Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has filed a criminal complaint against a French magazine after it accused him of conducting “ethnic cleansing” in northeastern Syria in a cover story entitled “The Eradicator”.
State-owned Anadolu Agency said on Friday that Erdogan had asked prosecutors to open a case against Etienne Gernelle, the managing editor of Le Point magazine, and Romain Gubert, the author of the story.
Erdogan’s lawyer Huseyin Aydin said the cover was “publicly insulting” to the president – a crime in Turkey carrying a prison sentence up to four years and eight months.
A source in the Ankara public prosecutor’s office told AFP news agency that an investigation had been launched after the complaint.
On October 9, Turkey launched an offensive aimed at carving out a “safe zone” cleared of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Ankara considers “terrorists”, as well as at repatriating some of the 3.6 million refugees currently residing on its soil.
The SDF is spearheaded by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara sees as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting against the Turkish state for decades in demand of autonomy.
Under a ceasefire plan, now in force, the YPG is required to withdraw from an area within 30km (19 miles) of the Turkish border.
The refugees will change the demographic composition of the border area, much of which has a Kurdish majority. Turkey denies the allegations.
Turkey’s Western allies – which saw Kurdish forces as an effective tool in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (the ISIL group or ISIS) – condemned its offensive.
— Le Point (@LePoint) October 23, 2019
Turkish presidential aide Ibrahim Kalin hit out at the magazine on Twitter on Thursday, saying, “It is clear why they [the French] attack our president. They are in panic as their game was spoiled and their pawn in Syria, PKK, suffered a heavy blow.”
He said France’s colonial history had led to the slaughter of thousands of people, and noted the country’s past involvement in the slave trade.
“They [France] are trying every way to protect their puppets but to no avail,” he said, referring to the YPG. “Kurds are not your contractors and they will not be. Your colonising days are over.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has been one of the leading Western critics of Turkey’s operation in Syria, describing it as “crazy”. He has also expressed frustration at NATO‘s inability to check Turkey, an alliance member.
Le Point’s Gernelle said Erdogan’s reaction to the article proved a point the magazine had made in a May 2018 cover story about the Turkish president.
“He’s accusing us of the crime of lese-majeste, which confirms our earlier cover that called him a dictator. We’re free to write what we want. Evidently he has a problem with freedom”.
Le Point said it had suffered harassment and intimidation by Erdogan’s supporters after labeling him “The Dictator” on a 2018 cover, and Macron was rebuked by Turkey’s foreign minister for rallying behind the magazine.
Turkey says the YPG does not represent the Kurds and that its operation in Syria only targets fighters. Kurds make up about 18 percent of Turkey’s own population of 82 million.
Erdogan has also accused the YPG of conducting its own ethnic cleansing against Arabs living in the border area.
The Turkish president, who often files lawsuits against those critical of him or his policies, said on Thursday it was better for Arabs to live in the area, pointing at a map of northeastern Syria.
“These are not suitable for the lifestyle of Kurds … because they are virtually desert regions,” he said in an interview with state broadcaster TRT.