Ismail Kahraman, Speaker for Turkey’s National Assembly, described his country’s military incursion against the Syrian Kurds as a “jihad” over the weekend. Meanwhile, the Turkish government’s crackdown on criticism of the operation continued with over 300 new arrests.
“Look, we are now in Afrin. We are a big country. Without jihad, there can be no progress, one cannot stand on their feet,” said Kahraman on Saturday, referring to the Kurdish-held city attacked by the Turks and their Syrian proxy forces.
Turkey Untold reports that Kahraman slipped in a little jab against the United States for criticizing the Syrian operation, asking, “What business do the American cowboys have here?”
According to Kurdistan24’s account of his remarks, Kahraman was also “critical of the U.S. military presence in the Middle East and elsewhere globally.”
Later on that same day, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) of Turkey to the Islamic State (ISIS), claiming none of those organizations has true “religion, faith, or God.”
Kurdistan24 reports that Turkey’s Islamic religious establishment has become involved in the Afrin operation in a variety of ways, from imams praying for Turkish victory in their sermons to the Diyanet (Turkey’s government ministry of religion) ordering clerics to read a portion of the Koran related to military conquest. A pro-Kurdish lawmaker condemned the latter action by insisting that the Diyanet was perverting the meaning of the Koranic verse in question.
Despite this use of warlike religious language by Erdogan and his supporters, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisted on Monday that the Kurds and ISIS are the ones corrupting the message that Islam “means peace.”
“Can we defend [ISIS] because we are Muslim and they are using the religion of Islam? On the contrary, [ISIS] has nothing to do with our religion Islam, which means peace,” Cavusoglu said, in the course of criticizing Europeans who are standing up for the Kurds as Turkey invades.
“The single person who has been most effective in killing this ideology [of ISIS] is Erdogan. Because Muslims all over the world are waiting to hear what Erdogan says. Because Erdogan is the only leader expressing sentiments of the Islamic Ummah,” Cavusoglu asserted.
He suggested anyone who shares the ideology of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) should “take up arms and go to the mountains” to fight alongside the “Marxist, Leninist, and atheist” PKK.
A new argument for the Turkish campaign made by Cavusoglu and other Turkish officials is that the Turkish invasion will liberate the Kurds of northern Syria from the YPG, which is dominating a captive population of Kurds who actually sympathize with Turkey. In fact, one Turkish minister claimed the Kurds of Afrin are “thanking Turkey for saving them from those without religion.”
Rami Abdel Rahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights countered that “Turkey’s only genuine enemy in Syria is the Kurds.”
“Turkey allowed jihadi fighters to cross its border as early as 2011, as we have repeatedly reported,” Rahman said in an interview with Deutsche Welle over the weekend. “Turkey supports anything that harms the Kurds. Over a year ago, Turkey withdrew its armed forces from eastern Aleppo, which then was surrounded by President al-Assad’s troops to use them against the YPG and prevent Kurdish-controlled Afrin linking up with other Kurdish areas. By withdrawing its troops from Aleppo, Turkey effectively handed over the city to Damascus.”
Rahman said, that contrary to their claims, the Turkish military is “making slow progress because of fierce Kurdish resistance.” He also challenged some claims from the Kurdish side, including the foreigners who joined the YPG to fight ISIS, are moving into combat positions against the Turks, and that al-Qaeda forces have joined up with the Turks to fight Kurds.
Rahman mentioned some interesting but unconfirmed rumors about the Syrian government’s position on the Turkey-Kurd battle, including the Assad regime allegedly permitting Kurdish reinforcements to move through territory held by the Syrian government, and that Russia is pushing the Kurds to hand Afrin back over to Syrian government control in order to halt the Turkish offensive. Supposedly the Kurdish refusal to surrender Afrin to Damascus prompted Russia to give Erdogan a green light for his cross-border offensive.
Rahman predicted that the Kurds will “fight to the end” because they “have no other choice.”
Turkey confirmed on Monday that Leopard 2 tanks supplied by Germany have been deployed against the YPG in Syria. This has become a point of contention for Germany, which has decided to delay a decision about providing an upgrade requested by Turkey for its 354 Leopard 2 vehicles.
Erdogan’s crackdown on dissent within Turkey continued with a statement from the Interior Ministry that a total of 311 people have been detained thus far for “making terror propaganda” on social media, i.e. criticizing the Afrin operation. Legal proceedings are underway against 208 of them.