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Monday, April 30, 2018, 22:42 (GMT+7)
Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch and international opinion

An insight into recent wars and conflicts around the world reveals that there are many reasons and goals for a country to deploy its troops in a sovereign country to wage a war. So what are Turkey’s reasons  for conducting Operation Olive Branch?

An Overview of the Operation

Turkey launched a military operation coded “Olive Branch” – a symbol of peace - on 20th  January 2018. To conduct this operation, Ankara  mobilized a powerful force, including 72 F-16 fighter jets, over 6,000 troops of the 1st Commando Brigade, under the  2nd Army,  between 10,000-15,000 combatants of the Free Syrian Army, many tanks, artilleries and technical equipment. The Kurdish forces in Syria, meanwhile, had  only 8,000 to 10,000 militiamen from the Kurdish fighters of the Popular Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdish all-female Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) equipped with old and outdated weaponry. By comparison, Turkey possesses tremendous military superiority over Kurdistan.

The operation started with Turkish aerial and artillery bombardments into areas around Afrin. In response, Kurdish militia returned with rockets and grenades. As a consequence of the operation, thousands of fighters of each side, and hundreds of civilians have been reported to be killed and wounded, and many other thousands of civilians had to flee their homes, and so on. Moreover, some historical and cultural sites were also destroyed. After 2 months, on 18th March, 2018, Turkish President R.T. Erdogan announced that Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army units had entered Afrin and  taken control of the city and added that almost all of the terrorists had run away. Ankara also stated that they would do their best to demine and repair infrastructure and ensure safety in the region for local people to returntheir homes. Operation Olive Branch was not limited  to Afrin but widened to other surrounding areas. So what were the real goals of the operation and when would it end? The answer lies in Ankara’s administration.

Rockets launched from Hatay Province, Turkey into Afrin, Syria (Photo AP)

International Opinion

On justifying the operation, Turkey stated that their military actions  were to carry out a peace mission in Afrin. However, observers held that the cause of the operation lied in the issue of Kurdish people in Syria. This is the key matter as there are millions of Kurdish people in Turkey (accounting for 15% - 20% of the population). Therefore, the independence, autonomy, defection, etc., of Kurdish people , whether in Iraq or Syria, would threaten the integrity of the Turkish Republic. On the other hand, when the Syrian administration declared its  complete defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the U.S hurried to arm and train Kurdish fighters in Syria. This move, like the last straw, made the relationship between Turkey and the U.S at the lowest point than ever. Afrin holds a strategically important position as  it is  situated in the North of Syria, adjacent to Turkey, and has many key routes. This is an ideal place for the Kurdish fighters, ISIS, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), etc., to train and develop their forces and make incursions into the territory. More dangerously, if Kurdistan people in the area grow strong, or the U.S troops station in the area, it would pose potential security threats to Turkey. Another reason  of political significance is that the prestige of Ankara, especially of President R. T. Erdogan, has  been at a very low level after the military coup in 2016, while the presidential election in 2019 is looming. Internally, there are opposite views among fractions in Ankara. The pro-PKK groups oppose governmental policies and call for demonstrations. As a result of the above-mentioned reasons, Ankara decided to launch the military operation to attack Afrin without fearing the risk of confrontation with any forces, including the U.S, to prevent Kurdistan people from forming an independent state, which will have a bad effect on Kurdistan people in Turkey.

Syrian administration and other forces, including Kurdish people in the country, called Turkish military attack into Afrin an act of aggression as Syria is an independent and sovereign country. Therefore, on 21st January 2018, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad condemned Turkish action as aggression and support for extreme groups. He demanded that Turkey end their aggression and withdraw their troops. Though Syria considered Turkish action as an aggression, they did not sent troops to the area to assist Kurdish fighters. In their view, that if Syrian map  was  redrawn , and Afrin was  put under the contemporary control of Turkey  would be acceptable. This is because Turkey, together with Russia and Iran, is helping Syria  to fight ISIS and rebel groups.  Although Damas did not deploy its troops to the area, it still monitors closely the situation. On 19th March, 2018, Syria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates expressed their opposition  and sent two letters to the UN Security Council, condemning Turkey’s occupation of Afrin. The letters also laid bare the crimes of Turkey in Afrin and demanded that Turkey withdraw their troops immediately. Syria also claimed that Turkey’s attacks not only threatened its people and territorial integrity but also killed its civilians and prolonged the country’s civil war.

Why did the U.S and Russia stand aside and let Ankara and the Free Syrian Army attack the Kurds in Afrin? What is the role of the U.S and Russia in this operation?  Since both the U.S and Turkey are NATO member countries, any confrontations between them will undermine the bloc’s internal unity. For this reason, the U.S only stood behind and provided weapons for Syrian Kurds to protect themselves.  

Russia, a country with the most active troops in Syria under the request of Damas administration, had no response to Turkey’s offensive operations. This is because Moscow knew for sure that “Operation Olive Branch” would bring  them strategic benefits both in the long, medium and short terms regarding its relations with three main partners, namely: Turkey, the U.S and the Syrian Kurds.

Besides, Egypt has also voiced its condemnation of Turkey’s invasion of Syria and considered this a violation of Syrian sovereignty. Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed concerned about the situation in Afrin and asked Turkey to stop their actions. Iran held that such crisis in Afrin could revive terrorist groups in the northern region of Syria. Therefore, the international community, especially Syria’s neighbouring countries, continued efforts to pursue peaceful and political solutions. France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has called for an emergency meeting of the council to discuss the risk of a humanitarian crisis amid the escalated conflicts in Syria. Accordingly, on 22nd January, one day after the commencement of Operation Olive Branch, the UN Security Council held a closed meeting to discuss Syrian Military’s operations in Idlib Province and Eastern Ghouta as well as Turkey’s recent operation in Afrin. Ankara did not  apply Article 51 of the UN Charter which stipulates the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Instead, it claimed that Operation Olive Branch could be justified as Turkey’s right to legitimate self-defence against the intrusion and security threats of terrorist groups originating from Syria. From another angle, Anne Peter, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, held that Turkey’s military operation has violated international law as Ankara acted without Syria’s approval or  permission from the UN Security Council. Besides, according to international law, only when the attack reaches its peak  can the suffered country apply the right to self-defence. In this regard, Turkey has failed to prove that Kurdish attacks, if happened, were at their utmost level of severity which forced the country to defend.

In conclusion, Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, Syria, a sovereign state, has violated international law and  should be condemned. Otherwise, it would create a bad precedent in the region as well as other regions in the world. Countries in the world, whether big or small, should respect independence and sovereignty of other countries, refrain from intervening into other internal affairs, respect international laws, and settle all matters by peaceful means.

Doctor Le Dinh Tinh

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