Erdoğan says West must help Turkey end Syria’s civil war

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on Western powers to help Turkey end the civil war in Syria.

Writing in a column for Bloomberg on Monday, Erdoğan said the governments have forgotten the humanitarian crisis in Syria partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, one of the Middle East’s most important countries has been abandoned amid a seemingly endless massacre, he said.

“Now, as talk of democracy, freedom and human rights are in vogue anew, humanity’s actions in Syria will be the ultimate test of our sincerity,” Erdoğan said. “I believe that restoring peace and stability in the region depends on genuine and strong Western support for Turkey.”

Erdoğan wrote the article four days after the European Parliament called on Turkey to withdraw its troops from Syria. Turkey is illegally occupying the northern parts of the country outside any United Nations mandate in violation of international law, EU legislators said in a resolution.

Erdogan's remarks also come after the Syrian regime, backed by Russia, launched missile strikes against targets in Turkish-controlled northern Syria at the weekend, hitting trucks storing crude oil and causing civilian casualties.

Turkey, censured by the West for its own record on democracy and human rights, has launched several military incursions into Syria and keeps a military presence in the country to back rebel groups and to secure safe zones for the return of Syrian refugees. It has also faced Western and Russian criticism for its support for Islamist militants in the 10-year conflict, and for its battles against the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which have allied with Western powers against Islamic State (ISIS).

Erdoğan said Turkey respects Syrian territorial integrity but rejects “any plan that does not address the Syrian people’s demand for human dignity”.

“Unfortunately, the moderate rebels, our local partners, have become the target of a smear campaign despite their hard work and sacrifice to defeat Islamic State and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, another designated terrorist organisation,” he said.

The PKK has fought a four-decade war for autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds at the cost of about 40,000 lives, most of them Kurdish. It is labelled as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, but its aims are intertwined with those of Kurdish rebels in Syria.

Turkey has sheltered Europe from irregular migration and terrorism, Erdoğan said. The West now has three options: to watch from the side lines, take the military, economic and diplomatic steps necessary, or to throw its weight behind Turkey and “become part of the solution in Syria, at minimum cost and with maximum impact”, he said.

The United States and other Western powers must take a clear position against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian wing of the PKK, live up to their responsibilities to end the humanitarian crisis and to invest in safe zones in Syria that endorse the peace project, he said.

“The Joe Biden administration must stay true to its campaign pledges and work with us to end the tragedy in Syria and to defend democracy,” Erdoğan said.

“The Turkish people are prepared to support any initiative that will serve the interests of our Syrian neighbours and contribute to regional peace and stability,” he said.