Interview with Hamza Tekin regarding the looming Turkish operation in northern Syria

L24 spoke with Hamza Tekin about the looming Turkish operation in northern Aleppo where he provided insightful answers regarding the Turkish position towards the operation.
Hamza Tekin is a Turkish journalist and researcher who is close to the ruling party. 

L24: Why does Turkey intend to invade Manbij and Tal Rifat?

Hamza Tekin:  It is known Turkey is preparing for a new military operation in northern Syria against terrorist organizations like the SDF (PKK) and any element that cooperates with them, meaning everyone who supports this terrorist organization in the face of Turkey will be subject to Turkish fire.

This operation aims to protect Turkish national security and the Turkish border from attacks of terrorist organizations, as well as the formation of a safe area in northern Syria that serves the interests of millions of Syrian civilians, as well as, serving Turkey’s security interests in the region in general.

Some of the areas targeted in this next operation are: Manbij, of course, Tal Rifat, Kobani and others, perhaps even areas east of the Euphrates, with a depth of 30 km. These are the main general goals that Turkey seeks to achieve through this operation.

L24: What are the dangers if Turkey cannot assert its interests?

Hamza Tekin: Turkey announces and prepares for such operations in a political and media environment before starting direct military action; Turkey has entered the stage of operations.

The first stage of the operation, the media and political stage, achieved its goals. We have information that the terrorist organization SDF has carried out many security measures in the areas it occupies in northern Syria, transferring hundreds of prisoners from Manbij and Tal Rifat to Raqqa, transferring the families of the leaders to Raqqa, and many of its members fled to Raqqa because of their fear of the imminent military operation.

Meaning that the region emptied a large percentage of the elements of this organization only through the media campaign launched by Turkey before the start of the military operation.

Turkey is militarily capable of fully achieving its goals. We are not talking about the possibility of Turkey’s inability to achieve its goals. The Turkish military force is able to fully achieve the goals as it has achieved in previous military operations, so the issue of talking about the possibility of not achieving those goals is absolutely out of the question.

NATO summit in Madrid /Anadolu Agency

L24: Why is the West trying to stop Turkey from freeing additional areas in the north of Syria?

Hamza Tekin: With regard to why the West prevented Turkey from liberating additional areas in northern Syria, that’s because the previous Turkish military operations and the upcoming operation, and perhaps more than one operation in the next stage, would prevent and disrupt the Western project in Syria.

This is what was said in Washington by one of the American officials a few days ago, that the Turkish military operation in northern Syria endangers our interests. Therefore, the question is, what are the American interests for America to come thousands of kilometres away and come to Syria? What is its relationship with Syria? Turkey has a relation because it’s on the border, hosting millions of Syrians.

Therefore, the West is trying to prevent Turkey and impede Turkish military operations against terrorism because it knows that the Turkish project in the north of Syria is the liberation of the Syrian people, eliminating terrorist organizations, securing a safe area for the Syrians, protecting Turkish national security, and protecting the Turkish borders.

This is something the West does not want at all, but rather, they want to form a terrorist statelet in northern Syria so that this statelet remains a strong card in their hands through which they can divide Syria in the short term and target Turkey and its security whenever and however they want. Perhaps even dividing Turkey in the next stage and the coming decades.

This is the Western project and any Turkish military action will destroy this project, so they are keen to obstruct Turkey’s goals in Syria, because Turkey’s goals in Syria are different from theirs. Whoever wants to check this issue, let them go to northern Syria and hear from the simple Syrian civilians who have realized the truth of the difference between the malign Western goals in Syria and the positive Turkish common goals with the Syrians, which serve both sides.

I am not saying that Turkey today is only moving to serve the Syrian without benefiting itself, no. The Syrian party, I mean the people, benefits as well as the Turkish party, and this is what distinguishes the relationship, unlike the relationship that the West brings, which is based on the trampling of people, killing people, stealing people’s wealth, stealing people’s fortune only for the interests of the West. This malicious rule that the West has imposed on the Middle East and North Africa regions for hundreds of years.

President Putin and President Erdoğan /AP

L24: What is Russia’s position on this and what are their motives?

Hamza Tekin: As for Russia’s position, Russia began retreating, and we can talk about an agreement soon with the Turkish side. Russia will retreat more in the next stage, because it needs Turkey a lot in political support, especially in light of the war that Russia is waging on Ukraine in shade of the Western boycott and sanctions.

Today, there is no strong country in the world Russia can address and benefit from except Turkey, and therefore it is not logical that Russia currently angers or harasses Turkey. So, all indications point towards Russia backing down in favour of Turkey. Russia will reduce its positions regarding Syria and reduce its security and military presence in Syria and this matter is in Turkey’s interest.

The evidence is that Russia fully accepted that the Israeli occupation targets Damascus airport, and therefore this is a regression of the Russian position in Syria. Otherwise, if Russia was a true ally of the Syrian regime, it would not have accepted that Israel bombed Damascus airport. Russia will retreat in Syria in favour of Turkey, knowing that its retreat is linked to presenting a card to the Turkish side in order for Turkey to remain somewhere on the side of Russia in the face of the West and its actions.

Turkish military convoy in northern Syria /AFP

L24: What are the consequences if Turkey invades without a “green light” from the West?

Hamza Tekin: Turkey does not need a green light from the West at all, and this was clear from the previous talk. The West opposed the previous Turkish military operations, and Turkey carried them out against their will, against the will of Washington and the West. Also, US officials are now saying that there is pressure from Washington on Turkey to cancel the operation.

They say that it is clear that Turkey is determined to carry out the operation. Turkey today has a strong and advanced political position in the world. Turkey today does not need Western weapons to confront terrorist organizations, unlike Turkey 25 years ago. Turkey has a strong economy.

It is not afraid of any Western economic measures. It does not need Western weapons. It does not need Western military power nor political support from the West. It has many countries that can stand by it politically if the operation takes place, and therefore Turkey’s position is strong and advanced. Turkey is not as weak today so that it needs a Western green light at all. This (green light) term is completely rejected here in Ankara.

Turkey will implement all the political, security and military steps that preserve its rights, security and borders, and preserve the rights of its allies, people and governments. Therefore, the West today realizes that it is facing a new strong country, whether the West willed or not, whether some regimes in the world willed or not.

We are now looking at a new Turkey. Today, Turkey is at a place where it gives its approval on this issue or that issue, and the best proof of that is that Turkey took a strong stance by which it prevented Finland and Sweden from joining NATO. This is not a position that was possible for Turkey to take 25 years ago.

Today, Turkey stands and says I want a price to accept the admission of Finland and Sweden, and if I did not get this price, I would not accept the admission of Finland and Sweden. This is a dangerous situation. I mean, whoever knows the politics and the political, geopolitical and strategic dimension of this situation realizes that if Turkey was weak, it would not have been able to take such a position against Sweden and Finland, and of course, with America behind them, and thus Turkey’s position today is one that allows it to say no to the West.

Today, Turkey does not need a Western green light at all, and this is not emotional rhetoric, it is not populist talk, it is not media talk. Rather, this is a tangible reality. We realize it and see it daily through Turkey’s positions, through the military industries, through the strength of the Turkish army, the strength of the Turkish intelligence, which on a daily basis, if not almost every day, a Turkish intelligence operation is conducted, in all areas, from which those who threaten Turkish national security may emerge.

L24: When will Turkey’s planned operation start?

Hamza Tekin: Regarding the issue of the time period, what can be confirmed is that the operation will take place, but the time period remains unknown to conserve the element of surprise. Therefore, few political and military leaders in Turkey will know the zero hour of the operations, due to absolute secrecy and the issue of the element of surprise.

The first strike in the operation will be strong, large and wide, and it will have the element of surprise from the military point of view. But that time period is close, let me say, and we are in the phase of ending the political deadline, if you will, which Turkey gives to the influential parties in northern Syria, including the United States and Russia of course.

These two countries have not fulfilled their promises to the Turkish side regarding the withdrawal of terrorist organizations to a distance of 30 kilometres from the Turkish border. The political deadline given to them by Turkey is almost over.

Also, the role that Iran has placed itself in as a mediator seeking to achieve a political agreement to dissuade Turkey from the process, this is not the case in Turkey, and Turkey did not ask for any mediation with anyone, because the most influential side is Russia and America.

SDF member with YPG flag in the background /North Press Agency

L24: How much resistance is expected?

Hamza Tekin: Of course, with regard to the word “resistance” in parentheses, these are terrorist militias that have killed hundreds or even thousands of Syrian civilians, Turks, Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, and therefore they are not in a position to receive the honour of being named “resistance” at all.

These militias will certainly try to fight in some places and some areas, thinking that they are still supported by this or that international party, but the indications and the intelligence that reached the Turkish side is that fear fills the hearts of the leaders of these organizations.

The leaders of these organizations send messages to many international parties, led by the United Nations, requesting to impose an air embargo in northern Syria to prevent the flight of Bayraktar and other Turkish UAVs that hunt the heads of terrorists every day in northern Syria.

This message and these demands from these terrorist militias confirm that fear fills their hearts. There is even intelligence that the movements of the leaders of this organization have become very rare and very few because of their fear of Turkish UAVs. All of this without the military operation having commenced yet.

Therefore, the expected fight by these militias will be weak and unsuccessful, they have previous experiences in Afrin and other areas where they failed miserably. If some say that these militias have previous experiences with regard to fighting the terrorist organization ISIS, the response is that the battles that took place between these militias PKK/PYD, or what is known as the SDF and between ISIS, are only a play, because terrorism is terrorism and the facets of terrorism are the same, even if the titles, characteristics and ideologies vary.

Thus, terrorists were fighting terrorists, and the strength of these militias does not stand in front of the strength of the Turkish army, and we all know that. We are not in a position to talk about the strength of the Turkish army. This matter is known globally.

Turkish armed forces and Syrian National Army (SNA) members /Reuters

L24: The SNA will obviously take part in this operation. Will it spearhead it and be supported by the Turkish army or will the opposite be the case?

Hamza Tekin: With regard to the Syrian National Army (SNA), of course it’s a main participant, not a subsidiary, but a main participant in this upcoming operation, as it participated in the previous operations and a achieved many victories.

It will be a joint operation between the Turkish army and the Syrian National Army, within a high-level coordinated joint operations room with regard to targeting the sites of terrorist organizations, taking into consideration that no civilians are targeted. This positive image presented by the National Army and the Turkish Army today is a bright image that we rarely find in the world.

Unlike other armies who burn green and dry, kill and bombard with barrel bombs and indiscriminate bombing, we have seen what the armies of different countries have done in Syria and now in Ukraine, in Afghanistan and in Iraq previously.

Today, the higher instructions of the Turkish army and the Syrian National Army are that they be wary of targeting any civilians during the next operation. The operation will be coordinated between the two armies, especially with regard to the geography and knowledge of the land.

The fact is, Syrian National Army members are the sons of those areas from which they were displaced by SDF terrorism, murder, injustice, prisons and torture. They know the geographical secrets of the land there and the movement on the ground, so the coordination will be on an elevated level between the Turkish army and the Syrian National Army.

Syrian National Army (SNA) members /AP 2019

L24: The areas of Afrin and the Euphrates Shield are governed by a hodgepodge of groups fighting each other, as happened again recently. How will Turkey prevent this from happening again in the future liberated areas?

Hamza Tekin: With regard to the issue of clashes and the existing conflict, this matter is unfortunate of course, that this to happens in those areas. Everyone is supposed to care about unity, building and development, with unified direction. We saw the regrettable comments about what happened from the Syrian people, as well as from everyone that follows the Syrian cause.

Therefore, the Turkish call is that these clashes should not be repeated, and that the higher interests of civilians take precedence over personal interests. Any clash portrays a negative image, not to Turkey, but to those groups and negatively affects the Syrian people who must no longer tolerate any mistakes.

Turkey, of course, seeks not to repeat these negative issues in order to preserve the security and stability which, if undermined in those areas, only serves the interests of the enemies of Turkey and the Syrian people.

When I say the Syrian people, I am talking about the innocent and simple civilians who are really suffering from the situation in Syria for over a decade, and not about a group that has begun to call itself and ascribe itself to the Syrian revolution, and it is not at all different from the Syrian regime with its ideas, methodology and rhetoric.

This is not the opposition we talk about and support, but rather what we support and defend until the last breath are the innocent Syrian people who suffer in tents and who need to return to their land, not those who falsely claim to be a part of the revolution.

Refugee camp in southeast Turkey /Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

L24: Many reports show that Kurds in Afrin are discriminated against and deprived of their rights by the armed groups. How will this be prevented in the future?

Hamza Tekin: With regard to the issue of discrimination, Turkey has, for nearly 20 years, presented a positive model in terms of rejecting discrimination, and in terms of everyone being equal before the law and the state.

Here in Turkey, we do not differentiate between a Turk, an Arab, a Kurd, a Christian, an Alawite, a Sunni, even non-Muslim. If they hold Turkish citizenship, they are equal before Turkish law and their rights are the same, there is no discrimination.

The top security and political leaders of the Turkish state are not of Turkish ethnicity, even the President of the Republic, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is not of Turkish ethnicity, and he said this and disclosed that his family is from Albania and he is the president of the country. Thus, the topic of discrimination is a non-issue.

Over the past 20 years we have learned equality and justice for everyone in Turkey, especially for citizens. Everyone in northern Syria must learn this positive image from Turkey and apply this positive model, and to not differentiate between Arab and Kurd. The issue of disunity today does not benefit the Syrian people, nor does it benefit the liberated areas. Rather, it benefits everyone who intends to harm them, whether at home or abroad.

Turkey does not need much work, Turkey has this model, and others should learn from this positive model, just by looking and reading they should know this. What is required today is for everyone to realize that before the liberated areas become a state and the crisis in Syria ends, they must present a positive model, not a model that differentiates between Syrians. Because discrimination and racism are the characteristics of the SDF, and those who discriminate and those who discriminate against others are not very different from the organizations that harm the Syrian people and never benefit them.

L24: Are there any intentions to liberate other areas beyond Manbij and Tal Rifat now or in the future?

Hamza Tekin: This question relates to the previous question, which is that the areas that will be covered by the Turkish military operation will be great. It will surprise the SDF (PKK) and will greatly harm their project. It will destroy its goals and rupture its hopes of tearing Syria apart which threatens Turkish national security and its borders. The operation will be broad and not confined to this or that region.


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