- Turkey’s President Erdogan has slammed the US decision to arm the YPG, the militia of the Syrian Kurds.
- Erdogan has argued that unlike the US, Turkey and its citizens are threatened by the Kurds.
- Yet, he has adopted a milder tone with Washington in comparison with the Turkish Cabinet ministers, portraying the decision to arm the YPG as a remnant of the Obama Administration.
- Erdogan has said he sees his upcoming visit to D.C. as a new beginning for US-Turkish relations.
- He is headed to China for a trilateral summit with Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, before making it to the US.
Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan has criticized the US for the Trump Administration’s decision to arm the YPG, the militia of the Syrian Kurds, to enable it to capture Raqqa, the capital of the ISIS terrorist group.
At the same time, however, Erdogan, who spoke ahead of his first meeting with US President Donald Trump later this month, has adopted a milder tone than his government ministers and expressed optimism for a “new beginning” in the American – Turkish relations.
Turkish officials have already slammed Trump’s decision to provide weapons to the Kurds in Syria, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declaring that any weapon obtained by the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG is a “threat to Turkey”.
The American plan to arm the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG (“People’s Protection Units”), which makes up the bulk of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the ongoing Syrian Civil War, was approved by Trump in spite of protests by Turkey, a key US ally in NATO.
Turkey’s armed forces recently clashed with the YPG along the Turkish-Syrian border.
In the ongoing civil war in Syria, Turkey backs a rebel group that it has been sponsoring, the Free Syrian Army. It has repeatedly offered the United States to recognize and switch its support to the Free Syrian Army, rather than the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (which also include the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC) fighters).
It has also accused the United States of supplying heavy weaponry to the Syrian Kurds, an accusation denied by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Turkey views the YPG and its political wing, PYD (“Democratic Union Party”) as the Syrian offshoot of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), a group blacklisted as a terrorist organization for using violence to fight for the independence of the Kurds living in Southeast Turkey.
The PKK has been waging a guerilla war and committing terrorist attacks against Turkey since 1984, in a conflict which has claimed more than 40,000 lives.
Turkey has also been carrying out air strikes against alleged PKK and YPG positions in North Iraq’s Sinjar Mountain region, and in Northeast Syria.
In addition to Turkey, large ethnic Kurdish communities also live in Syria, Iran, and Iraq. The Kurds in Iraq enjoy an autonomy in the former of the Kurdistan Regional Government, also known as Iraqi Kurdistan, an entity the size of Scotland which might decide to seek formal independence.
Turkey’s government has had good relations with the government of Iraqi Kurdistan but not with the political and military organizations of the Kurds in Syria, which have been opposing its forces and allies in the ongoing Syrian Civil War.
In addition to making up the bulk of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which oppose the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but fight mostly against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG also appears to have established cooperation with Russia.
‘Threat against Us’
Terrorist organizations in Syria are only threatening Turkey, not the United States or Russia, Turkish President Recep Erdogan said on May 12, in a reference to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey sees as a terrorist organization, and the US decision to arm them.
“There is no threat to either the US or Russia in this region. The threat is against us and not their own people, so what is it to others? If they want to do us a favor, we are allies with the US in NATO,” Erdogan said on Friday, as cited by Hurriyet Daily News.
“We don’t think the US looks good next to a terror organization,” the Turkish President added.
“One terror organization cannot be eliminated with another terror organization,” Erdogan argued, saying also the US decision to arm the Syrian Kurds was harming strategic relations between America and Turkey.
He spoke at a news conference in Ankara airport before departing for China where is going to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a trilateral summit. From China, Erdogan is flying to the US for his first meeting with US President Donald Trump.
“Right now there are certain moves in the United States coming from the past, such as the weapons assistance to the YPG. These are developments that are in contradiction to our strategic relations with the United States and of course we don’t want this to happen,” Erdogan elaborated.
He also said that Turkey was going to continue its military operations against Kurdish militia targets in Iraq and Syria.
The Turkish leader, however, also expressed optimism about the US – Turkish relations basing it on his view that a power transition is still in progress in Washington.
“The United States is still going through a transition period. And we have to be more careful and sensitive,” he declared before leaving for China, as cited by Reuters.
Erdogan also vowed to pursue “to the end” Turkey’s demand for the extradition of his former ally, the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen who Erdogan accuses of a number of sins against Turkey, including of organizing the July 15, 2016, failed attempt at a military coup.
Following the coup, the Turkish government has purged tens of thousands of Turkish state employees accused of links to Gulen, who has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.
Erdogan even refers to Gulen’s network as “FETO”, i.e. “Fethullah Terrorist Organization”.
“I actually see this US visit as a new beginning in our ties,” the Turkish President declared, expressing seeking to draw a contrast between the new leadership in Washington, D.C., and the tense relations he had with former US President Barack Obama.
Asked about US pledges of support regardless of the American decision to arm the YPG, the militia of the Syrian Kurds, Erdogan suggested he was going to seek further guarantees when he meets Trump.
“Among the information we have received, there is some that satisfy us and others that are not sufficient,” he said.
Earlier, after talks in London on Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis said that he had no doubt the two countries could work through the tensions caused by the decision to arm the YPG.
A US official is also quoted by Reuters as saying that the United States was looking to boost intelligence cooperation with Turkey to support its fight against the PKK.