The CDA Institute was delighted to host Talip Küçükcan, Turkish Member of Parliament, and Resul Serdar Atas of TRT Al Arabia for a roundtable on Operation Olive Branch and Turkey’s recent actions in the Middle East and Syria. The discussion centred on three main areas: what Turkey is doing, the challenges it faces, and the success of its operations.
Turkey’s strategic environment is hostile and wracked with instability, as there are two failed states on its border (Iraq and Syria). The destabilization of Iraq that followed the American invasion in 2003 has been particularly problematic, as it granted Iran the opportunity to move in and gain influence in a country critical to Turkey’s security. Furthermore, the region in Syria bordering Turkey is porous and unstable, which poses a serious threat to Turkish security. The unstable nature of Turkey’s surroundings has demanded a shift in national focus, suggesting that security is now the number one national priority in Turkey.
Operation Olive Branch commenced on 20 January 2018, with the goal of protecting Turkey’s borders from armed groups by disrupting a 1,000-kilometre-long “terror belt”. The operation created a demilitarized zone along the Turkey-Syria border and allowed 100,000 Syrians to travel home. Turkey currently hosts three million Syrian refugees, representing approximately 50% of all the refugees who have fled Syria. As a result, Turkey has shouldered its fair share of the Syrian refugee crisis both by accepting refugees and covering the costs of hosting them. However, this policy is unsustainable as it is draining resources and straining local populations. According to the Turkish government, the goal of Operation Olive Branch is to avoid violating Syrian sovereignty; Turkish forces will deter incursions from terrorists and focus on ensuring a peaceful transition to a stable government in Syria. Ultimately, Operation Olive Branch is Turkey’s attempt to maintain its national security and protect its people.
However, the efforts to provide aid have been complicated by the presence of armed Kurdish groups in Syria. Turkish authorities see these groups as an extension of the PKK and thus pose an existential threat to Turkey. This view is not shared by many in the international community and there is no global consensus on how to deal with these groups like there is with Daesh. A particular point of concern for Turkey is ongoing American political and military support for these groups, actions it sees as inimical to both ending the Syrian conflict and Turkish security. The current discord seen in Turkey-US and Turkey-NATO relations can be traced back to this divergence of interests in Syria.
The roundtable concluded with a discussion of Canada’s role and relationship with Turkey and the crisis. As relations with NATO become more and more strained, Turkey asks that Canada empathize with its situation and provide a fair assessment of its security policy and initiatives. According to the discussion, the Turkish government and people would like to see Canada become a more active member in conflict resolution; particularly through assisting in alleviating the refugee burden and threats of terror. Much emphasis was placed on how Canada’s humanitarian approach works well with Turkey’s current policies and can be used to assist in the resolution of the Syrian crisis. All in all, the roundtable session provided an interesting perspective on Turkey’s view and interests in the region, as well as their response to the Syrian refugee crisis and the rise of Daesh.
- Hannah Delaney, CDA Institute Research Intern, & Christopher Cowan, CDA Institute Research Analyst