Afrin Incursion Reveals ’Real Face’ of Turkey: Belgian Analyst

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A Belgian political analyst and writer described Turkey’s military operation in Syria’s Afrin region as a ”declaration of war” against the Arab country, adding that the ongoing incursion shows Ankara’s ”real face” under President Recept Tayyib Erdogan.

Afrin Incursion Reveals ’Real Face’ of Turkey: Belgian Analyst

"The threats of the Turkish government towards Syria that 'any force in Afrin, including the Syrian government, would be targeted by Turkish troops if they assist the YPG' and that 'any group coming to the help of the Kurds in the Syrian city is regarded as a legitimate target' is very close to a declaration of war and shows the real face of the Turkish regime under President Erdogan," Kris Janssen, head of a Belgium-based Syrian Friendship Association, told the Tasnim News Agency.

Following is the full text of the interview.

Tasnim: On Thursday, the Syrian daily al-Watan reported that some 500 Syrian popular forces had entered the Afrin region since Tuesday. The pro-Damascus fighters will defend the Syrian city against Turkey's military operation. The Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) confirmed that hundreds of pro-government fighters had been deployed on the frontlines in Afrin to help counter the Turkish offensive. Whats your take on this?

Janssen: There is no doubt that a considerable number of Syrian popular forces, allies of the Syrian Arab Army but not part of it, arrived at the borders of the Afrin region. It is not possible to confirm the exact number but several sources, including the YPG, spoke of 500 troops and the number of videos, pictures and snapshots tend to confirm this mentioned number of 500.

I think that the purpose of this action was to send a message to the Erdogan regime. When the Syrian popular forces arrived, they were not immediately deployed on the frontlines of Afrin or within the city. The message to Turkey was dual: the Syrian Kurds were, are and will stay in the first place, Syrian citizens. If Turkey attacks in a barbaric way Syrian citizens, the Syrian government will react and defend its citizens. The second part of the message is that the Syrian government will never accept that foreign armies (American, Turkish or ...others) are present and occupying Syrian territory without the approval of the Syrian government. In contrast, the Iranian advisers and Russian air force and support personnel are in Syria because the Syrian government welcomed and invited them. Iran and Russia are present in Syria with full consent of the Syrian government. But this case, the Turkish invasion, and occupation of parts of Syrian territory, is unacceptable for the Syrian government and the 500 Syrian popular forces are a signal to Ankara. Of course, if Ankara does not understand the message or does not want to understand it, the Syrian government has to make a statement and carry out its responsibilities, meaning activating the forces into combat mode and defend Afrin and its Syrian Kurdish citizens.

Tasnim: The pro-Damascus demonstration in Afrin came one day after Ankara's warning to consider any group coming to the help of the Kurds in the Syrian city as a "legitimate target" for the Turkish military. Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Wednesday that any force in Afrin, including the Syrian government, would be targeted by Turkish troops if they assist the YPG. What do you think about Turkey's warning?

Janssen: The threats of the Turkish government towards Syria that "any force in Afrin, including the Syrian government, would be targeted by Turkish troops if they assist the YPG" and that "any group coming to the help of the Kurds in the Syrian city is regarded as a legitimate targetis very close to a declaration of war and shows the real face of the Turkish regime under President Erdogan. This statement from the Turks came not really as a surprise but nevertheless I think it created some slight confusion for the Syrian popular forces (about whether) to stay on the borders of the city of Afrin and the region or engage by entering the city and take up strategic military positions. Also for the Syrian government, it is a balancing act. I have no doubt that the Turkish occupation troops will indeed open fire and attack the popular forces just as they attack the Kurds. The Turkish army is not going to differentiate between the Kurds and the popular forces and although the Turkish military operations are not going as smooth as planned, their army is strong, numerous and equipped with very modern and powerful weapons. I doubt that a relatively small contingent of 500 popular forces is enough to stop the Turkish aggression. I fear that for really stopping the Turkish forces much more manpower and military equipment are necessary.

Tasnim: What might the future hold about Afrin? Will Turkey withdraw its forces? Whats your prediction?

Janssen: The future of Afrin is difficult to predict. We have to differentiate between short-term and long-term circumstances. On the short term, the Turkish regime will do everything in its might to achieve her objectives. Even if the losses on the Turkish side are ending up much higher than they predicted, The Turkish army will go to the end to succeed in its mission. I do not see Turkey immediately withdrawing its forces before achieving her objectives as this will lead to a massive, even unacceptable, loss of face for Turkish President Erdogan. However, the situation in Afrin is extremely explosive and in these situations, everything can happen and situations can change by the day. Imagine that the Syrian government decides to massively increase the number of popular forces with a huge cashe of weapons. Or will send in the Syrian Arab Army.... How far is Turkey willing to go in swallowing her losses? Losses that will have its repercussions on the home front, especially on the political field. How high does Turkey want to bet in this gambling game? The same problem also applies to Syria. How far is Syria, at this moment, willing to go to confront Turkey and the Turkish army in Afrin? Also for Syria, the Afrin case is a high-risk situation with one wrong decision leading to a catastrophe. On top of that, it is well possible that the highest political and military command in Damascus has other priorities for the Syrian Arab Army to finish first before sending all its assets to Afrin. For example, finishing the problems in the Eastern Ghouta region.

By explaining what is happening in Afrin it is extremely important to stress that the Turkish invasion into Syria is not just a territorial conflict but it is upon the Syrian government to defend its citizens, in this case, the Syrian Kurdish population. Moreover, the Syrian government is not only carrying out her duties to protect the population but we also have to mention that the Kurds themselves called upon the government in Damascus for support in their role as Syrian citizens. The statement of the Kurdish leadership that they are above everything Syrian citizens is a strong statement clearing up a cloud of confusion. For a long time during the Syrian war, the Kurdish YPG has been allied with the US army, who at their turn is also illegally occupying Syrian territory and killing scores of innocent civilians by their criminal actions. The Kurds are fighting side by side with the Americans which raises the question what exactly the Kurdish position is with regard to their place in the Syrian State. Do the Kurds want to declare independence and break up the country backed by American military support? Are they on the brink of unilaterally proclaiming a federal state without plebiscite or elections? Many questions are on the table with regard to the Kurdish issue.

Now, with the outbreak of the crisis in Afrin, it is very interesting to observe that the Kurdish leadership is calling upon the Syrian government for military support and protection because "they are in the first place, Syrian citizens". I hope that this statement is sincere and that the Kurds will indeed take up their place within the Syrian society and submit their requirements legally and democratically through the official Syrian State institutions.

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