Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters on Thursday that the ceasefire brokered by the United States between Ankara and Syrian Kurdistan was “not a ceasefire” and that Turkey will only withdraw from Syria when the Kurds evacuate the region.
Turkey will remain in Syria to help repopulate Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) with some of the mostly Arab four million Syrian refugees in Turkey, a move that the Kurds have repeatedly warned would result in the ethnic cleansing of their people out of the region. The foreign minister insisted that Ankara will stick to the plan, which Turkey calls “Operation Peace Spring,” and that it had only agreed to a “pause” in bombing Kurdish territory to allow the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), a formerly U.S.-allied anti-jihadist militia, to leave the region. Cavusoglu also said the Kurds agreed to significant disarmament.
Turkey is cooperating with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a broad umbrella group of militias, some with ties to al-Qaeda, that arose to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Assad is not a part of the ceasefire deal and announced he would use “all legitimate means” to expel Turkey from Syria.
The YPG accepted Assad’s military aid this week against Turkey, welcoming Syrian Arab Army troops into Rojava to protect the indigenous Kurdish populations from Turkey and the FSA.
Assad threatened Turkey with “all available legitimate means” to destroy its military. Assad was not a part of the ceasefire agreement brokered Thursday.
Cavusoglu’s remarks closely followed the announcement of a ceasefire by Vice President Mike Pence in Turkey after an hours-long meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Turkey will end the operation in northern Syria only after YPG/PKK terrorists leave [the safe zone],” Cavusoglu said on Thursday, according to the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency. Anadolu emphasized Cavusoglu’s point that the ceasefire was “not a ceasefire.”
A ceasefire is defined as “a military order to cease firing” or “a suspension of active hostilities.”
Erdogan told reporters Friday that any military hostilities in the “safe zone” that the non-ceasefire covered were “out of the question” and that any claims the Turkish military was still attacking the YPG were “disinformation.”
According to Pence, the Turks agreed to a deal that would give the YPG 120 hours, or five days, to withdraw from the area of Rojava that the Turks wish to use as a “safe zone” for Arab refugees. In return, Turkey promised not to bomb civilian strongholds or expel native Kurdish populations and cease hostilities against the YPG.
Despite the ceasefire fitting the definition of the word “ceasefire,” Cavusoglu insisted the ceasefire was not a ceasefire because the YPG was not “legitimate.”
The YPG and its all-female counterpart, the YPJ, are the official militias of the Syrian Kurdish people. They form the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella organization that also included other ethnic minority fighters. The SDF was allied with the United States before the Turkish invasion last week and is considered largely responsible for the defeat of the Islamic State in Raqqa, the caliphate’s “capital.”
“When we pause the operation, the U.S. will stop the sanctions attempts, and we can only end the operation after the previous conditions have been met,” Cavusoglu said. In a recent letter sent to Ankara, President Donald Trump said he would “destroy the Turkish economy” if Erdogan continued threatening to destroy the Syrian Kurdish population.
Cavusoglu was adamant in saying “Operation Peace Spring” will not end until the refugees in Turkey are resettled in Kurdish territory.
Anadolu reported that the ceasefire was part of a 13-point agreement between Turkey and the United States that “reaffirmed the relationship” between the two NATO members, bound by treaty to use military power to defend each other if one is attacked. Three of the points pledge to affirm their stance as NATO allies and to “uphold human life, human rights, and the protection of religious and ethnic communities.” Other points included promises to fight the Islamic State, which Erdogan aided in flooding Syria with jihadists throughout 2014-2015; to respect the “territorial integrity of Syria,” which is to say, not recognize Kurdistan as a state; and the “pause” of “Operation Peace Spring.”
The Turkish government agreed to end “Operation Peace Spring” entirely when the YPG presence in the “safe zone,” which lies in Syrian Kurdistan, is completely eliminated.
The Turkish military has killed seven civilians and injured more than 21 with military attacks in the less than 24 hours since the ceasefire announcement, according to Kurdish news outlet Rudaw.
“Despite the agreement to halt the fighting, air and artillery attacks continue to target the positions of fighters, civilian settlements and the hospital in Sari Kani. Turkey is violating the ceasefire agreement by continuing to attack the town since last night,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Friday.
The Kurdish report aligns with the outlandish statements of conquest in pro-Erdogan Turkish media, which have stoked Islamist nationalists into a frenzy against the United States. In a column on Thursday that referred to Washington as a “patron of terror,” Ibrahim Karagül, one of Erdogan’s most popular supporters in the only media Erdogan legally allows to operate in the country, compared Erdogan to the legendary sultan Suleyman the Magnificent for challenging a U.S. ally.
The column – titled “We were in need of a leader like Selim the Grim, Suleyman the Magnificent. God bestowed him on Anatolia. You shouldn’t have targeted Turkey. This was your gravest miscalculation. We are a nation that knows its friends and foes, and never forgets. Those telling us to ‘halt’ the Syria op are enemies; stopping now would be suicide” – calls America “the global boss of terrorism” and accused American history of being “rife with genocide.”
“The PKK is the U.S. – the U.S. is its boss.,” Karagül added, referring to a U.S.-designated Kurdish Marxist terrorist group the Turkish government considers indistinguishable from the YPG.
“Every country opposing Turkey’s fight against terrorism today, its self-defense efforts, is carrying out a covert war against Turkey. Every PKK attack is their attack,” Karagül concluded.