Civilians are moving from one place to another in Afrin on Thursday, preparing for a possible Turkish siege. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdistan Region cannot send armed reinforcements to Afrin to support Kurdish forces defending the canton against Turkish troops and their Syrian proxies, a prominent PUK leader said on Wednesday.
Saying that the matter is “related to the politics of the region,” Mala Bakhtiar, head of the executive body of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), explained that it is not possible to repeat what happened when Kurds united to defend Kobane from ISIS.
After receiving approval from Turkey to use its land, the Kurdistan Region sent Peshmerga forces to Kobane, Rojava in October 2014 to assist the Syrian Kurdish YPG forces battling ISIS.
Speaking at a press conference in Sulaimani on Thursday with Shahoz Hassan, co-chair of the ruling Rojava party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Bakhtiar said that all three of the federal governments involved would reject it.
Turkey would not permit Kurdish reinforcements to pass through its territory, Bakhtiar argued, adding that Syria would also reject the move as “it is still a sovereign country,” and Iraq would also not support it.
In addition, Rojava authorities have not requested the support, “So long as they do not ask, the KRG cannot voluntarily make any decision on this matter,” Bakhtiar explained.
The senior PUK leader noted that the military capabilities of the YPG have grown significantly since the battle for Kobane. The YPG is a key ally of the United States in the war against ISIS and has received training and support from the Americans and the coalition.
“The peoples of Afrin and Rojava have been brave enough, and their capabilities are higher in terms of the technology of warfare, compared to the time of Kobane,” Bakhtiar said. “They have so far fortunately, been able to stand against [Turkey] and make a great triumph without even asking for anything from us.”
Bakhtiar also demanded that Russia and the US, as two main players in the region, “take the PYD to peace talks such as Geneva and Astana.”
The PYD’s Hassan said Turkey is using the ideology of al-Qaida, the Nusra Front, and ISIS in its attack on Afrin.
He reiterated his call for a clearer stance
from the KRG regarding the attack on Afrin because “the resistance being put up in Afrin is that of all Kurdistan people.”
He warned that Turkey poses a threat not only to the northern Syrian cities of Afrin, Manbij, and Qamishli, but also the Kurdistan Region.
Turkey’s main aim is to abort developments Kurds seek in the region, he said, noting that the PYD has taken a democratic and peaceful approach to gaining their rights in Syria.
“The attack on us is very tough, but our resistance is giant,” said Hassan.
30,000 civilians displaced
Turkish forces and their Syrian allies have nearly fully encircled Afrin city, the largest urban centre in the Kurdish enclave. On Wednesday, they began heavily bombarding the city, causing mass displacement.
"More than 30,000 people were displaced since yesterday as a result of Turkish bombardment against the city," the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday.
The people have fled to the outskirts of the city and villages under regime control, north of Aleppo, some of them traveling long distances on foot.
Food supplies are running low for the population that remains in the city, with long lines to buy bread.
Civilians queue for bread in Afrin on Thursday. Photo: Ahmad Shafie Bilal/AFP
Turkey considers the YPG and PYD branches of the banned PKK and has framed its military offensive on Afrin as a counter-terror operation.
The Kurdish groups deny the charge.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday brushed off calls from the European Parliament to withdraw from Afrin.
“We will not get out of there until our work is done,” he said in Ankara, state-run Anadolu Agency reported. “The European Parliament cannot say a word to Turkey.”
The European Parliament, in a non-binding motion, called on Turkey to withdraw its forces from Afrin and stressed the need for all parties to remain focused on the war against ISIS.
Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik called the European Parliament’s motion a “shocking” and “ignorant decision,” Anadolu reported.
The Observatory slammed the lack of global attention to the “humanitarian catastrophe” in Afrin where it has documented the deaths of 227 civilians since the operation began on January 20.
Water, electricity, and communication services have been interrupted for 10 consecutive days, the Observatory stated. This, combined with flour and fuel shortages, has led to a “bread crisis.”