Turkey’s Forever Wars: Ankara Maintains Military Footprint in Syria and Iraq

On October 26th, the Turkish parliament voted to extend Ankara’s military operations in Syria and Iraq by two years. President Erdogan now has ample opportunity to crush Kurdish autonomy in the region. However, both the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) voted against it, according to Al Jazeera. Pervin Buldan, co-leader of the HDP, lambasted Erdogan for supporting foreign interventions instead of addressing mounting problems at home: “You will never be able to cover up the great economic and social collapse you have caused with battle cries,” as stated in Bianet.

The CHP’s surprise decision to vote against the motion is a promising development and perhaps indicative of a broader war-weariness spreading among Turkey’s political class. As Al-Monitor noted, representatives of the secular Good Party, despite voting in favor of the motion, voiced their opposition to rumoured plans for further military offensives in northern Syria. The fact that numerous civil society groups urged parliamentarians to vote against the bill may suggest that Turks are weary of President Erdogan’s warmongering as well. The CHP and HDP must galvanize anti-war sentiments among the public and push the ruling party to start negotiations with Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the Iraqi government. There is no other way to reach a peaceful settlement.

The terrible record of Turkey’s military adventurism cannot be forgotten. Scott Ritter, former UN Weapons Inspector and Marine Corps Intelligence Officer, stated in an interview that Ankara deployed hundreds of troops and military hardware to help the Al-Qaeda affiliate Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) maintain control of Idlib in Syria. HTS terrorists have committed heinous acts which, according to UN investigators, “amount to war crimes.” Turkey looks the other way when HTS allies shell civilians, torture opponents, and interfere with the delivery of humanitarian aid. Moreover, Ankara’s incursions into Syria’s Kurdish provinces since 2018 resulted in the forced displacement of approximately 300,000 Kurds, Christians, and Yezidis. Turkish-controlled Islamist militias like the Syrian National Army (SNA) have kidnapped, detained, evicted, raped, and murdered civilians with impunity, according to the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights. Yet once again, Turkish authorities did virtually nothing to stop these abuses.

Additionally, Turkey’s invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan to eliminate PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) insurgents is causing untold misery for thousands of people. A Christian Peacemaker Team report revealed that Turkish bombing raids in April decimated livestock, destroyed crops, and forced farmers and their families to flee ancestral villages; Turkish troops also threaten to shoot farmers who refuse to abandon their fields. The Peace in Kurdistan Campaign issued a statement claiming that Turkey is using illegal chemical weapons to clear out the PKK in Northern Iraq.

Ankara’s meddling in the Libyan Civil War is having disastrous consequences as well. A UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission to Libya last September confirmed that Turkey helped recruit Syrian child soldiers to fight for the beleaguered Government of National Accord (GNA) against General Khalifa Haftar’s army. This is a blatant violation of the OPAC (Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child) treaty, which states that children under 18 should not participate in conflicts. Furthermore, the report stated that Turkish-made drones may be implicated in the killing of “civilians not taking direct part in hostilities.”

In Mogadishu, Turkey’s largest foreign military base trained Somali special forces units renowned for their brutality. The Turkish-led Gorgor division fired upon unarmed demonstrators protesting President Mohamed Farmaajo’s decision to cling on to power, despite the end of his term in February 2021. The Turkish-trained Haramcad police squad has also been involved in the detention of journalists and the attempted murder of a former Somali president. Ankara is even using SADAT, a shadowy military firm, which supposedly armed terrorist groups like the Al-Nusra Front in Syria, to train Somali troops, according to the Middle East Institute. To make matters worse, Nordic Monitor alleges that former Turkish ambassador to Somalia Cemalettin Torun sold weapons to the jihadi group Al-Shabaab.

These interventions have severely damaged Turkey’s reputation on the world stage. It is entirely up to the Turkish people, via massive grassroots movements and sustained agitation, to transform their country into a force for peace.