Turkey losing global PR battle over Syrian operation - analyst

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may have expected the world to fall in line after launching a military offensive against Kurdish-led groups in northeast Syria, but Turkey is losing the global PR battle over the operation, Turkish scholar Sinan Ciddi wrote for U.S. geopolitical analyst Stratfor.

Erdoğan launched Operation Peace Spring on Oct. 9 to clear the Syrian Democratic Forces and other groups linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from its border, vowing to resettle a large number of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey in what he calls a 30-km deep safe zone in Syria.

The PKK is widely viewed by Turks as one of the country’s most dangerous foes, having waged an insurgency for Kurdish self-rule that has claimed some 40,000 lives since it was launched in 1984. The existence of a statelet on Turkey’s border ruled by PKK-linked groups is thus seen as a serious security threat.

Yet Turkey has historically held back from military adventures despite grave threats, and the current operation could have more to do with domestic pressure on the ruling Justice and Development Party, Ciddi said.

“In the immediate term, Erdogan looks set to reap the awards of his brazen behaviour,” Ciddi said.

“For the past 12 months, the Erdogan government has found itself in a corner due to a severely weakened economy and a loss of voter confidence — all of which culminated in widespread losses for the president and the governing Justice and Development Party in local elections on March 31.”

The launch of the military operation has taken the focus off the ruling party’s vulnerabilities and deflected criticism from the opposition, the majority of which has endorsed Peace Spring.

However, international condemnation has quickly poured in from all corners, drawing from Turkey “hostility and ill-considered comments that parallel Erdogan's vitriol at global actors,” Ciddi said.

The Turkish president has chosen belligerent responses to criticism, threatening to allow millions of refugees to enter Europe after the European Union condemned what it called Turkey’s invasion.

“In the end, Erdogan has acted with impunity at home for over a decade, subjecting Turkey's population to his brash and unbridled demeanour. He's now trying the same thing on the world stage and expecting the rest of the globe to fall in line,” Ciddi said. “That isn't going to happen, and the longer Turkey continues its military operation, the more it will find itself relegated to the position of an international pariah.”