Turkey’s Syria offensive enters 2nd month with slow progress

Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters are seen in the town of Salwah, less than 10 kilometres from the Syria-Turkey border on February 19, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 20 February 2018

Turkey’s Syria offensive enters 2nd month with slow progress

ANKARA: Turkey’s offensive against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria will enter a second month Tuesday having made little progress while straining relations with Washington and The European Union.
Ankara on January 20 launched a cross-border air and ground operation against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) supporting Syrian rebels in the Afrin region.
Turkey views the YPG as a Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly hailed the operation’s success, analysts argue Ankara’s forces have made slow progress.
The Turkish army has said 32 Turkish military personnel have been killed in the process.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, Syrian rebels and Turkish forces have taken 35 villages since the start of the operation, but most border Afrin.
Meanwhile, Turkish security expert Abdullah Agar said the “Olive Branch” operation forces captured around 300 square kilometers (120 square miles) of territory.
Since the operation began, the Observatory said 238 Olive Branch fighters (including Turkish soldiers) and 197 YPG fighters have been killed along with 94 civilians.
Ankara strongly denies that there have been civilian casualties, saying its armed forces are showing utmost care not to harm civilians.

Kurdish YPG forces

Jana Jabbour, professor of Political Science at Sciences Po university in Paris, said the Turks were “struggling to move forward” because of the “organization of the Kurdish YPG forces and their combativeness.”
She added it was important to distinguish between the political rhetoric, “even political propaganda,” and the reality on the ground.
On the ground, Turkish fighting was now focused around the area of Arab Wiran in northeast Afrin, the UK-based Observatory said.
If this is captured, pro-Ankara forces would control 50 continuous kilometers (31 miles) on Afrin’s northern border with Turkey.
The operation is likely to be further complicated after the Syrian state news agency SANA on Monday said pro-government forces were expected to enter Afrin to counter the Turkish offensive.
In response, Erdogan told Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone call there would be “consequences” if the regime entered the region, according to Turkish media.
Jabbour said she doubted the regime would move into Afrin because “behind the scenes Turkish forces and Syrian forces are talking to each other,” adding Russia would not allow the regime to enter direct confrontation with Turkey.
Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), blacklisted by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.


Turkish lawyers threaten boycott of Erdogan’s courts ceremony

Updated 18 August 2019

Turkish lawyers threaten boycott of Erdogan’s courts ceremony

  • The boycott protest would be a first by law associations against Recep Tayyip Erdogan
  • EU: Turkey’s judicial independence and the principle of separation of powers have been eroded since 2014

ISTANBUL: Dozens of Turkish bar associations are threatening to boycott President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s planned ceremony to open the judicial year at the presidential palace, saying it would be another violation of the judiciary’s independence.
The boycott protest would be a first by law associations against Erdogan, who has faced increasing criticism from Turkey’s Western allies and rights activists over media freedoms and interference in the courts.
The European Union says Turkey’s judicial independence and the principle of separation of powers have been eroded since 2014 and that judges and prosecutors have come under increasing political pressure.
At least 42 bar associations including those for Istanbul and the capital Ankara said they would not attend the event on September 2 because they believe the ceremony should take place at the Supreme Court building, not the presidential palace.
“These past years have seen judicial independence being seriously undermined... The judiciary is under pressure from the executive,” Mehmet Durakoglu, head of the Istanbul bar association, said on Sunday.
“Under these circumstances, we would expect the ceremony for the opening of the judicial year to take place at a venue that represents the separation of powers, rather than a political location.”
Erdogan’s supporters dismiss criticism he has undermined Turkish democracy, saying his government faces domestic threats especially since a failed 2016 coup against him.
For many of his more conservative backers, he has brought prosperity and defended Turkey’s interests in his decade and a half in power.
The opening ceremony for the new judicial year was first held at the presidential palace in 2016 after the failed coup.
Since then authorities have arrested tens of thousands of people for alleged ties to the coup plotters, in what rights groups say is an unprecedented crackdown.
Erdogan has dismissed criticism over the ceremony, describing the presidential palace on the outskirts of Ankara as “the place of the people.”
“The ceremony taking place in the place of the people would only strengthen judicial independence,” the Turkish leader has said.
But for attorneys, the boycott decision represents a “reaction against violation of freedom of expression, rule of law and judicial independence,” said Dogus Aygun, another lawyer from the Istanbul bar association.
Critics say Turkey’s courts have bowed to pressure, often making rulings that favor authorities since massive purges in the judiciary following a corruption scandal in 2013 and the 2016 coup bid.
Durakoglu said the bar associations would keep up with their campaign for more judicial independence in Turkey even “at the expense of paying a heavy price.”
“We have no fear nor hesitation,” he said. “We see no solution other than keep on fighting.”