Turkey has launched a new war of aggression in Southern Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) and many now have question marks in their minds. What is Turkey aiming at with this offensive? Why is it attacking right now? And what are its plans in case of military success? Civaka Azad (Kurdish Center for Public Relations) addresses these questions in the first part of a two-part analysis:
Since the night of April 17-18, the Turkish state has been attacking the southern Kurdish regions of Zap and Avaşîn. These areas near the Turkish border are largely under the control of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Prior to the start of the offensive, Turkey bombed the target areas widely over a period of three days. Then, when Operation Claw Lock was launched, attack helicopters, warplanes and combat drones were used. In addition, the area is being shelled with rockets from Turkish border military stations. Turkish soldiers were airdropped from attack helicopters at several points at the beginning of the offensive. Since then, there have been heavy military clashes between the guerrilla units and the Turkish military. Both sides have already made initial announcements on casualties in their own and enemy ranks. The numbers naturally differ and cannot be independently confirmed. But neither side doubts that the fighting will continue for a long time.
What is Turkey aiming at with this war of aggression?
Turkey under the AKP regime is pursuing multiple goals with this war. Firstly, there is the deep-rooted hostility towards the Kurdish population. No matter where the Kurdish freedom movement acts and defends the interests of the Kurds, it becomes a target of the Turkish state. This is because the acts of war in Southern Kurdistan are embedded in a more comprehensive concept of attack against the Kurdish population. In Northern Kurdistan (Turkey), state repression increased significantly after the Kurdish New Year festival of Newroz. On March 21, millions of Kurds throughout Northern Kurdistan poured into the streets and not only celebrated Newroz, but also declared their support for the Kurdish freedom movement. The AKP could not and would not let this stand. Since then, hundreds of Kurdish activists have been arrested in several waves of arrests.
Then there is the theater of war in Rojava/Northern Syria. The Turkish state actually wanted to launch a new major offensive here at the end of last year. Kobanê was considered a possible target. At that time, however, Turkey did not get the green light from the international powers for a new war and the AKP regime was unable to realize its plans at that time. Instead, the Turkish government has since intensified its drone attacks in Rojava (30 drone attacks since the beginning of the year) and has been shelling the cities of northern Syria with missiles (most recently the city of Kobanê on April 22). Even ISIS has become active again in northern Syria. And here, too, Turkey is likely to have its fingers in the pie. For in the large-scale attack by ISIS cells in Hesekê in January of this year, numerous Islamists from the Turkish-occupied areas of northern Syria are said to have infiltrated the city. The acts of war in southern Kurdistan cannot and must not be viewed independently of events in other parts of Kurdistan, especially since the aggressor everywhere is the Turkish state.
In addition to fighting Kurdish gains, however, the AKP regime also pursues neo-Ottoman interests in the region. The occupation of Afrin and the strip between Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî in northern Syria by the Turkish army and Islamist mercenaries are well known. In addition, Turkey also maintains numerous military stations in southern Kurdistan. The areas Turkey invades will not be easily surrendered. It already has enormous political and economic influence on the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, and above all on the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) under the leadership of the Barzani clan. In the long term, Turkey wants to extend its influence to Baghdad, where it would like to play a role similar to that of Iran. And if you listen to the talk shows of the Turkish mainstream media, the oil-rich cities of Kirkuk and Mosul in northern Iraq belong to Turkey anyway.
Another factor in favor of the military offensive, and this has already been sufficiently voiced in the past, is Turkey’s domestic political situation. The economic crisis weighs heavily. A new war comes just in time. Thus, the ranks in Turkish society can be closed again by strengthening the nationalistic “we” feeling (and the collective anti-Kurdish racism). It is therefore not surprising that the Turkish opposition leader of the CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, dedicated his prayers to the “heroic” Turkish soldiers in action via Twitter.
Why is Turkey attacking right now?
We have already touched on the answer to this question above. But there is another reason for the timing: the Ukraine war!
Many connoisseurs of Erdoğan’s politics have expected a renewed military campaign against the Kurds in the shadow of the Ukraine war. For in terms of foreign policy, this moment offers almost optimal conditions for a war of aggression by Ankara in violation of international law. Who now wants to criticize Turkey for this offensive? The West, which has just regained its old love for NATO and is therefore courting Ankara’s partners? Or Putin, whose war in Ukraine is going anything but as planned and for whom the partnership with Ankara is therefore more important than ever? No, Turkey certainly does not have to reckon with foreign policy criticism. Erdoğan is in the position in which he feels most comfortable: he is needed and courted by the international powers. He knows how to exploit this position and will exploit it to the bitter end. Against the backdrop of this constellation, an expansion of military actions and war crimes by the Turkish army can also be expected. For he does not currently have to reckon with any headwind from international powers.
What will happen if Turkey achieves military success…?
Of course, the AKP regime has a clear plan. The current war in Southern Kurdistan marks one stage of that plan. The PKK guerrilla forces are to be brought to their knees. If this succeeds in Zap and Avaşîn, it will likely be the turn of the next areas controlled by the PKK in Southern Kurdistan. The Turkish state also knows that the guerrilla forces represent a security guarantee for the achievements of the Kurdish population. If military successes are achieved against the guerrillas, then it will consequently be the turn of the achievements. The self-government of the Yazidi town of Şengal and the Maxmur refugee camp are at the top of Turkey’s list of attacks. The Iraqi military’s recent provocations in Şengal are undoubtedly linked to the Turkish offensive. Time and again, Turkey has bombed these two places in the past. In August last year, even a hospital in Şengal was attacked by the Turkish air force. Eight people were killed as a result. Subsequently, Turkish drone attacks have continued to kill people in both Şengal and Maxmur. Turkey wants to raze the self-government of these two areas to the ground, there is no doubt about that. But now the guerrillas are to be eliminated first.
But Turkey will not leave it at that with a military success. Many currently assume that it could launch a new offensive in Rojava/Northern Syria after possible military successes against the PKK. Another possibility is that it will destabilize the region with the help of ISIS in order to subsequently legitimize its own military intervention. But it is unlikely to stop there either. We mentioned earlier that many political analysts in Turkey have long had their eyes on Kirkuk and Mosul. In any case, those who hope that the Turkish military will dutifully clear its military stations in southern Kurdistan and begin its retreat after a possible military success against the PKK are very optimistic. Under the AKP, Turkey is blatantly pursuing a neo-Ottoman expansionist policy. And in this conception, not only Rojava but also South Kurdistan belong to the Greater Turkish Empire.
In the second part of our analysis, we will address the following questions:
What successes have past Turkish offensives had in South Kurdistan?
What role do the political parties in South Kurdistan play in the current war?
What is the reaction in Baghdad to the Turkish war of aggression?
What about the international reactions?
And why does this war concern us at all?
The second part of our analysis can be found here: https://civaka-azad.org/turkish-war-of-aggression-in-southern-kurdistan-ii/