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Explained: Why Turkey's Erdogan bombed Syrian Kurds

Erdogan has been asserting that Syrian Kurds want to set up a separate state within his country and would continue with their terrorist activities.

Explained Why Turkey's Erdogan bombed Syrian Kurds
First Published Nov 22, 2022, 9:42 AM IST

Hours after a suspected Kurdish rocket strike in the Turkish town of Karkamis along the border in which three people were killed, Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered that his country's land force would support the air force in carrying out action against the Syrians.

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Erdogan, who was in Qatar to attend the FIFA 2022 Football world cup, said: "This military operation will not be limited to an air campaign. Our relevant units, Ministry of Defence and General Staff, will together decide how much of a force from the Land Forces should be involved here."

As per the reports, the rockets had reportedly struck a school and two houses in Gaziantep province and injured at least 10 others. Earlier, Turkey had carried out deadly airstrikes in northern Syria and Iraq to target Kurdish militant groups, wherein over 30 Syrians were killed. It is said that the strike was conducted as part of taking revenge for the November 13 bomb attack in Istanbul.

It may be noted that several groups in Syria, Iraq and Turkey called on Erdogan to stop the air strikes. Let us understand the historical issues between the two countries that have today led to a series of airstrikes from both sides.

The conflict

Currently, over 30 million Kurds live in the Middle East, mainly in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Turkey has a total population of 79 million, out of which about 16 million are Kurds.

Since 1978, the Kurds have been waging an insurgency against the Turkish government for greater cultural and political rights and even an independent Kurdish state. The conflict between them has led to the killing of around 45,000 people, as per the reports.

In the last decade, the Kurds have carried out a number of strikes as popular discontent has steadily increased under the Erdogan regime. The Kurds had even led a failed coup attempt in 2016.  

To counter them, Turkey began military operations against its own population and Kurds living in neighbouring Syria.

Erdogan and Syrian Kurds

Since 2015, the Syrian Kurds have been fighting the Islamic State as part of the Syrian Democratic Force. It is an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters with backing from the United States. The United States, Britain, France and other western nations assisted the Syrian Democratic Force with weapons.

They fought the war against the Islamic State and toppled them effectively.

After the war between Kurds and Islamic State ended, Erdogan became fearful as the Kurds had gained influence close to his border. Erdogan sees the Syrian Kurds as terrorists linked to Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan).

The United States and European Union recognise PKK as a terrorist organisation. The US in 1997 had designated PKK as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The violent movement, which was started in 1984 for a separate nation for Kurds within the borders of Turkey, has now changed and their leaders now want to live within the country freely.

"The struggle will continue until the Kurds' innate rights are accepted," PKK's military leader Cemil Bayik had said earlier this year.

However, Erdogan has been asserting that the PKK wants to set up a separate state within his country and would continue with its terrorist activities.

It must be noted that in 1920 after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and the end of World War I, the western powers had promised a separate Kurdish state in the Treaty of Sevres. After three years, the promises were broken, and the Kurdish were left on their own. In 1923, Kurds became a minority in Turkey, and all other countries after the borders of Turkey were drawn up in the Treaty of Lausanne.

In Iraq and Syria, they have autonomous regions, but their fights are on for two other countries.

Image: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey. Photograph: Christoph Soeder/picture alliance via Getty Images

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