Background and Developments Around the war in Afrin
Turkey relies on the 51. Article of Charter of United Nations under the border security and right of legitimate self-defense regarding the attacks against Afrin they started on 20.01.2018. However, that was not the truth, in the last years there was no information shared with public regarding an attack from city of Afrin to Turkey and Turkey could not also prove that. After the occupation in Afrin started, there were several rockets targeting border cities like Kilis or Reyhanlı in Turkey but still it is not revealed who launched those rockets. The main opinion of public, including Turkey, is that those rockets were organized by MIT, Turkish intelligence agency, in order to justify the attacks of occupation.
Therefore Turkey has not started the attack on Afrin in order to defend itself. The regime in Turkey is carrying those attacks against the efforts of Kurdish people in Syria in terms of establishing a modern system in a democratic framework together with different peoples. Turkey wants to block formation of a federative structure including Kurds and to make jihadists dominate the region in order to rule the area de facto. Turkey has not yet given up the neo-ottoman ideal and the idea of ruling the Middle East through common ideologies together with structures like “Muslim Brothers”. For this reason they aim to expand their area by adding Afrin to the cities like Cerablus, Azez or Bab which jihadist controlled by Turkey dominate since a while. They clearly state they want to target Minbic after Afrin, make SDF forces move to the East of Euphrates and afterwards to target SDF in the east of Euphrates in order to totally block an autonomous structure which Kurds would take place. The most important aspect which makes Turkey that aggressive and hostile is the fact that they were not able to solve the Kurdish problem within itself. Turkey has the paranoia that Kurdish people in Turkey would be influenced and move accordingly when there is a structure in Syria in which Kurds are actively participating. Therefore they were trying to destroy the activities of Kurds developing in Syria since long time. Not being able to get any results out of it, they already have started to look for an opportunity and ground for their attack.
Turkey benefited from the rivalry between the USA and Russia in Syria quite a lot when executing this occupation. In Syria, the States has reclaimed the West of Euphrates and Russia the East, as their area of domination and made each other accept that. Therefore Turkey had to make a deal with Russia regarding Afrin in West and did so. It seems like Turkey made some compromise and got the permission from Russia to use Syrian airspace and lead the ground war. It is seen that Russia wanted to put Turkey away from the USA and make even their NATO membership questionable through such a deal. Another important possibility explaining why Esad regime and Russia gave approval together to the attack on Afrin is to defeat the radical jihadists in Idlib, controlled by Turkey, through such a deal and transfer Idlib under Esad’s control-zone. Because at the moment the most obvious problem for the Syrian regime is that Idlib is controlled by jihadists. Turkey wanted to get Afrin out of SDF control at first. Therefore it is possible that they agreed on Afrin against Idlib. However, Russia and Syria regime would not also want that Afrin area is dominated by Turkey and jihadist FSA forces in the long term. Because those forces are the ones who fought against Esad regime and recognized as terrorists from the beginning. Pushing Turkey out of Syria under the UN Law at the second step of the plan, it also seems like they (Syria & Russia) also think about to get Afrin through either integrating or defeating FSA in the area. So, Russia and Syria regime wanted to follow a strategy of killing two birds with one stone in the first plan. Regarding Turkey, it is obvious that they are open to any kind of plan or relation in order to block Kurds having a status in Syria.
It seems like Iran is the most bothered state in the region from the relations developing among Turkey, Russian and Syria regime. Iran is not only in competition with Turkey across the region but also in competition of influence and power within Syria. Iran does not want Turkey to be very influential in Syria. All those groups supported by Turkey are positioned against the shi’a sect in Iran. Therefore it appears that Iran brings plans and suggestions encouraging Syria regime to be more active against Turkey. It is obvious that Iran is going to show some effort in order to destroy Turkey’s plans and reduce Turkey’s activities without bothering Russia.
During the course of time, the West coalition could not make an active presence against ISIS and the USA. Most important reason to that is that the States and Russia have shared their dominated areas as white of Euphrates- east of Euphrates and did not intervene to each other’s regions. Apart from that, this claim that they shared the region has been proved once more. It seems like the States does not intervene and make a move regarding Afrin because it is in the West of Euphrates, meaning under the Russian control. Not only this, but also it seems the USA chose a soft way to follow, in order to approach Turkey deliberately against the plans Russia making against the USA and NATO through Turkey and gain them to the USA camp again this time more strongly. There is SDF on one side, who the USA moves together in Syria, and there is Turkey whose approach to Russia is not demanded but who is attacking SDF. Under these conditions, it looks like the USA is silent against Afrin occupation regarding their own benefits and trying to make Turkey be loyal to NATO rules. It seems like the USA is trying to control Turkey through some balanced plans.
The most important aspect within all those balances, plans and calculations was what the people of Afrin and SDF was going to do. While everybody was making their plans on in how many days the city would fall or when SDF would withdraw, the people of Afrin and SDF decided to resist to the end. The Kurdish people chose not to leave the city at the cost of a big price within the frame of a desire of realizing the model of democracy, freedom, justice and equality together with other peoples and within the frame of a loyalty to the desire of living on their own land freely, as people who had to leave under the hegemony of others since centuries. Despite the intense airstrikes and usage of every kind of heavy weapons, the people of Afrin did not evacuate the city and SDF did not step back. This is a rare example in the history. In these war conditions what happens is usually that people leave the city. Turkish state even made camp preparations expecting people to leave the city and declared it publicly but their expectations did not come true. The limited number of the civilians who left the city were the migrants who migrated to Afrin during Aleppo war. On the contrary of leaving the city, people from tens of different cities of Rojava such as Qamışlo, Heseke, Kobani thousands of people went to Afrin in order to support the resistance and these departures still continue.
As people of Afrin resisted against the occupation bravely, Kurds all around the world and their friends also backed up the resistance and supported them. Of course these developments brought new grounds and happenings together, both in military-political and diplomatic areas.
While the strong resistance of people of Afrin went on, in the 2. Week of the resistance process Afrin Canton administration made a call to the Syrian central regime to carry out their obligations regarding the protection of border security. However Syrian regime and Russia did not want to give an answer to this call immediately. It was seen that they followed a policy to delay the decision with some meetings and make SDF weaker against Turkey in order to force them to bigger compromises. It was seen that the compromise they wanted was not only take over the control of Afrin but also to transfer the control of petrol sources in Deyrezor region to the Syrian regime. They even made an attack to the Deyrezor region in this frame on the 8 of February and received a harsh response and were repelled back.
It was understood that no-one estimated that people of Afrin were going to resist that strongly against Turkish army who is the biggest army of NATO. As a result of the resistance of people of Afrin, their staying in the city as well as international community supporting Afrin parallel to that, in the following days of the resistance, many actors especially the Syria regime and Russia had to re-invent their policies.
After Turkey losing both on the military-political and public level against the resistance in Afrin, Syrian regime answered the call with the support of their other ally Iran, despite the partial refusal of Russia, and they decided to send their forces for the border security of Afrin. Syria regime has seen that, if people of Afrin alone, leaded by SDF, accomplishes to resist and fight back, the regime would lose the ground for dialogue and negotiation on structuring new Syria with SDF in future. Moreover, it was not going to be possible to claim the unity of Syria and the hegemony of the regime any more. They felt the obligation to move in order not to lose this ground totally. On the other hand, they realized that Turkey is not going to make the expected steps in Idlib regarding jihadists and will use Astana process only for its own benefits. This situation forced Syria regime to collaborate with SDF regarding Afrin.
After the Turkey having negotiations with the USA and Tillerson and showing signs of re-affiliation, together with the suspicion that jihadists crashing Russian airplane created, it seems that Russia positioned itself in a way that supports Syria regime latently but keeps the agreement with Turkey and tries not to lose connection to Turkey completely.
It is seen that the agreements between the regime and SDF are entirely within security frame. It is understood that transferring the political-administrative management of Afrin to the Syria regime is not even a matter of discussion and SDF is not giving any compromises from any political claims. On the contrary, they forced Syria regime to support the resistance against the occupation and threats to the borders compatible with the project they suggest as part of democratic Syrian federation. According to the law of the democratic Syria federation SDF suggests for a new Syria, the overall security is a shared responsibility of both local and the central government. It can be seen that SDF and Syria regime have the priority to move together against the occupation first and evaluate the political-administrative management issues as an internal discussion which are left to the negotiation process within a new constitution context.
After this level, the balances and the situation on the field would change faster. In front of Turkey, there is not only SDF but also Syrian central government. Apart from the criticisms against and contradictions against Esad regime, the fact we have now is that two UN-member countries are facing each other now. Therefore, starting with the countries like France or Germany, UN members started to call Turkey to stop the attacks on Afrin and withdraw. Russia trying to position itself as a mediator in order to provide the possible conciliation in a manner of its own control and benefits. Iran would seek for strengthening its hand with new deals and supporting SDF- Syria regime collaboration more in order to break the influence of Turkey. the USA seems uncomfortable with this new situation, they even would expect the deal between Turkey and Russia would get difficult therefore Turkey would turn towards approaching the States again.
As a result, after the big resistance of people of Afrin since more than a month, the last diplomatic moves and Syria regime taking a role; the previous atmosphere is lost for Turkey. Turkey would not withdraw but try to bargain with all those forces via staying in the fields and villages they occupied. However, it is obvious that they cannot accomplish any of their military-political aims they planned at the beginning. Continuing to the occupation move will not result in any other way than causing innocent people and children to die more. Turkey should be stopped before more innocent people, children and warriors protecting them are harmed. As it can be seen every international force and regional state has a plan in compatible with their own benefits. However, the people who are trying to live there in democracy and peace freely are the ones who are damaged most. The international public and institution should see the right to live of those people before any political interest, intervene faster and stop the war and occupation. Before anything else, it is a humanitarian responsibility for everyone.