The creation of a safe “Islamic State-free zone” in Syria by Turkish and United States forces is actually Ankara's attempt to stop Kurds from forming their own territory, said the leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish party Wednesday.
“The operation against IS is for show. Turkey's government is not conducting a serious battle against IS,” said Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP).
Turkey and the U.S. decided earlier this week to create a “safe zone” in northern Syria that would be cleared of Islamic State group militants.
However, the chosen area is largely controlled by the Syrian Kurdistan People's Protection Unit (YPG), which is adamantly opposed to Turkish military intervention in this region.
“Under the impression of battling IS, Kurdish forces are being targeted,” Demirtas told the BBC, referring to the Islamic State group. “This is not the right strategy. For two and a half years a peace process was in place, negotiations were ongoing. Instead of resorting to military actions against the PKK, the government should have continued the dialogue.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been reluctant to get involved in the fight against the Islamic State group, the militant group terrorizing large parts of Iraq and Syria, however, after recent attacks within Turkish borders motivated the president to declare a “full-fledged battle against all terrorist organizations.”
The Turkish government is now flying combat missions into northern Syria and making its airbases available to U.S. fighter jets.
Recent military operations against Kurdish positions in Iraq and Syria – as well as renewing a conflict against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in its own country – has raised suspicions that Turkey's greater priority is to undermine Kurdish movements for greater autonomy.
Wednesday morning, Turkey fighter jets launched its heaviest assault yet against the PKK since air strikes began last week. Turkish officials confirmed they had hit six PKK targets in northern Iraq, including shelters, depots and caves.
Tuesday, NATO officials met in Brussels at Turkey's request for a special security meeting, in which they announced full support for the Turkish government, however they also called on Turkey not to abandon the fragile peace process with the PKK.
Despite NATO's plea, Turkey's President Erdogan said Tuesday it was impossible to continue the peace process with “with those who threaten our national unity and brotherhood.”
The President is now in China to discuss economic ties, however the timing of the talks may mean that Erdogan is seeking to renew a deal with China for a long-range missile system.
The two countries entered discussion in 2013 over a missile contract worth US$3.4 billion, but a final agreement was never made. The elusive deal has caused alarm among NATO members.
Despite the government aggression against the PKK in the name of national security, Turkish citizens consider the IS group to be a bigger threat to the country and believe northern Syria should be in the hands of Syria's Democratic Union Party (PYD) – an offshoot of the PKK.
A recent survey by the Metropoll Research Center shows that at least 40 percent of voters for both the Justice and Development Party and the Nationalist Movement Party think the Islamic State group is a bigger threat, while 61.2 percent of Republican People's Party voters and 75.4 percent of the HDP supporters believe the same.
The poll also found that more than 30 percent of all parties believe that northern Syria should be controlled by PYD, with 81.4 percent of HPD voters believe as much, according to reports by Hurriyet Daily.