Kurdish leader: Turkey’s attacks on Rojava weaken the fight against ISIS

January 5, 2024
mourners at a funeral, headshot of a woman
A funeral for victims of Turkey's December airstrike on Qamishlo. Inset: Ilham Ahmed. Photos: rojavainformationcenter.org

Turkey carried out a devastating string of airstrikes on North East Syria (NES) over Christmas, targeting civilian service facilities and infrastructure.

Targets included warehouses for storing grain, a printing press, industrial sites for making construction materials, a petrol station, oil and electricity facilities, a medical centre, an oxygen plant in a dialysis clinic, various factories for packaging lentils, olive oil and bulgur wheat, and a wedding hall. Asayish (internal security forces) checkpoints across the cities of Qamishlo, Amude and Kobane were also targeted.

The casualty toll stands at 10 dead and 31 injured. The worst casualty event was the strike on Qamishlo’s printing press, which killed five civilians on Christmas day.

This came just three months after a five-day Turkish aerial assault in October that systematically destroyed NES’ power infrastructure in the northeasternmost Jazira canton, leaving millions without electricity and water.

Turkey began this latest airstrike campaign following an attack on Turkish Armed Forces’ (TAF) positions by the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the mountains of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), which killed at least 12 Turkish soldiers. The PKK – which Turkey considers a terrorist organisation – and TAF have been engaged in an armed conflict in the KRI for decades. The Turkish government claims that NES harbours PKK bases, from which attacks against Turkey are staged. NES’ military and political leaders have repeatedly denied this accusation, saying Turkey is using it as a pretext for attacking NES.

Rojava Information Centre (RIC) spoke with Kurdish politician and former Syrian Democratic Council co-chair, Ilham Ahmed, regarding the latest airstrikes.

Why did Turkey attack at this time?

The attacks of the Turkish state are not new. This is not the first time. Turkey has been relentlessly attacking the NES region for a long time. Now, at Christmas time, while the whole world is focused on the war of Israel and Gaza, and while the entry of Sweden into NATO is being discussed, Turkey is carrying out attacks.

Turkey is putting on pressure to get F-16 jets. Turkey is also trying to satisfy the Turkish public opinion with a revenge answer to the killing of so many soldiers: there is discontent in Turkish society about the killing of so many Turkish soldiers by Kurdish guerillas because Turkey had convinced the public that the so-called terrorism issue was over. But this [PKK] operation revealed all the lies.

Therefore, these attacks on NES’ infrastructure are meant to silence the Turkish public’s complaints. It also seems to be the price for Sweden’s entry into NATO.

How do you see the position of the United States?

The silence of America regarding the Turkish attacks shows that Turkey sees itself above America and that dodgy dealing between them is occurring. History repeats itself every time: they want to make the Kurds a lamb before the knife. America is making poor calculations here. Each time, in the name of expanding NATO, they abandon their key and only partner here — or at least allow the Turkish attacks to happen. In the future, the outcomes of this US weakness will eventually affect them the most.

The US wants Sweden to join NATO. Turkey has been delaying Sweden’s accession. You are saying that you see this as connected to the current Turkish attacks?

Yes, it is connected. Turkey always knows how to exploit their [American] weaknesses: for the Sweden issue, Turkey put the topic of the F-16 sales right in front of the Americans. Turkey crafts its agenda and pushes it into America’s hands. Unfortunately, it goes like this every time: they fulfil their interests at the expense of the Kurds. But this time the Kurds are not alone: they are alongside all the other components of Syria. A small mistake can become the reason that America ends up standing alone against ISIS and other militias.

And what do you say regarding the role of Russia?

Russia plays a key role in Syria and has a big impact on NES, in particular with their forces’ presence along the northern border with Turkey. That is: when Turkey attacks, the safety of the Russian forces is also threatened. They need to clarify their position. They can’t just shove their responsibilities to one side. They are responsible. It is possible that they can stop these attacks; they have the power.

Civilian life is expected to become more difficult following these attacks. How will this impact the political situation and the Autonomous Administration?

Not only Kurds live in this region — and this region is not just a military zone — a diverse and colourful society lives here. When Turkish attacks occur, they impact the lives of millions of people, from education to psychology to the economy. I mean, millions of people hate Turkey, because Turkey is ruining their lives. Turkey thinks to scare people, to displace them, to make them refugees. In times when it seems the whole world is falling into war and conflict, remaining on one’s land is a dignified thing; protecting this land is a moral duty. For this topic, the calculations of Turkey are meaningless.

How will these attacks impact the fight against ISIS?

Thinking ISIS is finished is a big mistake and is not true. Every day here, operations against ISIS are conducted alongside the Coalition forces. The Turkish attacks weaken this work, particularly in the regions where camps and prisons are holding ISIS. This is a really important issue — and dangerous too. There are constant escape attempts and breakouts. Turkey makes this even easier because the SDF has no choice but to prioritise the Turkish attacks. We have given thousands of martyrs and tens of thousands of our people’s homes have been destroyed in the war [against ISIS]. When Turkey attacks like this, it risks everything returning to point zero and ISIS announcing their caliphate.

Zooming out, how do you see the events now connected to other ongoing issues, such as the war in Gaza?

The war in Gaza is impacting all of Syria; responses are being traded on Syrian land. Deir ez-Zor is one of these areas. It is a hot frontline. We are wary of Syria and the region of NES becoming an area where scores are settled. Because Syria is anyway already wounded. In this way, the situation becomes even worse. We hope this situation will change.

[Abridged from rojavainformtaioncenter.org.]

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