18 July 2013 /SERVET YANATMA, EMRE SONCAN, ANKARA – The Turkish General Staff has confirmed that the Democratic Union Party (PYD) — a political offshoot of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria — has captured Ras al-Ain on Syria’s northern border with Turkey, while the Turkish government assures that it will never tolerate an autonomous Kurdish administration in northern Syria.
The PYD has been fighting against opposition fighters in northern Syria for months in an effort to gain an advantage and declare autonomy in a nation rocked by a war between President Bashar al-Assad’s regime forces and opposition groups. The PYD seized control of the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain — very close to Turkey’s Ceylanpınar district of Şanlıurfa — which heightened Ankara’s fears that the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria could embolden homegrown militants of the PKK, which is fighting for autonomy in Turkey. Just days before, the PYD declared that it would establish autonomy in northern Syrian on July 19.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu voiced his concern about the spillover of violence from the war in Turkey’s southern neighbor and called again on the United Nations Security Council, which has yet to come to a consensus over Syria, to act. Speaking during an event in Ankara on Wednesday evening, he said Turkey will continue its firm stance against any kind of terrorist dominance near its borders. “This illustrates a striking picture of how much the crisis in Syria can affect us and our citizens. Once again, we call upon the international community. … If the UN Security Council is to do the job it is required to do, then the moment is now,” he stated.Turkey, which has emerged as one of al-Assad’s most vocal critics and biggest backers of the rebels fighting to overthrow him, has previously lashed out at the UN Security Council for failing to adopt a united stance on Syria.
Although Ankara stresses that it will never tolerate a Kurdish dominance in northern Syrian, no major steps have yet been taken by the government regarding the incident. Turkey, which has the second-largest army in NATO, is reluctant to act unilaterally in Syria, although it has scrambled war planes along the border as gunfire and shelling hit its soil.
The Turkish General Staff, releasing a written statement on its official website on Thursday, confirmed that Ras al-Ain had fallen under the control of the PYD, which it described as a separatist terrorist organization. Fighting in the town has now stopped. Turkish troops had shot at PYD fighters in Syria in accordance with its rules of engagement after two rocket-propelled grenades fired from Syria struck a border post on the Turkish side of the frontier. The return fire was the second time that the military has answered in kind after several stray bullets from Syria struck the police headquarters and several homes in the adjacent Turkish town of Ceylanpınar on Tuesday. The General Staff said they are watching what happens in northern Syria closely.
Turkish experts: PYD’s declaration part of bigger plan
Experts say an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syrian is the second piece in a four-part puzzle of a “Kurdistan country,” just as it was drawn in a map published by the English Financial Times in 1983 — the years when PKK was newly emerging. That map, which depicts potential borders of the Middle East in 2010, show a big Kurdish country separated into four pieces — one in northern Iraq, one in northern Syria, one in Iran and the last in Turkey’s southeast. There is already an autonomous administration in northern Iraq and now another autonomous region is emerging in northern Syria.
Adnan Tanrıverdi, a retired senior general, told Today’s Zaman that Turkey might be the next destination for this plan, adding that it should support the opposition groups in Syria against the PYD forces. Tanrıverdi said Turkey has to strengthen the opposition forces by providing weapons, money and logistic support, adding that “Although it will be a long-term process, what the PYD has done is a clear step towards a new country.” Professor Mesut Hakkı Caşın from Yeditepe University told Today’s Zaman that al-Assad left Ras al-Ain to the PYD. He said, “According to UN decisions, Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border ‘hot pursuit’ operations in Syria if terrorist activity near its borders is detected.” He has heard claims that PKK terrorists, who are withdrawing from Turkish lands as part of an ongoing settlement process launched by the Turkish government in 2012 to end its Kurdish problem, are joining PYD forces in northern Syria and believes this is a clear threat to Turkey’s national security. Retired Maj. Yakup Evirgen, who is also an expert on defense issues, said in an interview with Today’s Zaman that the aim of the PYD in its recent move is to make Turkey’s foreign policies in Syria ineffective and to strengthen the PKK’s hand in the settlement process. Evirgen said that the PYD, by declaring autonomy in Syria, is trying to put the Turkish government under pressure to move forward in the settlement process.
Fighting between Kurds and Islamists spreads in Syria
Clashes between Kurdish fighters, who generally support the creation of an autonomous region within Syria, and Islamist Arab fighters from the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front started on Tuesday after al-Nusra fighters attacked a Kurdish patrol, according to an anti-government Syrian activist group.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group, said fighting had now spread deeper into the largely Kurdish province of Hassakeh and battles were raging around the Rumeilan oil field, about 200 km (125 miles) east of Ras al-Ain.
The field had mostly been shut down, opposition activists said, but a few of its pipelines may still be supplying refineries in the government-held cities of Homs and Baniyas.The Observatory said at least 29 people had been killed since fighting between Islamists and Kurds erupted on the border on Tuesday night, but it believed the toll would be much higher once final counts are sent in.
Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for the Kurdish PYD, told Reuters that the Kurds would fight back fiercely to maintain the autonomous zone they had set up in the area. “We fought hard to drive out the repressive regime and its army and we liberated the area from oppression. We will not allow either regime control or these al Qaeda-linked groups. What is pushing them to fight us is their antagonism against our autonomous rule in Kurdish areas. I believe their other goal is Rumeilan because it is an important oil resource,” he said. Clashes between Kurds affiliated with the PYD, and Syrian and foreign fighters opposed to al-Assad, have erupted since Kurds began asserting control over parts of the northeast late last year.