The US and Turkey have agreed on a joint operations center on the Turkish-Syrian border. This center will monitor the construction of a so-called peace zone in northern Syria. The peculiarity of this zone is that it is part of the Kurdish autonomous area in northern Syria. So the agreement, if it holds, is so important.
For the Kurdish autonomous area in northern Syria has been a topic of dispute between the USA and Turkey for years. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees it as a haven for terrorists, and when he speaks, the terms Kurds and terrorists blur.
The area is governed by the Kurdish-Syrian YPG militia, which is close to the Kurdish-Turkish PKK troops. With these the Turkish government has been in open war since 2015. The US military, on the other hand, relied on those Kurdish YPG soldiers in the anti-terror war against the Islamic State (IS). The Kurds today hold many IS fighters in their prisons.
The establishment of a joint operational center of Turks and Americans is therefore good news. However, the participants have to wonder how the whole thing should work.
More than 100,000 displaced from Afrin
Earlier this week Erdoğan threatened the Syrian Kurds with an invasion into the Kurdish settlement area east of the Euphrates. There are Kurds and many refugees who have found shelter in front of the IS in the YPG-controlled autonomous zone. Erdoğan has threatened several times to destroy the "terror corridor". The threat is credible. It would be the third invasion of Syria in three years.
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At the beginning of 2018, Turkish troops and their Syrian-Arab allies occupied the majority Kurdish town of Afrin. At that time, according to UN data, 137,000 people had to flee the city and the surrounding area. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights even speaks of more than 350,000 displaced persons. International human rights organizations reported systematic destruction of livelihoods such as burning olive groves, farms, leather factories. Kurdish houses were looted and Syrian Arabs settled. Erdoğan said that Afrin was once Arab, not Kurdish.
Settlement areas for Syrian refugees in Turkey?
The Turkish president has also threatened with the settlement of Syrian Arab refugees east of the Euphrates. Because the more than three million Syrian refugees are no longer welcome in Turkey, the Turkish president is looking for settlement areas. If Syrian refugees were to settle along the Turkish border, they could achieve two goals at the same time: fewer refugees in their own country and the end of Kurdish dominance in the north of Syria.
"Ethnic land consolidation" through relocation, population displacement and flight are not foreign to Turkey. The country was founded in 1923 after the Ottoman genocide of the Armenians and the violent exchange of two million people between Turkey and Greece. In the occupation of Cyprus by the Turkish army in 1974, Greek Cypriots fled to the south, but also Turkish Cypriots to the north. These terrible events are still not properly addressed in Turkey as national tragedies or crimes.
Therefore, the United Nations and EU countries should now ask some questions about the provisional unification of Americans and Turks. How deep will the surgical zone of Turkish soldiers be in the Kurdish region? The Americans want to limit the zone to ten kilometers, the Turks demand 40 kilometers, which is far in the Kurdish settlement area. Should there be joint patrols of Americans, Turks and Kurds? How will the US prevent military clashes between Turkish troops and the YPG militia? Above all, who stops Erdoğan's comprehensive settlement plans in the Kurdish region?
There must not be a second Afrin.