Turkey: preparations for a new invasion in Rojava?

Nihat Halepli

While it is becoming more and more evident that the Erdogan regime is falling apart, it is also clear that the regime is seeking various ways to cling to power. With the message he sent shortly after the deaths of two soldiers in Syria, Erdogan signaled that he would launch a new military operation in the Rojava region in the North of Syria. He obviously hopes that a “victory” in a war operation in Syria will prolong the life of his regime. 

Turkey’s strategy in the Syrian civil war

Turkey has been a part of the Syrian war since the very beginning of it. Its strategy was at first to overthrow the Assad regime through jihadist groups and to enhance its role as a regional imperialist power. After Kurdish forces seized control and started building an autonomous administration in northern Syria in 2012, sabotaging this became one of Turkey’s top priorities. It is established beyond doubt, that the Turkish regime will try to stop the creation of a Kurdish state in the region by all means and by any way it can, because it fears that the oppressed millions of Kurds in Turkey will then move in the same direction.

But Erdogan also used the Turkish involvement in Syria to achieve the internal goals of the regime. Especially in recent years, the deteriorating economy, the impoverishment of the working class and the elimination of democratic rights have all played a role in the waning of support for the regime. To counter that, the policy in Syria has been used as a factor to fuel nationalism and distract attention from domestic problems.

Rojava

Rojava is an area in North-east Syria, inhabited mainly by Kurdish populations. It is made up of three cantons: Afrin in the west, Kobane in the middle and Jezire in the east, which borders Iraq. At first, these areas were under the control of the Islamic State (ISIS). Kobane became known to the world, especially with ISIS’s siege and its defeat after a long, armed struggle. This marked also the beginning of the end for ISIS and was a huge blow to Erdogan’s imperialist aspirations in Syria. The Kobane conflict also marked the beginning of the direct involvement of the USA in Syria.

With the defeat of ISIS, Turkey acted quickly to prevent the unification of the Kobane and Afrin cantons and invaded that region. After occupying Afrin in 2018, it established a presence in the region between Kobane and Jezire cantons in 2019.

While Russia, acted as the protector of the Assad regime and approved all these invasions, it also demanded concessions from the jihadist groups in return, using Turkey to achieve them. In this way, the jihadists, who were in control of various parts of Syria, especially Aleppo, were gradually squeezed into one region. Jihadist groups are now mainly concentrated in Idlib, in northwestern Syria, at the top of the strategically important M4 highway which runs from Latakia to Saraqib. 

Turkey not only provides their connection with the outside world, but also shields the jihadist groups with various observation points. It is estimated that the number of Turkish soldiers in the northwestern part of Syria alone is 15,000.

Current possible targets

It is publicly discussed that the possible targets of the military operation this time could be Ain Issa, Manbic, Tall Temir, Tall Rifat or Kobane. Erdogan held talks with Biden and Putin to get the green light for such an operation. Although it was reported that in both meetings, he could not get the agreement he wanted, the situation is still unclear. In particular, it is reported that the negotiations with Putin are over Kobane. Since all other regions mentioned above are of critical strategic importance for the Syrian regime and therefore Russia, it is reported that Putin may give Turkey the green light for Kobane with the view of ensuring that the M4 highway in the south of Idlib is under the control of the regime forces. 

In addition, there are estimates that Putin also wants to provoke a crack inside NATO by giving the green light to an operation of a NATO member (Turkey) against forces supported by another NATO member (the USA). There are already problems between the two NATO states due to Turkey’s purchase of S400 rockets from Russia and Turkey’s removal from the F35 US warplanes program, for example.

Erdogan needs a “victory”

Although the Erdogan regime has increased its military presence in places like Azerbaijan and Libya, the fact is that its imperialist ambitions in Syria are at a dead-end. 

One of the most pressing questions for Turkish public opinion today is whether the jihadist groups there will flood into Turkey if the Syrian regime clears Idlib. Anti-immigration propaganda and racism are already widespread, especially as a result of Erdogan’s immigration policy.

At the same time, the regime faces discontent. The cost of living is the main factor determining the life of the working class. As a result of the constant depreciation of the Turkish lira, the huge increases in prices of critical products, such as electricity and natural gas, and especially the increases in food prices, the living standards of large sections of workers have visibly worsened .  While support for the regime, which is identified with corruption, poverty and police bans is falling, anger is growing.

In previous war operations, it was clear that the anti-Kurdish policies were the dominant reason behind the Turkish regime’s strategy. This time though, the reasons behind it are mostly internal. First of all, the regime expects that the masses will put social problems into the background with the nationalist atmosphere and demagogy that will emerge with this operation. 

At the same time, it is an attempt to stop the leak of votes from the government coalition to the opposition parties. In the last local elections, the AKP experienced its major defeat in big cities when Kurdish votes went to opposition candidates. But the opposition parties (except HDP) compete with the AKP/MHP coalition on nationalism. In that way, Erdogan calculates that warmongering will cost more Kurdish votes to the opposition than himself. 

Most importantly, of course, with a “victory” in Syria, he hopes to regain some of the support he lost, presenting that he has dealt a blow to “terrorism”.

But these efforts are in vain. In an atmosphere where the Erdogan regime is crumbling and its collapse seems certain, it is now publicly seen that this military build-up in Syria is one of Erdogan’s regime’s struggles to prolong its life. Such a military intervention will distract the working class for the initial period, but soon its effect will fade out. There will then be a return to a different agenda: unemployment, inflation, low wages, exploitation and social injustice… In fact, the results of such an operation will multiply the existing problems of the working class.

In conclusion, although it is not yet clear whether the Erdogan regime will launch such an operation, it is certain that this and similar maneuvers cannot prevent its inevitable course towards the dustbin of history.

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