is unable to sit with Kurdish representatives who Turkey disagrees with.” 

“That many Kurds have joined or allied with the PKK,” she added “is because no serious alternative that respects their particularity has been afforded to them.”

Similarly, Rima Flihan, a former member of SNC and the Syrian National Council, demanded that the Syrian Negotiations Commission issue a statement against what she described as a “Turkish invasion,” as well as against “the shameful attitude of almost dead forces considered part of the Syrian opposition but which do not have any meaningful role to play in the negotiating body.” Otherwise, she concluded, the Syrian Negotiations Commission would be “complicit in this disgrace.” 

While the Syrian Negotiations Commission continue to refrain from commenting on “Operation Spring Peace,” its Secretary-General, Nasr al-Hariri, tweeted that “the PKK [in reference to the SDF] is a terrorist organization no different from Da’esh [the Arabic acronym of IS], Al-Qaeda and the Iranian militias. The establishment of a safe zone is an old dream renewed for Syrians, which will contribute to bringing stability, combatting terrorism, allowing for the safe return of Syrian refugees originaly from those areas and pushing for a political solution in Syria.” 

However, the member of the Syrian Negotiations Commission, National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), which represents opposition parties inside Syria, condemned the “Turkish aggression,” in a statement on Saturday. It considered the military operation a “flagrant violation of international law, which explicitly prevents foreign occupation by force.” The statement went on to add that “the territory that Turkey has planned for its occupation cannot be safe and will continue to be a hotbed of terrorism.”

At the same time, the NCC denounced the “activities of SDF in areas east of the Euphrates for blatantly depending on American intervention and imposing self-rule in the areas.” The statement also called on the SDF to “reverse its slogans, practices and calls for separatism.”

Perhaps the somewhat nebulous and unclear position of the former president of the SNC, Ahmad Moaz al-Khateeb, best encapsulates the outcome of the military operations east of the Euphrates. “Northern Syria has been pushed into a black hole,” al-Khateeb wrote, “it has become a historical quagmire in which Arab, Kurdish, and Turk people are drowning and exchanging trade-offs from countries occupying Syria.”

This report was originally published in Arabic and translated into English by Rohan Advani.

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