My beloved country, Turkey has been fighting a number of terrorist organizations that present risk and threat to our national security for decades. The whole world has understood by now that Turkey’s resolve to fight against these terrorist organizations is firm.
As the leader of the newly established Ak Party, President Erdogan was among the first leaders to condemn the 9/11 attacks in US and as he had very clearly stated on that dark day, it is almost impossible for any country to fight against terrorism on its own. We have given our full support to all international efforts to this end since then. Unfortunately we don’t feel we get the same level of support from our allies, neighbors and friends.
Our neighbors are not neighbors of Belgium or Switzerland. Geography has taught us important lessons on how to deal with terrorists. “If you don’t help your neighbor when his house is on fire, your house might eventually burn as well” is a well known Turkish saying. We have tried to put an end to the fire and to the civil war in Syria. We have a responsibility to protect our citizens and our national interests. Having successfully concluded Operation Euphrates Shield in 2017 and Operation Olive Branch in 2018, Turkey cleared an area over four thousand square kilometers from DEASH and PYD/YPG terror, allowing more than 360.000 Syrians to return to their homes in this area.
However, the threat of terrorism originating from Syria and targeting our borders has not yet ended. During the last two years, PYD/YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terrorist organization, has perpetrated more than 300 terrorist attacks targeting Turkey or Syrians within Syria. Over a hundred of these cases targeted Turkey from the east of River Euphrates.
Through tunnels dug by PYD/YPG along the bordering areas in this region, explosives and ammunition have been smuggled to Turkey to be handed over to the PKK terrorist organization. There is credible evidence that DEASH terrorists detained by PYD/YPG were released in exchange of infiltrating into Turkey or northwest Syria in order to conduct terrorist acts.
There has been growing evidence about PYD/YPG’s human rights violations such as recruiting child soldiers, intimidating dissidents, demographic engineering and forced conscription in areas under its control. Local population’s grievances against PYD/YPG’s tyrannical rule has been on constant rise. Our expectations and sensitivities regarding the PYD/YPG threat were repeatedly brought to the attention of all our allies.
Our talks with the US on the establishment of a safe zone with a view to addressing our legitimate security concerns and sustaining the fight against DEASH had remained inconclusive. Despite a preliminary understanding reached between the two countries early last August towards jointly establishing a safe zone, the US security elite did not fulfill their promises and used delaying tactics instead. Despite US promises, PYD/YPG fortifications were not destroyed but even new ones were built.
In the meantime, PYD/YPG continued to receive delivery of weapons from the US. They tightened their grip on local population, triggering street protests in Arab-majority cities. They continued to trade oil with the regime. They struck deals with DEASH when they see fit. It would have taken ages to establish a safe zone with this pace.
Through all contacts, we emphasized that, if necessary, we would not hesitate to use our right of self-defense stemming from international law, at a time, form and location of our choice. We reiterated that Turkey should not be expected to tolerate the presence of terrorists at its borders. The presence of terrorist groups pursuing separatist agendas also threatens the territorial integrity and unity of Syria which we are determined to protect.
Turkey was compelled to take action in order to correct the grave mistakes of Allied and partner countries in Syria, and to eliminate an existential security threat along its Syria border. Against this backdrop, the Turkish Armed Forces launched “Operation Peace Spring” on October 9th, with the support of the Syrian National Army, the united armed branch of the Syrian opposition.
The objectives of Operation Peace Spring are clear: (i) To eliminate a long-standing terror threat against Turkey’s national security, (ii) to enforce Syria’s territorial integrity and unity (iii) to liberate the local population from PYD/YPG’s oppression and (iv) to lay the ground for safe and voluntary returns of displaced Syrians.
The operation is carried out on the basis of international law, in accordance with our right of self-defense as outlined in Article 51 of the UN Charter and the relevant Security Council resolutions [1373(2001), 1624(2005), 2170(2014) and 2178(2014), 2249(2015) and 2254(2015)], and in full respect of Syria’s territorial integrity and unity.
As was the case with Operations Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch, only terrorist elements and their hideouts, shelters, emplacements, weapons, vehicles and equipment are being targeted during the planning and execution phases of the operation. All necessary measures are taken to prevent any harm to civilians and any damage to civilian infrastructure. Channels of military deconfliction are and will remain open and functional.
We has no intensions to continue the operation for ever. We had reiterated that Operation Peace Spring would be completed when all terrorists have been wiped out of the region, our border security has been ensured, and local Syrians have been liberated from the tyranny of PYD/YPG as well as the DEASH threat. The agreement reached by President Erdogan and Vice President Pence covers all these goals.
The operation also aimed to support the international efforts to facilitate safe and voluntary returns of displaced Syrians to their homes of origin or other places of their choice in Syria. If we can not provide a safe haven for them millions of Syrian refugees would want to migrate to various European countries and it might be technically impossible to stop them.
The legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, the National Coalition, the Interim Government along with tribal leaders as well as representatives of minorities including the Christian communities across the region expressed support to Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring. PYD/YPG showed its true colors by firing up to 700 mortars and rockets indiscriminately to bordering Turkish provinces. Both our citizens and Syrians taking refuge on Turkish soil were affected.
Turkey has no plans whatsoever to modify the demographic structure in the operation area. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, PYD/YPG terrorist organization has oppressed and intimidated the local population, the Syrian Kurds in particular, and forcibly displaced them. Turkey has fought against DEASH in Syria more than any other country and paid the heaviest price. Turkey was the only country engaging in chest-to-chest combat against DEASH terrorists in Syria. The allegation that Operation Peace Spring would damage efforts to reach a political solution in Syria is far from reality. Turkey is one of the few countries that exerted maximum and genuine efforts to establish the Constitutional Committee, in close cooperation with other Astana guarantors and the UN.
As repeated numerous times by President Erdogan and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, Turkey’s main expectation from the international community, particularly from our Allies, is to support our fight against terrorism. As it did in the past, Turkey will continue to firmly counter all kinds of terrorist organizations.
Turkey deserves more cooperation from her allies and friends in the fight against terrorism, not obstacles.