Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

The Kurds under fire amid regional and international turmoil

How does the Western press analyze Ankara's recent attacks in Iraq and Syria?

During the past few days, the Kurds and their allies in three Mesopotamian countries have been facing attacks by two powerful states in the region. A NATO force and a religious regime, which has recently faced a popular uprising, are hitting the Kurds inside Iran and in the northern parts of Iraq and Syria.

The Western press closely follows the attacks on the Kurds and their allies. In the recent analyses published in the Western media, the attempt at a multi-layered reading of the developments is standing out. According to Western analysts and journalists, the recent attacks against the Kurds have three dimensions: the international, the regional, and the domestic. At the international level, various actors are vying for control of developments in Mesopotamia. At the regional level, the perpetuation of the Syrian crisis has implications for the Kurds and the region's societies. At the level of domestic developments, the uprising in Iran and the upcoming elections in Turkey have a multidimensional impact on the Kurds of Mesopotamia.

Combining the three dimensions of the fresh attacks against the Kurds, the Western press concludes that in the last weeks of 2022, amidst sweeping developments at the international and regional level, the Kurds are coming under fire from many directions.

The international dimension

"Turkey accuses the U.S. of supporting the PYD, the Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). This accusation could have consequences not only for the relationship between Ankara and Washington but also for Sweden's NATO membership", underlines Ozan Demircan in a recent article in the german newspaper "Handelsblatt". According to Demircan, Turkey's attacks in Autonomous Kurdistan and Northern Syria go beyond the limits of domestic and regional developments and "touch" the most significant geopolitical game that has been going on since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.

Jeff Seldin shares Demircan's view. In an analysis, published by the "Voice of America," Seldin stresses that, although "U.S. officials acknowledge that Turkey is free to defend itself from terrorist attacks," they cautioned that "the recent Turkish airstrikes are undermining efforts by all sides to contain and degrade" the threat of the Islamic State/Daesh. In the same vein, the French newspaper "Le Monde" adds that the Turkish President's "repeated threats worry Washington and Moscow, which are both involved in the war in Syria and issue calls for restraint. The United States support the YPG in the fight against jihadists, while Russia has provided military support to Syrian forces since 2015. In addition, Russian soldiers were deployed in late 2019 to the northeast with the aim to create a buffer zone, under an agreement with Turkey.

The German newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine," also focusing on the conflict's international dimension, stresses that "the German government had already called on Ankara on Monday to comply with international law. "The right to self-defense does not include a right to retaliate," said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Christofer Burger. During her visit to Ankara, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser called on Turkey to prevent the escalation of the violence". According to the newspaper, "Russia also urged Ankara to exercise restraint on Tuesday. "We hope to convince our Turkish partners to refrain from excessive use of force on Syrian territory despite everything," the Russian president's Syria envoy, Alexander Lavrentyev, said in the Kazakh capital of Astana. Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and the president of the Kurdish autonomous regions in northern Iraq, Nechirvan Barzani, condemned the violations of Iraqi territory at a joint meeting Tuesday. They said Turkey's attack on Kurdish areas had killed several people, including civilians."

Last week, the Western press published new messages from the Kurdish side to the Western capitals. The American newspaper "The Washington Post" published an interview with Mazloum Kobane Abdi, the head of the armed forces in northeastern Syria, who "urged Western allies to stand against any further military action, arguing that international pressure could make the difference between a ground operation taking place."

The regional dimension

"The Turkish army bombed Kurdish autonomous regions in Syria and Iraq on Sunday. A week after the attack in Istanbul. Iran's Revolutionary Guards also attacked targets in the Kurdish region of neighboring northern Iraq," writes Hannes Heine, according to which the recent attacks are related to the new plans of the two regional powers in Mesopotamia. As Iran attempts to hit the West's allies in the region, "Turkey wants to establish a corridor of 600 kilometers wide and 30 kilometers deep in Syria, which would separate Kurds in southern Turkey from those in the north of the neighboring country."

"The Middle East's Kurds are being bombed, shot at, and arrested across four countries. It is an unprecedented pressure moment on one of the world's largest stateless ethnic groups. It has come about in part because of the war in Ukraine and international disengagement from the region", adds Borzou Daragahi in his analysis in the British newspaper "The Independent". According to Daragahi, "Analysts say that domestic political calculations in Ankara and Tehran are combining with geopolitical shifts to drive the confluence of violence and political pressure. "This is one of the rare moments when Iran and Turkey are seeing what's happening to them as an existential threat by the Kurds," says Abdulla Hawez, a London-based analyst of Kurdish affairs."

Martin Chulov from the British newspaper "The Guardian" adds to the above the view that "Turkey, Israel, and Russia have all launched raids in recent days, reaffirming that a decade-long war remains a rumbling conflict with the potential to escalate on at least three fronts. But even as attention focuses on the escalating conflict in Ukraine, the unfinished business of the Syrian war casts a growing pall across the rest of a volatile region". "The war in Syria risks becoming a forgotten conflict," said Dr. Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the think-tank Chatham House. "But ongoing airstrikes by Turkey, Russia, and Israel show regional interests remain at stake, with each of the three countries targeting its opponents to prevent them from consolidating their influence in Syria."

The interior dimension

In his analysis, Demircan also focuses on the internal aspect of the latest developments. "Speculation quickly arose that the government might use the latest attack politically to unite the society behind the anti-terror campaign. This would be useful for incumbent President Erdogan in the forthcoming elections," stresses Demircan, who adds, "According to this theory, Erdogan, as a long-time president, has a better chance of convincing people of his abilities in the fight against terror. The opposition has not yet been able to prove itself in this area actively and is therefore losing favor with voters."

"Courrier International" agrees with the above point, adding that "as the presidential election approaches, Turkey will "multiply operations" against the Kurds." According to the French newspaper, "The bombings carried out in Iraq and Syria, in reaction to an attack in Istanbul, seem to be part of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's electoral strategy."

The Western press gives a similar interpretation of Tehran's motives for the fresh attacks against the Kurds. According to the Western media, to "export" the crisis within the country to Mesopotamia, Tehran is trying to weaken the Kurds, who are leading the popular uprising in Iran.

*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.

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