What is Erdoğan up to in Syria and Iraq?

Following air strikes against the Kurdish PKK and YPG in Syria and Iraq, Turkey is now considering deploying ground troops there. Ankara has justified the strikes saying they are a reaction to the attack in Istanbul's İstiklal pedestrian shopping street, although both Kurdish militias have denied being behind the bombing. For many media outlets, the reasons for Turkey's strikes lie elsewhere.

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Protagon.gr (GR) /

Enlarging Turkey step by step

Historian Pierros Tzanetakos writes in Protagon:

“According to Ankara's plans, the territory occupied by Turkey is to be extended at least 30 kilometres beyond the current border. If this succeeds, Erdoğan will have many reasons to celebrate. Above all, this area will be considered de facto Turkish territory. ... And later, as the elections and October 2023 [the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic] move closer, it is very likely that it will become de jure Turkish territory. Thus Erdoğan's most significant campaign promise, that he will 'make Turkey great', will become reality. At the moment, no major power is willing to tangle with Turkey on this issue. ... If the Turks can break the Treaty of Lausanne [which defined the borders of modern Turkey in 1923] on the Syrian border, why should they not think they can do the same with Greece?”

HuffPost Greece (GR) /

Nato expansion blocking US reaction

Turkey can get away with this right now, HuffPost Greece laments:

“The US usually opposes Turkish invasions because they are directed against the Kurdish YPG, and the Kurds are its allies in the fight against Islamic State. This time, however, things are a little different. Only a short time ago, Turkey opposed the Nordic enlargement of NATO. ... During the attack in Istanbul, Ankara also made excellent use of the terrorism card to invade Syria. So Washington doesn't want to give Turkey any pretext to derail Sweden's and Finland's Nato accession right now. ... Turkey is playing off the states involved in the Syria issue against each other and turning the Kurds into victims once again.”

Ilta-Sanomat (FI) /

Helsinki's hands are tied

Finland is in no position to condemn the attacks on the Kurdish militia YPG, Ilta-Sanomat observes:

“The memorandum signed last summer by Finland and Sweden together with Turkey does not distinguish between the PKK, which is classified as a terrorist organisation, and the Kurdish militia YPG, which defends Kurdish areas in Syria. According to the memorandum, both countries should support Turkey in its fight against these organisations or at least show understanding for it. ... This puts Finland's foreign policy leadership in a difficult position.”

Cumhuriyet (TR) /

Time for a ground offensive!

Cumhuriyet supports the Turkish military's air force operation in Syria in response to the terrorist attack in Istanbul, but wonders why it has not yet been followed by a ground offensive:

“If the preparations are still not completed, this would not be acceptable for the ground forces. The costs and casualties of a future ground offensive could be higher than they would have been immediately after the airstrikes. There is another factor that increases the odds against the operation being successful: military targets, including the cities of Tel Rifat and Manbij, were announced in advance. This poses an unavoidable risk factor for the security of the operation.”

Cyprus Mail (CY) /

Misguided neo-Ottomanism

The Cyprus Mail is incensed:

“Erdoğan, Fuat Oktay or Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, to name the worst offenders, represent a Turkey that is deluded, deeply mis-Hellenic, antisemitic, anti-European and anti-Western in general. A whining troublemaker that is in constant denial of almost everything that is blatantly wrong with it. ... Not to mention the recent invasion of Syria under the guise of another 'peace mission' and the destabilising role in Libyaand the Mediterranean. ... As for President Erdoğan, he can only be described as a megalomaniacal bully whose misguided neo-Ottomanism constitutes an existential threat to all countries in the region. His recently 'canoodling' with dictator Putin is a wake up call for all of us.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Terrorism is not the real reason

Corriere della Sera knows what Erdoğan's real goals are:

“He wants to end the PKK's presence along the south-eastern border with Syria and Iraq, create a 'Sunni corridor' from Aleppo to Mosul, and settle a large proportion of the Syrian refugees hosted in Turkey in this area. There is also the need to divert public attention from the dire economic situation: inflation is at more than 85 percent and the lira has lost 50 percent against the dollar in the last year. A calling card that diminishes Erdoğan's chances of success in the 2023 presidential election.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Domestic policy takes priority

Erdoğan is now also distancing himself from the US, the Süddeutsche Zeitung comments:

“Washington is close to the YPG in Syria, where it has been fighting the so-called Islamic State. Already after the treacherous attack on a popular shopping street in Istanbul last week, Erdoğan's government was quick to attack the Americans as well, brusquely rejecting sympathy from Washington and blaming the PKK and YPG for the attack. There is no clear evidence so far, but Ankara's calculation is clear: the Turkish president is sure that now he has good cards to pursue his domestic agenda.”

Evrensel (TR) /

The US and Russia have their own goals here

Although the US and Russia agreed to the attack in northern Syria that does not mean they also agree to a ground offensive, writes Evrensel, which is critical of the current government:

“Both imperialist powers want to avoid a confrontation with the Erdoğan government. But they are also trying to prevent Turkey from taking a step that would jeopardise their own positions in Syria. It is well known that Erdoğan's insistence on this operation is linked to his own political needs, although it is obvious that it will not solve the problem of terrorism. ... First and foremost, it looks like such an operation will be quite useful in helping the Erdoğan government create an atmosphere of 'national unity' and winning the people over to nationalist policies.”

Sabah (TR) /

Destroying the evil at its roots

The pro-government daily Sabah says this is nothing new:

“These are long-term and broad-based operations. They have been ongoing for about three years. They cover the entire length of Turkey's southern borders. ... Turkey has declared with great resolve that the source of terrorism lies beyond its borders and has taken an active stance on this. Instead of defending itself, it is trying to destroy terrorism at its roots.”

News247 (GR) /

Double standards are at play

News247 is outraged:

“Turkey is bombing Kobanê, the Kurds are calling for help, but the Americans are turning a blind eye and a deaf ear. Erdoğan's Turkey, a Nato country, is not following the alliance's policy of sanctioning Russia. It provoked the Americans by buying Russian S-400s. Erdoğan often speaks out against Biden and provokes the ire of American senators. But American politics tolerates it all. Now Turkey is attacking America's Kurdish allies and the Biden administration is not lifting a finger. The same goes for the EU and the individual European countries. ... Cynicism and hypocrisy, double standards: Turkey is doing what Russia is doing in Ukraine, only on a smaller scale.”