The Kurds in Syria have called on the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad to help them to fight against Turkish forces in the country’s north-western province of Afrin. In a statement released by Hawar news agency, the de facto official media channel of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurds appealed by claiming that Turkey’s aim is to occupy Syrian land.
“We call on the Syrian state to carry out its sovereign obligations towards Afrin and protect its borders with Turkey from attacks of the Turkish occupier… and deploy its Syrian Armed Forces to secure the borders of the Afrin area,” said the Kurds in a formal statement.
The Turkish air and ground offensive as part of Operation Olive Branch is intended to crush Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Unit) fighters near the Turkish border. The offensive has opened a new front in the long-running civil war.
The YPG makes up the majority of fighters in the SDF and is linked to the designated terror organisation the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). However, it has been supported by the US in the fight against Daesh. This has long caused tensions with neighbouring Turkey.
The US announced last week that the Trump administration would continue to aid the SDF and aim to establish a 30,000 strong force along the Syrian border. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the decision and announced the start of the military operation against SDF-held areas.
The Syrian regime has also condemned the presence of Kurdish forces in the north of the country and refused to recognise any territory under SDF control as anything other than being occupied by illegitimate groups. The Kurds’ attempts to build their own administration there have alarmed Damascus, which rejects the idea of autonomy from the central state, and has threatened to crush what Assad called “traitors” to Syria.
However, in an interview with Middle East Forum research fellow Aymenn Al-Tamimi released yesterday, YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud said that the group did not want to divide Syria: “We don’t have a problem. We are prepared to discuss and we don’t want to partition Syria. And we don’t want to draw new borders… but we want Al-Shaam [Syria] to be democratic.”
The Syrian regime has denounced the Turkish intervention against Kurdish forces, with Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Mekdad threatening to shoot down Turkish fighter jets if they fly into its airspace. Government ally Iran has also condemned the move by Ankara.
However, Russia, the main source of military support for President Assad, reportedly relocated its forces, deploying them away from Afrin prior to Turkey starting its operation.