Kurdish militias the YPG and the female-led YPJ have been fighting tirelessly for years now to eradicate ISIS forces in the north-eastern region of Syria. The US has backed them with on-the-ground training, drone, and airstrikes. In 2015 Kurdish and non-Kurdish militias joined together to form the Syrian Democratic Forces or the SDF, they began to bulldoze their way through ISIS territory. This led the way for an autonomous Kurdish territory, the Kurds have set up a self-governing democratic nation in northern Syria called Rojava, although it is not an internationally recognized state, they aim to promote democracy and stability in the Middle East.
By 2019 they set-up 7 major prisons that held 11,000 ISIS inmates. In addition to this, they held thousands of ISIS family members in displacement camps across the northern region of Syria.
Due to rising tensions on all sides and the heavy involvement of Russian troops in the region, the US began to set up military bases and patrols across the Syrian-Turkish border, with a total of 2,000 U.S Marine and Special Operations Forces in the Middle Eastern nation. Many fear the Syrian war won’t end, as it’s turned into a proxy war, involving so many different nations and factions.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has viewed the Kurdish rise in Syria as a major threat to national security. This is because a militant political organisation called the Kurdistan Workers Party or PPK has fought the Turkish government for decades, it is deemed a terrorist organisation in Turkey, but many see their cause as just, they want greater autonomy for Kurds living in Turkey. For example, it’s against the law to even speak Kurdish in public or private in Turkey.
Tens of thousands have died over various clashes between Kurdish movements and the Turkish government over the years. President Erdogan assumes the PKK is linked to the SDF in Syria. He’s very concerned that a Kurdish nation forming in northern Syria could inspire the PKK to use the same model in some regions in Turkey, by taking control of Kurdish populated areas in Turkey.
During a press conference in 2016, Erdogan said “Turkey will not sit and watch the formation of an illegitimate zone on our border.” The first act of violence led by the Turkish military in Syria came in 2016 when they crossed the border into Syria to push back ISIS troops in Al-Bab. This blocked the expansion of Kurdish forces along the west side of the border. In 2018 they attacked Syria again, they invaded the Afrin region, in an attempt to wipe out the SDF.
Internal domestic affairs in Turkey have also played a contributing role in the nation’s relationship with the Syrian people, due to struggling trade relations with the US and the country’s economic downturn many Turkish citizens are looking for a scapegoat. An estimated 6 million refugees have fled Syria, 3.6 million of those have ended up in Turkey. As Turkey’s economy continued to decline, more and more people began to blame President Erdogan for allowing such an influx of people into the country almost unfiltered. Following the 2019 local elections his party lost seats across the country, Kurdish parties won 8 seats, which further worried the Turkish president. Following the election, he began to re-enforce the idea of a “safe zone” between Turkey and Syria, to gain back his popularity, and to take a strong stance on Syrian-related affairs.
This “safe zone” wouldn’t be along the Turkish/Syrian border but in Syria itself, Erdogan has already taken control of several territories in the northwestern region of Syria, close to the Kurdish-held territory to the east. He claims, if successful that he would plan to move the 3.6 million Syrian refugees back to Syria, along this northern strip across the top of the nation, under Turkish control. Then-President, Donald Trump and President Putin were both informed of the plan, but no agreement was met.
In response to international political leaders refusing his proposals, Erdogan stated in a press conference that “We will have to do what is necessary by ourselves”, and expressed he wanted to push Turkish forces into this region controlled by Kurdish forces. However, there was a major obstacle in his way. As mentioned earlier the US has military bases set up across this northern-border region.
In August 2019 the US and Turkey agreed that their forces would patrol a “safe zone” that went 5KM deep into Syrian land across the border. This resulted in the SDF forces agreeing to withdraw their troops from this area. However, in a speech given to the UN, this was not enough for the Turkish leader. He stated, “We intend to establish a peace corridor with a depth of 30KM and the length of 480KM in Syria and to enable the settlement of 2 million Syrians there.”
After a phone call between Donald Trump and Erdogan, US troops were ordered to withdraw from northern Syria. Trump broke the US alliance with the Kurdish people in the region, saying in an interview “we never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives.” Shortly after the US troops left, Turkish forces forced their way into northern Syria with tanks, airstrikes, and armed forces on the ground.
The invasion from Turkey into the Kurdish-controlled area of Syria has been labeled by some as brutal and barbaric. The same Kurds who fought valiantly against ISIS forces in the region, the very same people who’ve tried to install a sense of democracy and peace, during such a time of chaos and uncertainty are now under siege. Turkey’s forceful push into Syria is deemed by many as unjust and merely a power grab from the Turkish government.
As a result of the SDF having to defend themselves against the invading Turkish forces, most ISIS prisons have been left completely unguarded, many prisoners’ have already escaped. This is a war with so many factions at play, the circumstances are forever changing, the Kurds have had very little choice but to strike a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to hold off Turkish military advancements.
With Russia already heavily involved, various Syrian opposition militias, the Kurdish SDF, al-Assad’s forces, Iran, Hezbollah, ISIS, and now Turkey coming into the mix. Will this war ever see a peaceful end? And have we glossed over Turkey’s wrongful use of force in recent years. A country trying to put on a very westernized exterior, while its internal and foreign affairs paint a very different picture.
Above is the current state of the Syrian Civil War.