Analysis: Amid Kurdish advance in Syria, Erdogan escalates his rhetoric against the US

The Turkish president dismissed US criticism of Turkey's shelling of YPG forces in Syria's northern province of Aleppo, stating that "Turkey does not intend to stop shelling the YPG positions."

February 17, 2016 18:02
2 minute read.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has heavily criticized the role played by the American administration in the Syrian conflict, claiming that the US must decide which side it is on – Turkey's side or the side of the Kurdish rebel group YPG.

The YPG, a group composed of Syrian Kurdish militias, seeks to form an autonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Syria, near Turkey’s southern border. Erdogan fears that such a move would ignite an uprising among the Kurdish minority in Turkey who seek autonomy as well.

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In an address to Turkish officials in Ankara on Wednesday, Erdogan accused the US of backtracking on covert assurances it had given Turkey in July to prevent the YPG from crossing west of the Euphrates into the Turkish border area. He said that, despite the assurances, the Americans are now silent in the face of the current YPG advancement in northern Syria. The Turkish president claimed that "the American administration says one thing behind closed doors, and another thing in public."

He also dismissed US criticism of Turkey's shelling of YPG forces in Syria's northern province of Aleppo, stating that "Turkey does not intend to stop shelling the YPG positions."

On Sunday, the US tried to de-escalate the tensions in Syria by calling on Turkey to stop shelling Kurds in Syria, while simultaneously urging the YPG not to take advantage of a confused situation by seizing new territory.

It appears almost impossible for the US to choose between Turkey and the YPG as Erdogan demands, since the Kurdish militias, while aligned with Syrian President Bashar Assad, are the most effective force fighting against ISIS.

While the American administration seems to sit idly by while the Kurds seize the "Kurdish corridor" between Tal Rifaat and Azaz, cutting supply lines to the Syrian rebels from Turkey, Turkey is strongly pushing its new plan for a safe zone near the Turkish border.

According to the Turkish plan, Turkish soldiers will be deployed up to 10 kilometers from Turkey's border, within Syria, thus preventing the Kurdish militias from taking over the corridor, which would start a new refugee wave arriving in Turkey.

It is not only the Kurdish advancement that worries Erdogan, but also the warming ties between Russia and the Kurds. Last week, the PYD opened its first European representation office in Moscow. On Tuesday, the UN Security Council, with Moscow's support, expressed concern over Turkey's shelling of Kurds in Syria, while failing to address Russia’s alleged bombing of civilians in Syria.

Thus, Erdogan's rebuke of the American administration appears to be a last attempt to exert pressure on Washington to support the safe zone plan. Without the US support, Turkey is lonelier than ever, and this loneliness is what might have led it to seek reconciliation with Israel.

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