Turkish Army and Syrian allies capture the city of Afrin

The #Syrian Civil War, which is in its seventh year, has entered into a dangerous new phase. Thanks to a large invasion force consisting of the #Turkish Army and their Syrian allies, the Kurdish stronghold of Afrin in northwestern Syria has fallen. Prior to this military defeat, the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-Arab-Turkmen-Assyrian militia supported by the United States, had vowed to stop fighting in order to halt the Turkish incursion.

Recent footage from Afrin shows Turkish-backed militiamen (collectively known as the TFSA, or Turkish-backed #Free Syrian Army) removing the Kurdistan flag from Afrin‘s city center.

In its stead, these troops raised the green, black, white, and red flag of the Free Syria movement. According to international observers, the two-month-long battle to take Afrin caused approximately 280 civilian casualties. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrated the capture of Afrin by saying “Most of the terrorists [Kurdish fighters with the SDF] have already fled with their tails between their legs.”

For the U.S. and other members of NATO, Turkey‘s active involvement in the Syrian Civil War is terrible for three reasons. On the one hand, the war between Turks and Kurds is a battle between two U.S. and NATO allies. On the other hand, ‘s support for the Free Syrian Army means that the Syrian Civil War, which once looked like it was entering its endgame, will continue. Finally, the war between the TFSA and the SDF is giving ISIS time to recoup after years of almost endless defeats.

Genocide?

As Turkish power increases in Afrin and other villages in northern Syria, international aid agencies have warned that Syria‘s Kurdish and Christian populations are growing increasingly fearful of persecution. Indeed, according to Voice of America, minority groups, including the Druze and Yazidi, fear that those Sunni Muslim militias that support the Turkish Army could help to bring back elements of ISIS and al-Qaeda to Afrin. If that happens, then a repeat of ISIS‘ genocidal campaigns in 2014 could happen.

For Syria‘s Kurds, they are well aware of the Turkish Republic‘s long-standing war against Kurdish insurgents within Turkey itself. This war, which began all the way back in 1978, has claimed over 50,000 lives. Ankara frequently cites this ongoing war, plus the fact that the SDF includes elements of Kurdish political groups which are officially labeled as terrorist organizations in Turkey, as one of the reasons for their involvement in Syria. Thwarting an independent or autonomous Rojava (the name for Kurdish Syria) on its southern border is also one of Turkey‘s key aims.

The ‘Great Game‘ plays again

Another issue at play in Afrin is the strained relationship between Russia and Turkey. Moscow is one of the largest backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose army is currently involved in serious operations against the Free Syrian Army and its allies. Moscow has also given aid to several Kurdish militias. In 2015, a Turkmen militia supported by Turkey shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M fighter jet, thus pushing the two powers to the brink of war. The murder of Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov by Turkish Islamist Mevlut Mert Altintas also further chilled relations between the two nations.

Now, it appears that Turkey is less inclined to go to war against Assad, which means that Russia has played a minimal role in the Afrin offensive so far. It remains to be seen how the U.S. will respond. China might be dragged in as well, for several factions in the TFSA are Uighur militias who have declared war on Beijing for its oppression of Uighur Muslims in the province of Xinjiang. Knowing this, Iraqi Kurdistan is trying to build a stronger relationship with as a bulwark against Turkish and Russian interference.

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