September 28, 2022

Working towards a safe zone

4 min read

AS Turkey’s ongoing border operation involving Syria is being widely covered in the international media, it would be useful to put things in perspective here.

Turkey’s humanitarian foreign policy approach is embodied in the current operation we have recently launched along the country’s south-eastern border with Syria.

The Operation Peace Spring is basically carried out to do two things: To secure our borders under Article 51 of UN Charter against terrorism and to establish a Safe Zone for the return of four million refugees that Turkey is hosting. We strive to prepare conditions on the ground for the refugees’ voluntary return.

While the Turkish military advances on the terrorist targets, we are diligently paying attention to the territorial integrity of Syria.

The formation of a “state of terror” within Syria should be considered a joint threat to the world. As a matter of fact, the turn of events that led to this operation is no secret, as they have been unfolding before the eyes of the international community for some time now.

Turkey’s intention was for all parties involved to bear the brunt of the plight of Syria’s crisis together. Only through a collective effort, Turkey argued, could the Syrian people have any amelioration following the country’s protracted civil war. In the process, we pleaded with allies time and again to seek common ground for collaboration.

It is important to note that Turkey did not create the problem in Syria. Many others actually did, while some others exacerbated it.

Yet when it came to putting a stop to it, all chose to turn away. We shared intelligence with our allies; they never reciprocated in a meaningful way. We invited them to be on board towards a safe zone effort, they dragged their feet.

It is against this backdrop that we are now carrying out Operation Peace Spring with our own devices. The Syrian National Army, comprising Syrian Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens, is fighting shoulder- to-shoulder with Turkish forces to do away with terrorist factions.

Our end goal is simple: to eliminate the possibility of a terror corridor establishing itself along our border by terrorists of PKK/YPG and Daesh (or Islamic State, IS). This, when achieved, will also strengthen Syrian territorial integrity.

This is not, as claimed by some with ulterior motives, a fight against the Kurds. On the contrary, it is a fight for all – the Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens – against factions that uprooted them all from their homelands.

To be exact, 300,000 Kurds fled to seek refuge in Turkey from the terror inflicted on them by PKK/YPG and IS. This fact is not getting enough attention from international observers. The oppression inflicted by PKK/YPG on the local population, including Kurds, cannot be overlooked.

It is also worth noting that, of the four million refugees who settled in Turkey over the years, 400,000 have already returned to their homes as a result of the Turkish-led operations Operation Olive Branch and Eupherates Shield in the last two years. We cleared 4,000sq km single-handedly. The liberated areas are returning to normalcy, administered by local councils.

With Operation Peace Spring, we are creating a safe zone of 400km in length and 30km in depth for the passage of refugees to go back to their homes.

In the meantime, we have eliminated more than 700 terrorists along the way. Unfortunately, with ammunition accrued from our Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) allies, terrorists are attacking civilians in Turkey across the border cities. So far, 20 innocent lives have been lost – including nine-month-old Muhammed – while 200 people have been wounded. These are all civilians. Four Turkish soldiers have died so far during the operation.

Throughout this process, it is obvious that the containment of IS prisoners must be a clear priority, not just for Turkey but also for all stakeholders.

After all, the captured IS militants represent a multinational crowd. Turkey speaks as the only country that has waged a face-to-face war against IS within Syria, on top of its participation in the international coalition against the terror group since its inception.

We have also unequivocally suffered from terrorist attacks within our borders over the years. Now the new operation underway draws on this experience.

As we stated at the outset, we will contain the imprisoned IS terrorists. There is no reason to believe that the custody of IS foreign fighters would be any less secure than before – quite the contrary, in fact, as Turkey is committed to containment of the captured IS members.

Thus we went in with this conviction only to find out that the one prison where IS captives were held in the vicinity had been emptied out in retaliation by the PKK/YPG terrorists prior to Turkish forces reaching the area.

So it is incumbent upon the international community to assume responsibility to recapture these foreign terrorist fighters and bring them to justice in their respective countries of origin. The onus for this cannot be shoved upon Turkey alone. We expect full cooperation.


Ambassador of Turkey to Malaysia