Christina Lin

NATO, Turkey, annexation of north Syria like north Cyprus?

On Tuesday 24 November Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border, and yet again called for another NATO emergency meeting to obtain statements of solidarity with Turkey.

Back in July, Turkey also called for an emergency NATO meeting after an ISIS attack in the Kurdish town of Suruc (that Kurds blame on collusion of Turkish police), in order to justify and legitimize its bombing campaign against the PKK and war on Turkish Kurds. Ankara was able to extract a statement from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: “The security of the alliance is indivisible, and we stand in strong solidarity with Turkey.”

It likewise extracted a statement from the White House that Turkey had a right to defend itself and go after the Kurds, thereby giving a green light for Ankara to pulverize the PKK and alienate US key ally Syrian Kurdish militia forces, who were the most effective ground forces fighting ISIS.

In September, Turkey again extracted a statement of solidarity from NATO SACEUR General Breedlove at the NATO Military Committee conference in Istanbul.

In October, reports from two CHP deputies in the Turkish parliament corroborate previous testimonies that the notorious sarin gas attack at Ghouta was a false flag orchestrated by Turkish intelligence, willing to commit the war crime of sacrificing 1,300 innocent civilians to goad US into the Syrian war to topple Assad.

Turkey’s unhealthy pattern as arsonist-firefighter so exasperated NATO member Germany, that in August Berlin removed its Patriot batteries from Turkey.

Can Turkey get NATO to fight for its 82nd province?

As former NATO chairman of the Military Committee, German general Harald Kujat (ret.) said in an interview on ARD-TV last October, he criticized, “that’s what Turkey wants to provoke [NATO Article 5 on mutual defence]… Turkey basically wants to drag NATO into this situation because the actual goal of Turkey is to neutralize Assad…ISIS’s actions and what’s happening to the Kurds are subsidiary…”

Now, would NATO stand in solidarity with Erdogan as he proceeds to annex Syria’s Aleppo as Turkey’s 82nd province similar to northern Cyprus?

Currently, Erdogan is aggressively pushing NATO and EU to carve Syria’s Aleppo as a no-fly zone/safe zone. However, this is an illusive haven because by definition a safe zone maintains neutrality in a military conflict, and the positioning of armed opposition groups will turn the area into a prime target.

Moreover, claims that on 10 August Turkish military forces entered the planned zone in Syria along with the Turkmen Sultan Murat Brigade presents a worrying picture when taken in conjunction with pro-government media that proclaimed Aleppo as the 82nd province of Turkey.

On 5 August Turkish newspaper Takvim featured a map of the buffer zone that includes Aleppo, Idlib and the north of Latakia to be under Turkey’s control as an eventual 82nd province.

Turkey's 82nd province, Takvim-5-August-2015
Turkey’s 82nd province, Takvim-5-August-2015

According to Hurriyet Daily, Erdogan is using the Turkmen card again especially when nationalist sentiments are on the rise, so that “any attack on our Turkmen brothers in the safe zone could easily spark a military clash and drag Turkey into war.”

This is evidenced recently when Turkey extended sovereignty over northern Syria and issued stern warnings to Russia regarding bombing Syrian Turkmen villages, right before proceeding to shoot down the Russian jet fighter in hot pursuit over Chechen jihadists in northern Syria.

According to the director of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdul Rahman, there are at least 2,000 fighters from Chechnya, Dagestan and other Caucasus regions operating with Al Nusra, and “they are concentrated in Idlib, Aleppo, and Latakia provinces”—where Erdogan has called for a buffer zone. These militants are also part of Turkey’s Army of Conquest that Ankara dubs “moderate rebels.”

Counter-terror expert Jacob Zenn assessed that the “rebels may have enough resources to establish a de-facto state in northwestern Syria led by JN [Jabhat-al-Nusra] and supported by several Central Asian militas.” This corroborates the 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report of Turkey and Arab Gulf states’ desire to carve out a salafist statelet in Syria east of Assad-controlled territory in order to put pressure on his regime.

With its base in the Idlib governorate, the rebel coalition now has a direct supply line open from Turkey’s Hatay Province next to Idlib, further expanded by the new proposed Aleppo buffer zone. Hatay province, located on the coast north of Latakia, was originally part of Syria according to the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon, but Turkey showed interest in the area with its large Turkish-speaking community and in 1936 pushed for Hatay’s “reunification” with Turkey. In 1939 Turkey annexed Hatay.

Hatay province, adjacent to Aleppo, Idlib and northern Latakia
Hatay province, adjacent to Aleppo, Idlib and northern Latakia

In 1974, Turkish forces also invaded and captured approximately 40% of Cyprus and proceeded to expel Greek Cypriots. About 160,000 to 200,000 Greek Cypriots that consisted of 82% of northern Cyprus population became refugees as they fled at the word of the approaching Turkish army.

occypied_cyprus_sm_mapThe occupation of northern Cyprus is viewed as illegal under international law, and Turkey is the only country that recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Now it appears Turkey is once again expanding its sovereignty to its neighborhood, over northern Syria via an attempted no-fly zone, as well as over Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

While Russian jetfighters are flying over Syrian territory at the invitation of the sovereign government of Syria, Turkish jetfighters are flying over Iraqi territory to bomb Kurdish rebels without the consent of the Iraqi government, prompting the Arab League to issue a statement on 4 August condemning Turkey’s violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

In 2011, when Turkey again violated Iraqi and Kurdish territory, in an interview with CNN spokesman for Kurdish Regional Government Kawa Mahmoud said, “We always emphasize that shelling Iraqi border is inconsistent with international conventions and good neighborly relations, and we consider it as intervention and disregard for the sovereignty of the Kurdish and Iraqi territory…the bombings directly affect the infrastructure of the region of (Iraqi) Kurdistan.”

Now that Turkey has shot down Russian planes over northern Syria, Erdogan has given a green light for Russian and Iraqi jetfighters to shoot down Turkish planes over Iraq. As China and India are also contemplating joining the Russian coalition, this would complicate the situation in both Syria and Iraq considerably.

Turkey transforming NATO from a value-based to interest-based alliance?

Finally, as NATO member Turkey is transforming from a secular, democratic system to one of an increasingly Islamist and autocratic presidential system under Erdogan, it appears the alliance is also transforming from a value-based alliance of human right, democracy, and rule of law to one that is increasingly interest-based.

As Erdogan embarks on expanding Turkey’s sovereignty through Islamist proxies in the Eastern Mediterranean (e.g., via Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Gaza, Salafi Army of Conquest in Syria), continues occupation of EU member Cyprus, and violates EU member Greece’s territorial airspace and waters, his personal ambition is posing a risk for the NATO alliance.

In July 2015, a formation of Turkish fighter jets also violated Greek airspace a total of 20 times before being chased off by Greek aircraft. By antagonizing Cyprus, Greece, Egypt and Iraqi Kurdistan,Turkey is ironically the great unifier driving these countries to side with Russia in the Mediterranean.

Now that Turkey sabotaged French President Hollande’s plan to garner Russia-US cooperation in fighting ISIS by downing the Russian plane, the Russian coalition may seek to forge alternative cooperation with France, Germany and EU rather than US and Turkey, possibly joined by China given recent ISIS execution of the Chinese hostage.

And as Erdogan continues to goad NATO to stand in solidarity with Turkey and its territorial expansions in the Levant, it appears the world is now entering a dangerous new phase of an increasingly post-western and illiberal world order.

About the Author
Dr. Christina Lin is a US-based foreign policy analyst specializing in China-Mediterranean relations. She has extensive US government experience working on national security issues and was a CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) research consultant for Jane's Information Group.
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