In the Middle East and in Turkey in particular, the Kurdish issue has been a longstanding source of conflict and instability. Turkey has deliberately pursued policies against the Kurds for decades, jeopardizing the security and stability of predominantly Kurdish regions even beyond its borders, including Syria. This has profound implications for human rights in these three countries.
Turkey’s Anti-Kurdish Approach and Its Consequences
While Turkey’s approach to the Kurds has been a contentious issue over the decades, it took a turn for the worse after the collapse of the Turkish-Kurdish peace process in 2015. During this time, civil war was raging in Syria. Turkey exploited the situation to expand its systematic targeting of Kurds beyond its borders. Turkey began military interventions in northern Syria, primarily targeting Kurdish-majority border areas. In 2016, Operation Euphrates Shield targeted parts of northern Aleppo, followed by the invasion of Afrin in 2018 with Operation Olive Branch. In 2019, Turkey invaded the cities of Serê Kaniyê and Tel Abyad in Operation Peace Spring. These operations, claimed by Turkey to be counter-terrorism efforts, resulted in the forced displacement of nearly 700,000 people and caused the deaths and injuries of hundreds of civilians. Moreover, they added a new layer of complexity to the Syrian conflict, exacerbating the insecurity and instability that these regions were already experiencing prior to the invasions—despite the defeat of ISIS in its last stronghold in Baghuz, Deir ez-Zor.
Despite a ceasefire agreement reached with Washington October 17, 2019 and a Russian-Turkish agreement on October 22, Turkey did not cease its cross-border violations after assuming control of Serê Kaniyê and Tal Abyad . Following these agreements, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) withdrew from the border areas.Turkey then carried out a campaign of drone strikes and heavy weapons shelling from its territory into areas of northern Syria. This escalated significantly in 2022, when Turkey expressed its desire for a new invasion of self-administered areas in northeastern Syria and further territorial expansion—which was met with international opposition.
According to the Monitoring and Documentation Department at North Press Agency, there were 90 drone strikes recorded in 2022 that targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure. Additionally, in early 2023, Turkey targeted 350 locations, resulting in the deaths and injuries of 74 individuals, including 10 women and 11 children. 58 of these attacks were drone strikes. Furthermore, Turkey also targeted areas in Iraqi Kurdistan, causing casualties among civilians.
These policies pursued by Turkey against the Kurds have had significant ramifications for peace and stability in the region. The ongoing conflict and human rights violations perpetrated by Turkey have not only resulted in loss of life but have also had far-reaching effects on the economic landscape and relationships between neighboring countries, fostering animosity and eroding trust among communities. This, in turn, makes it challenging to envision a peaceful future.
How Peace Can Be Achieved
The prospect of peace seems unlikely due to the lack of meaningful international efforts to address the issue and Turkey’s ongoing military conflicts against the Kurds on its own soil and in neighboring countries. That said, there are steps that international actors, like the European Union and the United States, can take to play a constructive role in achieving peace, supporting stability in affected regions, and ensuring justice for human rights violations and Turkey’s policy of repression.
Peace can be possible through negotiations and peace talks involving all parties engaged in local and regional conflicts. Human rights, which Turkey has ignored, must be at the forefront of these discussions. The international community should exert more pressure on conflicting parties to promote peace and equity. Additionally, international actors should contribute to sustainable development in affected areas to improve living conditions. They should also coordinate with regional and international powers engaged in this issue, supporting the political and economic transition process. Civil society and non-governmental organizations must also be active participants in all peace-building efforts and decision-making processes.