The Erdogan War and European Fear

Power games on the skin of the civilian population

In the last month, much has been said about the Turkish attack on Syrian Kurdistan, a region in north-eastern Syria. On October 9, 2019 Erdogan announced the start of the military operation called "Source of Peace" against Kurdish fighters living in Syria, an offensive conducted by the Turkish armed forces together with the Syrian national army, facilitated by the decision of U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw American soldiers in the area.

Let's try to understand the reasons why Erdogan decided to invade that specific territory. A first motivation can be defined as political: in fact, its popularity in Turkey was down sharply, as seen in the last local elections, while the opposition achieved considerable success that was suffered by the president as a humiliation. A second reason, no less important than the first, is ideological: an all-encompassing expression that represents a contemporary variant of a famous Turkish paranoia is: "The Turks have no other friends than the Turks". In fact, Turkey's history is significant in this sense, because the nation was built on the ashes of a multi-ethnic, multi-faith and multi-lingual empire, whose diversity has been systematically destroyed over time. The "ideal" is that of a Turkish nation homogeneous in all aspects, from the linguistic to the ethnic-religious, and this is still being implemented. Numerous ethnic religious cleansings have been carried out to achieve the objective of homogeneity, also through the forcing of this process, which has led the Turkish population and its institutions to live in a continuous state of obsession with their own security, since it is based on blood, mass killings and injustices.

These threats to Turkish security are not real, however, because there is not a single country in the world that directly or indirectly threatens the security of Turkey. Despite this, Western institutions believe in Turkish concerns, which create the perfect excuse for international observers not to condemn Turkey's implacable coercive actions and blatant aggression.

For the above issues, Erdogan decided to attack the Syrian Kurds, to create a "buffer zone", a fortified limes used systematically throughout history by various empires such as the Byzantine, Roman or Ottoman, with the aim of removing from the border with Turkey the YPG militias, the Kurdish popular protection units considered by the Turkish government as a terrorist group like the PKK. The Turkish president would then like to transfer to the attacked and occupied area two million Syrian refugees who are currently in Turkey, along with armed Jihadist groups paid by the central authority of Ankara to defend the territory, which consists of a corridor 340 kilometers long and thirty wide. In the Turkish plans, all the inhabitants of the area will be purged.

The European response to this violent Turkish action has been vaguely disappointing. The European Union may have the great ambition to become a key player on the world stage, but its limited reaction to Turkey's offensive against northern Syria demonstrates the EU's lack of influence. After a summit held in Luxembourg on 14 October 2019, attended by European foreign ministers, the European condemnation of the war action launched by Ankara is declared and that the military operation "causes unacceptable human suffering, also compromising the fight against Daesh (the so-called group of the Islamic State) and seriously threatens European security". EU Member States have agreed to limit arms exports. However, experts say that their efforts will not dissuade Turkey, a NATO member that has been eager to become self-sufficient in defence capabilities and can conduct the operation without European support. This decision was taken to avoid disturbing the NATO member countries that - primarily the UK - had opposed a formal European embargo on the sale of arms to one of their allies.

Migration is an important card in Turkish hands, in fact, thanks to an agreement in 2016, Turkey hosts most of the flows of refugees to Europe in exchange for financial aid. On 10 October, when Europe was still discussing whether to apply a total embargo or just an export restriction, Erdogan threatened the EU, which will "open the doors" and send 3.6 million refugees currently in Turkey to Europe, if Turkey does not remain defenceless to Turkish actions. The threat weighs on Hungary, which has warned Europe to be cautious in issuing a joint communiqué condemning Turkey for its actions, all because of fears that the migration agreement would founder. Greece, which is facing a large number of asylum seekers, has also expressed its concern about a new wave of migration after the offensive.

The Turkish government stated that it would "seriously review" its cooperation with the EU in the light of the restriction on arms exports. Trade, security and a migration pact with the EU have been mutually beneficial and Turkey's geographical location between East and West, as well as its energy resources in the Caspian Sea, have made Turkey an important ally of the EU. However, after the offensive, relations have become problematic and the institutions are aware that both sides need the other.

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