Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Turkey’s “Operation Peace Spring” Is A Sham

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Turkey’s armed forces launched “Operation Peace Spring” on Wednesday with three objectives: to ensure the security of Turkey’s borders with Syria, to neutralize the terrorists operating in the region, and to save Syrians living in the region from terrorism.

In an official statement, India said New Delhi was “deeply concerned at the unilateral military offensive by Turkey in north-east Syria”. India feels that Turkey’s actions can undermine stability in the region and the fight against terrorism. It also has the potential for causing humanitarian and civilian distress. India called upon Turkey to exercise restraint and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly last month, President Erdogan of Turkey had devoted a considerable amount of his lengthy address to the situation in north-eastern Syria. He had proposed the creation of a “safe area” in this region, in which Turkey would be able to resettle 2 million refugees from Syria currently living in Turkey. The Turkish President’s proposal emphasized that the territorial integrity of Syria would not be violated by the creation of such a safe zone.

However, Turkey’s unilateral action implicitly infringes on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, which is one of the founder-members of the United Nations. The unilateral use of military force is contrary to the Turkish President’s focus on harmony and dialogue in his address to the UN General Assembly.

This is not the first time that Turkish armed forces have acted unilaterally in the territory of a sovereign member-state of the United Nations. In July 1974, Turkish armed forces invaded Cyprus. In November 1974, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted resolution 3212 upholding the territorial integrity of Cyprus and calling for the withdrawal of all foreign armed forces from Cyprus. The UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 365 on 13 December 1974 endorsing the unanimous view of member-states of the UN General Assembly. So far, Turkey has not implemented UN Security Council resolution 365 calling for the withdrawal of its armed forces from Cyprus.

This time, Turkey’s unilateral military action in north-eastern Syria is apparently directed against non-state terrorist actors. The ongoing violent conflict in Syria which began in 2011 has engulfed the wider region, in which non-state terrorist actors such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) also known as Da’esh have established a prominent and destructive presence.

One of the declared objectives of Turkey’s action in north-eastern Syria is to remove the political Democratic Union Party or PYD and its People’s Protection Unit or YPG militia, which Turkey considers to be “the Syrian offshoot” of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK in Turkey. Since 1984, the PKK has engaged in an armed conflict with the Turkish state to get equal rights for Kurds. The United States, European Union and Turkey have designated the PKK as a terrorist group.

During the Syrian conflict, the YPG militia successfully pushed back the attacks against Syria’s Kurdish population by the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al Nusra front. The YPG militia has dominated the Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF, which has been supported since 2015 by the United States to counter ISIL.

In its justification for the launch of “Operation Peace Spring”, Turkey has invoked provisions of the UN Charter, UN Security Council resolutions and international law. Article 51 of the UN Charter requires member-states invoking the right of self-defence to “immediately report” their action to the UN Security Council.

Turkey confirmed it had informed the President of the UN Security Council of its action. At its meeting on 10 October 2019, however, despite calls by the United States, Russia, France and Germany to use dialogue rather than military action, the Security Council was unable to persuade Turkey to cease its unilateral military action in north-eastern Syria. This illustrated yet again the continuing ineffectiveness of an unreformed Security Council to maintain international peace and security.

Script: Amb. Asoke Mukerji, Former Permanent Representative of India to the UN

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