Manbij, East of Euphrates and the source of the problem
If there is going to be a winner in the escalating tensions in Manbij and East of Euphrates, this is not going to be Turkey – will be Russia and Iran.
For some time, the government-controlled media have been broadcasting programmes aimed at escalating the tensions surrounding Manbij and the East of Euphrates.
They are trying to create a perception of risk to Turkey based on news of trenches being dug in Manbij city centre. Even though Turkish and American soldiers are patrolling the border as a result of the June agreement. In the city centre, there are Arabs that are linked mainly to the Syrian Democratic Forces. Moreover, how can trenches dug in a city inside Syria pose a threat to Turkey? It is not possible for the powers in Manbij to plan an attack on other countries by digging trenches in their own cities. On the contrary, if trenches are being dug in a city this means that they are in response to a possible external threat.
So, despite there being no hint of an attack aimed at Turkey, why are they trying to escalate tensions on Manbij and the East of Euphrates?
To answer this question, it is necessary to remember the politics behind the plan to present the East of Euphrates as a threat to Turkey.
In January 2013, when the “solution process” had barely reached a year, the AKP – Erdogan Government’s Deputy Prime Minister, Yalcin Akdogan wrote in the Star newspaper, “the Democratic Union Party (PYD) expectation of gaining status using the chaos in Syria as an opportunity, is creating a dissatisfaction and impertinence towards Turkey’s democratic reforms”. Even back then Yalcin Akdogan admits that if Kurds gain status in Syria, it will be impossible for the AKP government to impose its own solution on Kurds within Turkey, and labels this as “dissatisfaction and impertinence”. Thereafter, it is well known that a lot of hope was tied to the destruction of the Kurdish cantons in Syria but when ISIS’ failed in their siege of Kobane, President Erdogan announced that “there is no [negotiating] table” and thus brought the ‘solution process’ to a close.
The real reason for painting East of Euphrates as a threat to Turkey is not because there is the possibility of an attack. On the contrary, if Kurds gain status there [in Syria], Erdogan’s domestic approach to the Kurdish question will become unsustainable. In other words, the source of the problem is not East of the Euphrates, it is the [Turkish] government’s domestic politics.
After this reminder, if we move onto why tensions are being escalated in relation to Manbij and East of Euphrates, we see that in the backdrop to this political tension there is a disagreement between Russia and the USA in relation to Syria. When discussions were taking place to persuade Turkey to purge jihadis in Idlib, both the Iranian President Rouhani and the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov announced that “the actual threat is the USA’s presence in the East of Euphrates”. The real purpose of these announcements was to re-ignite the Erdogan government’s appetite for intervention in the East of Euphrates, and they did not necessarily fail at this.
There remains another question to be answered: Why do these countries want to ignite the Turkish government's appetite for intervention in the East of Euphrates?
Because after the purge of the jihadis in Idlib, there remains one key blockage to determining Syria’s future. And that is the East of Euphrates area which is governed by the Democratic Syrian Forces and the USA’s presence there. Russia and Iran know that the Kurdish question is Turkey’s weak spot, and because of this, they want to use Turkey as a means of pressure over the East of Euphrates. This way they can bring two NATO countries, Turkey and the USA, head to head; spoil any plans the USA may have for remaining in Syria and put pressure on the Syrian Kurds to accept any solution by the Assad regime.
And so, if there is going to be a winner in the escalating tensions in Manbij and East of Euphrates, this is not going to be Turkey – it will be Russia and Iran which is using Turkey’s sensitivities on the Kurdish questions to further their own interests. In that case, there remains only one way to stop Turkey from getting more embroiled in the regional war and tensions, and prevent new threats: [Turkey] must return to the source of the problem, it must return to the Kurdish question, reopen democratic channels and end its interventions in the region in favour of pursuing a peaceful politics.
Translated by: Çınar Altun