As Turkey continues its military operation against the Kurdish militia in Syria, the vice chair of President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party has told DW that “calling it an invasion is nonsense.”
“According to United Nations Charter Article 51, a country has a right to defend itself. (…) Turkey has not invaded Syria,” Ravza Kavakci Kan has told DW’s Conflict Zone.
Turkey started the offensive Operation Olive Branch in Afrin on January 20, aiming at areas held by the US-backed Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia. Turkey, a NATO ally of the US, views the Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency it has battled for decades.
Erdogan has long wanted to establish a 19-mile-wide safe zone in Syria along the border to Turkey. “If the terrorists in Afrin don’t surrender, we will tear them down,” Erdogan said shortly after the attack.
Asked how far Turkey is willing to go, Kavakci Kan, a close confidant of Erdogan, said: “Turkey is there, not because we’re interested in going into Syrian territory. We do respect [the] territorial integrity of Syria. But when innocent civilians are being killed in Syria and when this spreads over to our border and kills our citizens, then nobody should expect us to keep quiet about this.”
Is Turkey fighting against the US in Syria?
The US is supporting the YPG in Syria fighting against ISIS while American forces are not in Afrin. The US State Department considers the PKK a terrorist group but not the YPG. Turkey’s Foreign Minister even said the US military support “poisons our long-standing partnership”. When DW host Michel Friedman asked Kavakci Kan whether her country is also fighting against the Americans, she said: “Unfortunately, [we] have a very strong difference in opinion with the United States. Utilizing one terrorist organization as your boots on the ground, just because they fight ISIS, Daesh, is not acceptable and we experienced this before with al Qaeda.”
She also said that launching an attack on American forces “isn’t something we want to see happen.” Erdogan has said his next goal is to extend the operation to Manbij, which has around 2,000 American soldiers.
Are Kurds mistreated in Turkey?
But Turkey’s operation in Syria isn’t the only controversial policy. In January 2016, more than 2,000 academics signed a petition calling for an end to violence against Kurds in Turkey. 500 of them were sacked and 146 face trial. Article 19 of the UN declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression.
Kavakci Kan, who speaks for the AK Party on human rights, said: “People who argue that there is […] systematic mistreatment of Kurdish citizens in Turkey are out of touch with reality.” Asked whether that’s reason enough to put them into prison, she responded: “As the vice chair of AK party in charge of human rights, I’m a living example of how human rights has excelled during the time of [the] party. A woman like me would not be able to get elected and serve in the Parliament. When I say like me, I’m saying a woman who chooses to wear the head scarf.”
The Turkish Medical Association (TMA) with 83,000 members representing 80 percent of physicians in the country has criticized Erdogan’s intervention in Afrin, saying: “No to war, peace now.” Erdogan responded by calling them “terrorist lovers” and the TMA’s board has now been detained. Asked whether demanding peace justified calling people terrorist lovers, Kavakci Kan said: “When they’re doing this to support and expressing their support for YPG, which is a terrorist organization, then that’s the case.”
Detained journalists and activists
Since the failed coup in July 2016, the Turkish government has detained 50,000 people and suspended 150,000 more from work for suspected links to self-exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. According to the Centre to Protect Journalists (CPJ), More than 73 journalists are currently in jail. One of them is Deniz Yücel, correspondent for the German newspaper Die Welt, who was detained in February 2017 for “terrorist propaganda” and “inciting hatred”.
“Even though there is still no indictment, I do know why I was locked up: Because […] I did my job as a journalist properly,” Yücel told Die Tageszeitung last year. Confronted with this case, Kavakci Kan said: “There is evidence against him. That’s why he is in prison. (…) Nobody would be held in any prison without an accusation.”
DW’s Michel Friedman said: “This is also interesting: no court, no accusation but [Erdogan] decided that he is guilty. Human Rights? This is the way how today the law is living in Turkey, not the courts but the president.” Kavakci Kan responded: “Of course, it’s not. It’s the courts who decide who is right, who is a criminal and who needs to serve time in jail. That’s not something that politicians decide but naturally, in every country, the prime ministers, the presidents and ministers tend to have more intelligence than ordinary citizens do.”