Kurdish fighters ‘carry out ethnic cleansing’ in Syria

Al Jazeera speaks with Yasin Aktay, deputy chairman of Turkey’s Justice and Development party for foreign affairs.

As an ally, the US should realise that it cannot be friends with the enemies of Turkey, Aktay says [Anadolu Agency]

For the past week, Turkish military forces have been shelling targets in northern Syria held by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, the armed wing of the Syrian Democratic Union Party, a group designated by Turkey as a terrorist organisation.

Over the weekend, Ankara demanded that fighters leave the areas they captured from opposition forces in the northern part of Aleppo, including the Menagh airbase in the city of Azaz.

Turkey shells Kurdish fighter positions in northern Syria

Ankara has urged the protection unit fighters, known as the YPG, not to expand their territory for some time.

But both Washington and Ankara hold opposing views on Kurdish groups fighting in Syria. While Washington views the Syrian Democratic Union Party, or PYD,  as a close ally in the campaign against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria, Ankara believes that it is the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK.

Turkish forces have been bogged down in battle with the PKK for more than 30 years. The PKK is designated as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union, while the PYD is not.

Al Jazeera talks to Yasin Aktay, an MP who is deputy chairman for foreign affairs in the ruling Justice and Development Party, on the Turkish shelling on the PYD, the current situation in northern Syria, the refugee crisis and US-Turkish relations in the context of the Syrian crisis.

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Al Jazeera:  Why is Turkey shelling Kurdish fighter targets? And what is Turkey’s red line on the PYD and YPG activities?

Civilians in Syria rely on Turkey as the only safe place to take refugee, but this is unsustainable. They cannot rely on us forever and Turkey cannot keep on acting as the fool in the situation it is facing.

Yasin Aktay: The PKK is carrying out ethnic cleansing in northern Syria through its offshoot there, the PYD. The group has been doing this with the support of Russia.

The PYD goes to territories where there is no or a small Kurdish population, and works to deport non-Kurdish ethnic population out of these areas.

Aleppo is perhaps the only place where Syrians can still breathe. There is a humanitarian corridor [from Turkey] to Aleppo, allowing people to keep on with their lives in this key city.

If this humanitarian corridor was blocked, which PYD seeks to achieve, people cannot go on with their lives in Aleppo and they will try to take refuge in Turkey, fleeing ethnic cleansing.

Turkey keeps on with its open-door policy, helping people in need. However, Ankara can no longer tolerate such [PYD] activities in Syria, which will create a situation that will make people leave their homes and make Turkey pay the price for it.  

At the end of the day, an ethnic group [Kurdish] which has a minor population in Syria is trying to take over a very large part of the country. 

Al Jazeera: How do the PKK and PYD collaborate?

Aktay: Following Turkey’s offensive on PKK targets in the country, these [PKK] terrorists have began entering Syria and fighting there. They are trying to create a corridor through the Syria-Turkey border. This creates an obvious security risk for our country.

Al Jazeera: Do you think that the PYD is in full co-operation with the Syrian regime?

Aktay: This has been valid since the early days of the Syrian crisis. The Syrian government managed to get the PYD to work for it, despite the fact that Kurds were repressed for decades under the regime there. The PYD is opposed by other Kurdish factions in Syria and among Iraqi Kurds as well. It does not represent the Kurdish people of Syria.The group has always functioned in full co-operation with the Syrian intelligence and always betrayed Kurds while working with the Syrian regime. 

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Al Jazeera: Ankara always advocated safe zones for refugees inside Syria. Do you think this is still possible?

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Aktay: The safe zones would keep the refugees inside Syria and prevent ethnic cleansing there. These are the reasons why we want safe zones. However, the international community does not seem to care about the refugee situation resulting from the Syrian crisis.

Turkey is paying the entire price for the situation as the world powers are occupied with other calculations.

Civilians in Syria rely on Turkey as the only safe place to take refugee, but this is unsustainable. They cannot rely on us forever and Turkey cannot keep on acting as the fool in the situation it is facing.  

Al Jazeera: Saudi Arabia recently positioned warplanes in the Incirlik airbase in southeastern Turkey. Will these planes act together with the US-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or in any other way?

Aktay: They are expected to be operating with the coalition. It is not common for countries to act individually in these situations in terms of international legitimacy.

With the same concerns, Turkey keeps acting within its own borders for self-defence purposes and targets the Syrian territory only when there is an attack or a definite threat on Turkish soil.

We cannot say the same thing for Russia and Iran, the supporters of the Syrian regime. Russia is an occupying power in Syria, utilising the regime’s invitation. And Iran has active military forces in Syria.

Al Jazeera: The US urged Turkey to stop shelling PYD targets on Saturday. How do their different views on the PYD affect the relationship between the two allies? 

Aktay: We are at a point where we will not change our stance to keep good relations with the US. If the relations will be spoiled because of that, then so be it. Turkey cannot tolerate what has been going on close to its borders anymore. If theTurkish military does not intervene in the current situation, the country gets attacked by the elements located inside Syria.

The US should understand this fact. As an ally, the US administration should realise that it cannot be friends with the enemies of Turkey. And Ankara cannot change a stance on an issue that is so vital for  its national interests just because the US backs the PYD, a terrorist organisation that is no different from the PKK.

If the US still believes that the Syrian regime is a member of the axis of evil, it should also see that the PYD is an ally of this regime. The regime has killed hundreds of thousands of people in recent years.

If one aids the PYD, it means that one is aiding the regime. We need Washington to explain this dilemma to us.

Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_uras

Source: Al Jazeera