Erdoğan using Syria incursion to crush opposition at home – analyst

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used his country’s ongoing offensive in northwest Syria as a pretext to crush domestic opposition, wrote Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

The Turkish military operation, named Operation Olive Branch, was launched on Jan. 20 against the mostly-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the area of Afrin. Turkey considers the YPG to be the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has been involved in armed struggle with the Turkish armed forces for decades.

Soon after the operation launched, Erdoğan threatened that any protesters against it would have the security forces “on their necks”. The Turkish police have made good on that threat, arresting protesters in Istanbul and handing them terrorist propaganda charges; detaining hundreds of citizens for social media posts; and raiding and arresting critical media outlets and journalists, wrote Erdemir.

This hard line has also seen vociferous support among Turkey’s pro-government media, with one radio host calling for dissenters to be shot, and a TV channel broadcasting a list of celebrities who had not explicitly declared their support for the operation.

Non-governmental organisations have also been targeted, with the Turkish Doctors’ Union branded “terrorist-lovers” by Erdoğan after releasing a statement calling for peace, before its entire central committee and president were arrested.

Even Islamist organisations and imams have faced legal reprisals for not following the government’s line on the operation, according to Erdemir’s article.

In Afrin, a speedy military victory might be out of reach for Erdogan. The Turkish president, however, has already won a battle on the home front by using the offensive as a pretext to crush whatever remains of Turkey’s battered civil society, making it one of the major casualties of the “Olive Branch.”