Turkey's move to send troops in to take on the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in Syria is a geopolitical game changer.

Throughout Syria's civil war, the country's borders have not changed. But the demographics within those borders have - drastically.

When the war began in 2011, Syria's Kurdish minority was spread in pockets along the border with Turkey. Over the eight and a half years of fighting, Kurdish militias have gradually taken control of almost 400 kilometres (248 miles) of territory along that border.

The Turkish government now looks at its southern frontier and sees potential enemies at the gates, what it calls a "terror bloc" at its border. It says it wants to turn that area into a safe zone, a place where refugees - who are currently in Turkey - can relocate to in Syria.

The Listening Post spoke to two Turkish academics based in Washington, both frequent critics of the Turkish government.

Soner Cagaptay from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy argues that the Turkish offensive that took place last week has a lot to do specifically with Turkey's policy regarding the YPG.

"The YPG is an offshoot of another Kurdish group that is known as the PKK. The PKK is a designated terror entity viewed as such not just by Turkey, but United States and all other NATO allies," he says. 

"So this was Turkey's attempt to go after this group that not just Erdogan's supporters, but many Turks view as a sworn enemy of Turkey."

Gulner Aybet, a senior adviser to Erdogan, was interviewed by Christiane Amanpour on CNN on whether it was necessary for Turkey to launch this military operation, but some critics argued Aybet was not as effective as the Turkish government wished.

"This is a part of a larger problem and that problem is President Erdogan lost his credibility," argues Gonul Tol of the Middle East Institute. "The rising Kurdish image in international media is making things even harder. They are seen as freedom fighters in the Western media."

The Listening Post also spoke with an Iranian-American journalist working out of Istanbul for a British newspaper and an Iraqi-Kurd journalist and academic, now based in Pennsylvania.

Borzou Daragahi, an international correspondent for Independent UK, notes that northeast Syria was "mostly stable" until a couple of weeks ago.

"Yeah, there was a little bit of trouble, there were some questions about the administration of Northeast Syria, but it wasn't like an imminent crisis. And when you start a war like that it becomes a war of choice."

He adds: "And, so I think the Turks are discovering what the Israelis discover every time they make an incursion into Gaza or - or Lebanon. When you launch a full-scale operation like this, and there is no imminent dire threat, the burden of explaining it to the world is on you and not the people that you're at war with."

Mohammed Salih, a doctoral student at the Annenberg School for Communication, says the Turkish government had to craft a narrative that would persuade public opinion and the international community why Turkey's military operation in Syria was necessary.

"The narrative is really focused on fighting terrorism. The other element of this narrative is really centred on the refugee crisis. Governments are really worried about another major influx of Syrian refugees into Europe," Salih says.

He adds: "The Syrian situation has been a very complicated story. It's not very easy to get it right. When it comes to the political actors, the coverage has not been really even. But I think the focus on the civilian aspect is really what counts here. It's about telling the stories of those human beings on the ground and what is happening to them."


Gonul Tol - director of Turkey programme, Middle East Institute

Borzou Daragahi - international correspondent, The Independent

Mohammed Salih - doctoral student, Annenberg School for Communication

Soner Cagaptay - director of the Turkish Research Program, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Source: Al Jazeera News