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A further attempt to divide Syria that will only lead to more death and suffering

TURKEY’S assault on the Syrian Kurdish community of Afrin continues. It represents a further and very dangerous escalation of military interventions by Nato powers in Syria.

Turkey’s claimed objective is to establish a 20-mile deep buffer zone along southern border with Syria. 

This would involve the violent annexation of a significant area of Syrian territory, untold suffering for the mainly Kurdish population and, if successful, expelling the existing inhabitants further south into the area currently controlled, with US support, by the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG.

Turkey claims that these border areas are being used to support military actions in Turkey by the armed militia of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, formed four decades ago to defend the rights of the 14 million Kurdish citizens of Turkey.

However, the existence of this internal campaign in Turkey is almost entirely a product of the authoritarian and repressive policies of the Turkish government itself.  

For generations Kurdish language and cultural rights have been denied. Movements to assert these rights have been brutally suppressed.

The PKK’s historic leader, Abdullah Ocalan, has been in prison for 19 years and all his proposals for negotiations and an end to the armed campaign have been rejected.  

The social democratic People’s Democratic Party (HDP), founded in 2012 and securing 13 per cent of the overall vote in the 2014 Turkish general election, has faced similar attack. Eight of its MPs remain in jail, denied even prison visits. 

These policies reflect the extreme Turkish nationalism being exploited by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

His drive to maintain his grip on power has resulted in a much broader suppression of human rights and the widespread arrest of trade unionists, academics and journalists.  

Earlier this month the first secretary of the Turkish Communist Party, Kemal Okuyan, was imprisoned for an article warning of the dangers of dictatorship.

Yet Turkey is a member of Nato and its actions in Syria cannot be separated from the wider strategies of the dominant Nato power, the US.

Last Wednesday, in a speech to the Hoover Institute chaired by Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made it quite clear that the US intends to keep its forces in Syria.  

They will be there, he said, not just to prevent the return of Isis but to ensure a “post-Assad” future for Syria and to block the regional influence of Iran. 

Today US Defence Secretary General James Mattis said Turkey had “legitimate concerns” over terrorism and Nato issued a statement defending Turkey’s “right to self-defence” in face of terrorism but urging it do so in a “proportionate and measured way.” Erdogan argues a buffer zone is “proportionate.” 

Effectively what we are seeing is the first stage of a further attempt to divide Syria. The US will annex the eastern third of Syria, sealing the Iraqi border to deny Iran further access and using as its cover the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia which it arms and trains.

At the same time a nod has been given to Turkey, as a fellow Nato member, in order to assuage its concerns about the US support for the YPG, to seal the northern border.

Nothing could be more dangerous. It places Syria’s Kurdish population at extreme risk — not just from Turkey but also from an effective kidnapping of the YPG by the US.  

It once more opens the Middle East to more intense conflict at a time when the US has given Israel a green light to annex the occupied territories and Saudi Arabia to continue genocide in Yemen.

These are actions by Britain’s Nato allies. Who was it who warned us today that it is Russia that threatens our security and we need to spend more on arms?

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