Kurdish-run Syrian enclave says ready for war if Turkey invades

Erbil – The Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin in northern Syria is ready for war should Turkish forces attack the small, almost entirely surrounded territory near the border with Turkey, its defence minister and other commanders there told Ahval.

Turkish forces entered northern Syria and took up positions close to the Afrin enclave in November last year, becoming directly involved in the multi-sided civil war that has killed more than 140,000 people and sucked in regional and world powers since it began in 2011.

“Turkey's reconnaissance drones are flying over Afrin skies every day. We are prepared for war. Afrin is ready to defend itself against a Turkish attack,” Behcet Berekat, the defence minister of the Afrin canton said in a statement.

“Turkey is doomed to lose such a war, it has no international or public support for such an incursion,” he said.

Turkey regards three Kurdish-controlled cantons in northern Syria as an existential threat to its own territorial integrity. It fears a viable autonomous Kurdish zone in Syria would strengthen demands for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey.

The Democratic Union Party (PYD), which governs the three areas, is part of the same Kurdish umbrella organisation as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has been fighting an armed separatist campaign against Turkey since 1984.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and the United States. Even so, the PYD’s armed wing, the YPG, has received military backing from both Washington and EU countries to fight Islamic State. That support has been a major source of friction between Turkey and the West.

Turkey sent troops into Syria’s Idlib province, which borders Afrin, in October as part of an “observation mission” agreed with Russia and Iran, the major powers supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Turkey’s National Security Council said in November that its mission in Idlib was continuing successfully and that “such a mission being performed near Western Aleppo and Afrin would provide a real environment of peace and safety”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also said in November that Turkey needed to clear the Afrin region of YPG fighters, as military operations in Idlib were largely complete.

The YPG makes up the backbone of the estimated 10,000 fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Afrin. But there are also a number of other allied and non-Kurdish groups in the in the enclave, which is mainly surrounded by Turkish forces, but also in part by Syrian government forces. Its only link to the rest of Kurdish-controlled territory to the east is via a narrow 65-km long corridor.

The YPG last month moved some fighters with artillery to Afrin from the eastern city of Raqqa, after capturing the former Islamic State capital, local sources said.

"If Turkey attacks Afrin, we will fight against Turkey. Afrin is part of Syria, and we are ready to fight for every inch of this land," said Ahmed Sultan, the leader of one of the local forces in Afrin.

Abu Omar Idlibi, the commander of another force in Afrin allied to the YPG, said defending the enclave from attack was not the same as fighting for the Kurdish militia.

"We are prepared to fight for every inch of the areas under the control of the SDF. When we say that we will protect Afrin, it does not mean that we are defending the YPG," he told Ahval.

Other parties in Afrin said Turkey would not dare attack Afrin.

''Turkey will not attack Afrin or any other region in Syria. The international, regional and local dynamics are not conducive to such aggression,'' said Alaeddin Khalid, of the left-wing National Democratic Alliance of Syria.

“The people of this region will not accept Turkish occupation. What we have in this region is not a Kurdish project. It is a project for all ethnic groups. It is a geographical project for fighting all terrorist groups.”