Arming Syrian Kurds ‘Threat to Turkey’, Turkish Foreign Minister Says after US Decision to Arm Them

A soldier of the People's Protection Units (YPG) Syrian Kurdish militia stands next to a US eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicle, near al-Ghanamya village, al-Darbasiyah town at the Syrian-Turkish border, Syria, 29 April 2017. Photo: Youssef Rabie Youssef/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • Turkey’s top diplomat has declared that any weapon in the hands of the Syrian Kurdish militia is a ‘threat against Turkey’.
  • He has reacted to US President Trump’s decision to arm the YPG, i.e. the militia of the Syrian Turks, for an attack on Raqqa, the capital of ISIS.
  • Turkey’s Foreign Minister has declared that the YPG is a terrorist organization like the PKK, the group fighting for the independence of the Kurds in Turkey.
  • He has said that the US was aware of the Turkish position when the decision to arm the YPG was made.
  • Earlier, the US Department of Defense sought to reassure Turkey by saying it was committed to its security, and that Raqqa would be ruled by local Arabs, no Kurds, after its liberation.

Any weapon obtained by the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG is a “threat to Turkey”, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has declared in Turkey’s first reaction to the decision of US President Donald Trump to provide weapons to the Kurds in Syria.

Cavusoglu’s reaction came after a day earlier, Trump approved a plan to arm the YPG, which makes up the bulk of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the ongoing Syrian Civil War, in order to empower it to conquer Raqqa, the capital of the ISIS terrorist group.

The American plan to arm the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG (“People’s Protection Units”) was approved by Trump in spite of protests by Turkey, a key US ally in NATO, whose 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), but to no avail.

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.

The Turkish government recently said it had completed “successfully” a major military operation in its war-torn neighbor Syria but that it would not be withdrawing its forces from there.

‘They Know Our Stance’

In Turkey’s first reaction following Trump’s decision in favor of arming the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG, Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu stated that both the YPG and the PKK were “terrorist organizations”.

“The YPG and the PKK are both terrorist organizations, there is no difference, only the name is different and every weapon they obtain is a threat to Turkey,” Cavusoglu said during a news conference in Podgorica, Montenegro, on Wednesday, as cited by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.

Turkey’s officials often refer to the YPG as “PKK/PYD” (PYD being the political party of the YPG) in order to underscore the connection that they see between the Syrian Kurds and the PKK organization, against which the Turkish government has fought a 33-year-long war.

Turkey has repeatedly called on the US to end its ties to the Syrian Kurdish organizations YPG/PYD and offered to help take ISIS capital Raqqa, including with the help of the Free Syrian Army, the rebel group that it supports.

“They know our stance on arming terrorist groups,” Cavusoglu said referring to decision of the United States to provide  weapons to the YPG.

“We also shared our suggestions with them, especially on a possible operation to Raqqa. The YPG forces need to be separated from the SDF forces. It is good for Arabs to be in Raqqa,” he stated.

Later on Wednesday, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said the US decision to supply weapons to Kurdish fighters battling ISIS in Syria was “unacceptable”.

“We cannot accept the presence of terrorist organizations that would threaten the future of the Turkish state,” Mr Canikli told A Haber in an interview, as cited by Hurriyet Daily News.

“We hope the US administration will put a stop to this wrong and turn back from it. Such a policy will not be beneficial – you can’t be in the same sack as terrorist organisations,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ilham Ahmed, a senior Syrian Kurdish official told the Associated Press that the US decision carried “political meaning” and “legitimize the YPG and the Syrian Democratic Forces”. He also warned, however, that it would likely be met with “aggression” from Turkey.

Although the bulk of the Syrian Democratic Forces is made up of YPG militants, there are also armed Arab and Turkmen groups within the alliance, including the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC).

The US-led anti-ISIS international Coalition has repeatedly said it only provides its weapons to the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC), i.e. the non-Kurdish part of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

In Tuesday’s statement on arming the Syrian Kurds, US Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White also sought to assuage Turkish fears and reassure Turkey.

“We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey,” Pentagon spokeswoman White declared.

“We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the US is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally,” she said.

“The U.S. continues to prioritize our support for Arab elements of the SDF,” spokeswoman White stated, adding that Raqqah “and all liberated territory should return to the governance of local Syrian Arabs.”

Turkish President Recep Erdogan is scheduled to visit US President Trump in Washington on May 16.

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