Syria offensive unveils cracks in Turkey’s opposition

 Turkey’s military offensive in northeast Syria has boosted the approval ratings of President Tayyip Erdoğan while revealing potential fragments in the political alliance that gave his ruling party a considerable defeat at the polls earlier this year, Reuters reported.

On Oct. 9, Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels launched “Operation Peace Spring,” with the expressed goal of creating a 30-km “safe zone” in northeastern Syria that would effectively eliminate Kurdish militias in the region and relocate refugees displaced in the Syrian civil war.

Turkey struck two deals with Russia and the United States to push back from the border region Kurdish fighters, who for years had spearheaded the U.S.-led war on the Islamic State (ISIS). Turkey sees the Kurdish groups as a threat due to their links to insurgents on its own soil.

The offensive arrived after months of stagnant approval ratings for the Turkish president, whose ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost five of Turkey’s most populous cities in the March local elections.

Some three quarters of Turks support the Syrian incursion, Reuters said, despite intense condemnation from countries around the world including Ankara’s NATO allies.

In fact, the approval rating of Turkey’s strongman has risen to around 48 percent from 30 percent before the offensive, according to a Metropoll survey released earlier this month.

The offensive has put Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in a bind, Reuters said, with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) that helped it win the Istanbul and Ankara mayoralties being staunchly opposed to the operation.

The HDP, supported by the country’s Kurds who make up some 18 percent of the population, is the only major party opposing the offensive.

The HDP lent informal support to the alliance formed between the CHP and the nationalist Good (İYİ) Party that handed the ruling AKP a stinging loss in this year’s elections. 

Any splintering between the opposition parties would be a further gift to the Turkish president, Reuters said.  

CHP lawmaker Sezgin Tanrıkulu maintains their cooperation will withstand this hurdle. 

“It has created a disenchantment but in my opinion this is not irreparable. The period ahead of us will be a period in which... the relationship of trust will be established again,” Reuters quoted Tanrıkulu as saying. 

According to Lütfü Türkkan, deputy group chairman of the Good Party, polling firms are confusing support for the troops with support for Erdoğan.

“The soldiers have succeeded but the politicians and diplomats have yet to achieve something (in Syria),” Turkkan said.

The CHP and Good Party have 139 and 39 seats respectively in Turkey’s 600-seat parliament. Both parties have backed a mandate extending military operations in Syria and Iraq while the 62-seat HDP opposed it as a violation of international law.

The Syria offensive has deepened a sense of alienation among Turkey’s Kurds, Reuters said, pointing to the arrest of dozens of people and dismissal of tens of HDP mayors, including four on Wednesday, in the country’s Kurdish-majority southeast.