Tensions Build At Turkish-Syrian Border
Turkey has continued to feel increasingly uneasy with the presence of the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) in Afrin, a Syrian town near the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkey particularly fears the group as it views the YPG as part of a broader, more existential threat to regional stability. This fear is due in large to Turkey’s experience with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that possesses a substantial amount of authority over Turkey’s own ethnic Kurdish population. The Syrian YPG has gained control of a significant portion of northern Syria, which is adjacent to Turkey, in its efforts within the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition. While the YPG officially aligns with the broader SDF in its efforts to eradicate the Islamic State cells in the region, the aforementioned control it wields near the Turkish-Syrian border makes the Turkish regime uneasy. As the Turkish PKK hopes to achieve the creation of an independent Kurdish state, Turkey views the gains made by the Syrian YPG as indicative of unity between the groups in an effort to ultimately create a Kurdish state.
Along with expressions of disapproval regarding U.S. support for the SDF generally, and the YPG specifically, Turkey has already launched offensives against the YPG. As a result, the Syrian government has publicly committed to sending forces into northwestern Syria to assist in an armed response. According to BBC, the Syrian state news agency Sana specifically relayed that forces would arrive in Afrin “within a few hours” to defend the area and its people. The declaration to do so was purportedly made around 12 PM EST on February 19, 2018. As tension between the Turkish and Syrian states escalates, with YPG and PKK serving as catalysts in the process, non-combatants cannot be forgotten. While Turkey remains steadfast in its attacks on the YPG due to its possession of portions of the areas along the shared border previously controlled by the Islamic State, it is important to note that there are also ethnic Kurds and other Syrians that have been living in “semi-autonomous enclaves” since Syrian forces retreated in 2012.
Thus, Turkey’s attacks on the YPG, however it chooses to explain and justify those actions, also affect both ethnic Kurds and other Syrian civilians that ostensibly have no role in the armed aspects of the conflict. Indeed, the United Nations has stated that at least 5,000 people in Afrin have been displaced as a result of the Turkish incursion. Furthermore, it has been reported that at least 51 people have perished since the offensive began. Even so, Turkey has denied targeting civilians. A journalist for Al Jazeera, reporting from the border, characterized this misalignment of the narrative well: “Turkey has denied targeting Syrian Kurdish civilians… But of course we know that when it comes to war, the truth is somewhere in between. There will always be civilian lives ripped apart.” As such, the complexity of the Syrian conflict only seems to grow at an alarming rate.