Turkish Official: Kurds Are Taking Over ISIS Territory in Syria

Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Ömer Çelik, a senior official in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, warned Wednesday that “Kurdish militia in northern Syria appeared intent on creating a de facto zone of control in the region.”

Notably, Çelik’s complaint was against the YPG militia, a Syrian Kurdish group normally portrayed as somewhat distant from the PKK in Turkey. Çelik charged the YPG with “forcibly removing Arab and Turkmen civilians from areas liberated from Islamic State control.”

He also complained about the YPG supporting the PKK and thus nourishing a threat to Turkish stability, while describing the PKK as posing an “equally serious threat” of terrorism as the Islamic State.

Çelik was also adamant that President Bashar Assad must be removed from power swiftly in Syria and said Turkey would not accept him even as the head of a transitional government. “He has the blood of hundreds of thousands of people on his hands; he has more blood on his hands than Slobodan Milosevic,” the Turkish official said to the Guardian. “Even if there were a legitimate transition government, it would be impossible to imagine Bashar al-Assad as part of it. The military presence of multiple countries in Syria will make the country more like Afghanistan, not restore stability.”

Turkey has a long and uneasy history with Syria and despises the Assad regime for reasons that include Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez Assad, supporting the PKK. Turkey was on the verge of invading Syria over this issue in the late nineties. It is a threat they would like to neutralize for good.

This is a serious difference of opinion between Turkey and Russia, which is presently dropping bombs on the Syrian resistance—especially the elements supported by the United States and Turkey—in a bid to end the Syrian civil war and secure Assad in power. It is also uncomfortable for the United States, which has relied heavily upon the Kurds in Syria as proxy forces against ISIS. The Guardian mentions that Turkey objected to the U.S. resupplying Syrian forces, including the Kurds, with ammunition over the weekend.

Çelik, like many other Turkish officials before him, faulted the West for not acting swiftly to depose Assad and dismissed fears that knocking the dictator out of power without lining up a superior replacement government would leave Syria in the hands of terrorist gangs. “Our allies should have stood in solidarity with the Syrian people and the international community should have drawn necessary lessons from their belated response to the Bosnian conflict,” Çelik asserted.