Erdogan appeals for refugee safe zone in northern Syria

Russia expresses its opposition to the proposal and US and Iran could follow suit

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, speaks during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.  Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, speaks during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

 

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has appealed to the UN General Assembly and Europe to establish a “safe zone” in northern Syria where Syrian refugees living in Turkey could be settled.

Erdogan proposed an initial corridor 30km deep and 480km long where one to two million Syrian refugees could be settled.

He called for the co-operation of the US, Russia and Iran, but Russia has expressed its opposition and the US and Iran could follow suit. Erdogan’s plan would be violently resisted by local people as it would involve a dramatic change in the ethnic composition of the population of the border region.

Throwing a sop to Europe, which has reluctantly received hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing war, Erdogan said: “If we can extend the depth of this safe zone to a Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor line, we can increase the number of Syrians who will return from Turkey, Europe and other parts of the world.”

He seeks to deport to this zone the majority of 3.6 million Syrian refugees, who are no longer welcome in Turkey.

An expanded zone would be 80km wide and stretch eastwards along the Syrian side of border from the bank of the Euphrates river to the Iraqi frontier. The zone could occupy 25 per cent of Syrian’s territory if it was extended, as Erdogan suggested, to the devastated city of Raqqa and encompass the territory currently held by the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces.

This area includes sizeable cities and towns, farm land, oil fields and at least 700,000- one million Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians and Armenians who would resist being overwhelmed by largely Arab refugees from other parts of the country. Furthermore, the area between Raqqa and Deir al-Zor is largely inhospitable, arid desert and cannot sustain an influx of refugees.

The main, most effective component of Syrian Democratic Forces is the Kurdish People’s Protection units (YPG), which could be expected to fight in opposition to Erdogan’s project.

The 2018 conquest by the Turkish army and surrogate Syrian forces of the northwestern majority Kurdish Afrin district resulted in the expulsion of a majority of its inhabitants and their replacement by Arab jihadis and their families from elsewhere.

Three decades

Erdogan aims to expel the YPG, which he regards as an offshoot of Turkey’s separatist Kurdish Workers’ Party, which has battled Ankara for three decades. In 2015 the US adopted the YPG, which was the most effective Syrian force battling Islamic State (also known as Isis). Erdogan had hoped when US troops withdraw from Syria, the Kurds would be abandoned.

This has not happened. At least 1,000 US troops remain and the US continues to provide the Kurds with weapons, armoured vehicles and munitions to continue the fight against surviving Islamic State fighters – said to number 30,000 in Syria and Iraq. These weapons could be turned against Turkish forces if Erdogan decides to impose his “safe zone” by force.

The Kurds have agreed to US-Turkish joint air and land patrols in a limited “buffer zone” at the centre of the border east of the Euphrates but have rejected expansion of the mission’s coverage.

Coinciding with Erdogan’s UN address, a US congressional panel called on the Trump administration to halt troop withdrawals from Syria, arguing the small remaining deployment enables Washington to counter Islamic State and exercise political leverage on Turkey, Russia and Iran.

Separately, the UN has announced the establishment of a 150-member committee consisting of government, opposition and independents to draft a post-war constitution, which is regarded as the first step in resuming negotiations in Geneva for a political solution that could end the war.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.