Paris’s offer to mediate between Ankara and the YPG Syrian Kurdish militia has provoked outrage from the Turkish government.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the move amounted to supporting terrorism, and could make France “a target of Turkey.” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described Paris’s move, as a “show of hostility against Turkey.”
French President Emmanuel Macron made the mediation offer after meeting a delegation of the Syrian Defense Force (SDF), which included prominent members of the YPG militia and its political wing, PYD. Ankara accuses the YPG of being affiliated to the PKK which is waging an insurgency inside Turkey. Friday the PKK was blamed for an attack on Turkish security forces that killed at least 5.
“We do not need a mediator. Since when has Turkey been sitting at a table with terrorist organizations? Where did you get this from? You can sit at the table with terrorist organizations. But Turkey fights against terrorist organizations in places like Afrin [in Syria],” said Erdogan Friday at a meeting of his supporters.
“France no longer has the right to complain about the actions of any terror organization on its soil after meeting with the representatives of the PYD and its armed wing, the People Protection Units (YPG)," Erdogan added.
In a statement, the French presidency said along with mediation, it was prepared to support the creation of a stabilization region to facilitate the SDF fight against Islamic State. The statement “paid tribute to the sacrifices and the determining role" of the SDF in fighting against the jihadist group. Ankara accuses the SDF of being a front for the YPG Kurdish militia.
Symbolic victory for YPG
Ankara’s fury appears to be exacerbated by claims by those attending the Paris meeting that France was ready to deploy forces to northern Syria as part of efforts to protect Kurdish forces. Paris has not confirmed those claims. France, like the United States, has provided arms to the SDF, including members of the YPG, as well as deploying special forces in the fight against Islamic State, much to Ankara’s anger.
But analysts suggest even if claims of a French military deployment prove unfounded, the symbolism of President Macron for the first time hosting members of the YPG at the Elysse Palace, is a significant victory for the militia.
“Well, it legitimizes people that Turkey calls terrorists,” points out political columnist Semih Idiz, of the al-Monitor website. “And we may expect these same people now to appear in other European countries, Germany, Austria and other places. This has potential to add new higher-level tensions between Turkish European relations.”
Ankara’s strong pushback against Paris could also be a sign that Europe could be considering taking a more assertive stance towards Turkey.
“If you look at the way the European Union has closed ranks against Russia, we could end up with a similar situation with Turkey. A block could be developing against Turkey centered on not so much the YPG but the Kurdish issue,” warns columnist Idiz.
European leaders, including Macron are facing growing domestic disapproval of what critics claim is the abandoning of Kurdish fighters, who had successfully fought Islamic State.
Ankara pushing ahead
Erdogan Friday announced preparations were underway for a new offensive in Syria against the Kurdish militia, promising to sweep across northern Syria to the Iraqi border. The next declared target of Turkish-led forces is the Syrian town of Manbij, where U.S. forces are deployed with the YPG.
Analysts suggests Erdogan will likely be emboldened by U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement Thursday he would pull U.S. forces from Syria. The U.S. State Department, however, said there was no change in Syrian policy, while the Pentagon reaffirmed support for the SDF in its fight against the Islamic State.
But Ankara’s strong pushback against Paris is indicative of what observers claim is Erdogan’s belief that none of its Western allies are ready to confront it over its Syrian intervention.
“This is what President Erdogan’s brinkmanship is based on, having had his way in Afrin, he is feeling rather bullish about this and he is going to press on,” warns columnist Idiz.
“We are heading for some confrontation, especially over Manbij. But it is true there seems to be very little that Europe and the West generally can do. Erdogan is set to continue on his path because he believes he can get what he wants.”