A temporary ceasefire for five days in Turkey’s invasion of majority-Kurdish areas of Syria was negotiated by the USA on 17 October.
The American delegation to Ankara, headed by Vice President Mike Pence, agreed a 120-hour period for the Syrian Democratic Forces (the Kurdish-led forces in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria) to withdraw from a 20-mile deep area which Turkish president Erdoğan has decreed as a “safe zone”. In reality, this is a zone which has been designated for occupation and ethnic cleansing.
Even the temporary halt to the violence is good. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, there have been at least 592 deaths (120 of them civilians), and over three hundred thousand civilians displaced.
However, the ceasefire also implied a demand from Erdoğan for a clear path to carry out his destruction.
The remaining American troops in the area are being sent to Iraq in order to combat the resurgence of Daesh in the west of the country. As they left their military bases in northern Syria, they were bombarded with potatoes and rocks by betrayed locals. There have been mixed signals regarding what the US will do next.
There have been debates within Trump’s Cabinet about leaving a 200-strong force in northern Syria to continue the fight against Daesh and make sure that the Kurds retain control of the oil fields as opposed to Syrian or Russian forces coming into control of them.
This is a naked admission of America’s chief priorities in the region: not avoiding mass slaughter and displacement, but making sure that the Kurds are able to carry on fulfilling what America wants despite their betrayal.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made comments which complicate matters even further, saying that whilst the US prefers to use economic and diplomatic powers to pressure Turkey, they will resort to military action “if necessary”. In the last few weeks the US has swung between making wholly unconvincing defences of Turkey’s claims that it will defend ethnic minorities during its invasion, to making outright threats of war against Turkey.
Russian and Syrian forces have entered the Kurdish-controlled areas. Turkey has opened up communications with them, and seems to have no interest in clashes.
Erdoğan is visiting Russian president Putin in Sochi on Tuesday 22nd, the same day that the US-negotiated ceasefire will expire.
Turkey has also been in covert communication with the Syrian government, both directly and through Russian arbiters.
All the forces involved assume that Syria’s bloodstained dictator Assad will win his country’s civil war and retain power.
Inside Turkey the main opposition are the Republican People’s Party (CHP), a Turkish nationalist party twinged with vague social-democratic aspirations. The CHP mayor of İstanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu, tweeted his support for the invasion, and the CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also made supportive comments.
Kılıçdaroğlu has since become more critical, but not about the bloodshed or treatment of the Kurds. He has attacked Erdoğan for failing to respect the territorial integrity of Assad’s Syria and for failing to stand up to Trump.
The CHP has made it perfectly clear elsewhere where it stands on the Kurds: right behind the Turkish army as it butchers them. At a press conference, CHP deputy chairman Faik Öztrak called the YPG terrorists, and attacked Erdoğan from the right for being insufficiently tough on them, seeming to condemn the ceasefire.
The CHP has now found itself in a lash-up with far-right Islamists (Felicity Party) and the conservative İyi Party, a split from the semi-fascist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
The opposition to the invasion domestically has come from the People’s Democracy Party (HDP), a leftwing and Kurdish-linked party. It has unambiguously condemned the invasion, despite the pressure on it of state repression.
The Turkish government has forbidden people from even referring to its invasion as an invasion, declaring such description as tantamount to supporting terrorism. According to the HDP, hundreds of people have been detained for posts on social media, and at least 24 arrests have been made.
One CHP deputy, Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a former defence lawyer who was famous for defending Kurdish politicians, has called Operation Peace Spring “unjust”, and is being investigated for “treason”.
This repression follows years of attacks on the most basic democratic rights of the HDP in Turkey. Where the HDP have won local elections they have usually been barred from serving due to “links with terrorists”, parliamentary deputies have been arrested, and offices have been raided.
Since the invasion more local HDP mayors have been arrested, had their offices raided, and been replaced by state-appointed trustees.