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Turkey escalating Syria conflict

Chase WinterFebruary 18, 2016

The leader of the main Syrian Kurdish party has told DW that Turkish accusations his group was behind the bombing in Ankara are fabricated. He warned of a dangerous Turkish escalation in Syria.

Kurden und die Syrien-Krise
Image: DW/Karlos Zurutuza

Turkey's accusations that the PYD was behind the bombing targeting the Turkish military in the heart of Ankara are made up, the leader of the main Syrian Kurdish group Salih Muslim (pictured) told DW, warning that Turkey was trying to escalate the situation in Syria.

"We completely deny these accusations because we have nothing to do with Turkey's internal affairs," Salih Muslim told DW. "We think it is fabricated by the Turkish side."

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Thursday accused the PYD and its armed wing, the YPG, of carrying out the Ankara bombing that killed 28 people and wounded dozens.

"It has been determined with certainty that this attack was carried out by members of the separatist terror organization, together with a member of the YPG who infiltrated from Syria," Davutoglu said, referring to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Davutoglu also accused foreign backers and the Assad regime of complicity.

Syrien YPG Volksverteidigungseinheiten Koalition Kurden
The car bomb targeted the mlitary in the center of Ankara.Image: Reuters/Ihlas News Agency

The PYD/YPG is the Syrian wing of the PKK, which has waged a three-decade long struggle for Kurdish rights and autonomy in Turkey.

Turkish authorities have arrested nine people in connection with the bombing and identified the bomber as a Syrian man named Sahih Neccar.

Salih Muslim told DW that the PYD had no knowledge of the name.

Cemil Bayik, the head of the PKK, told Firat News Agency, which is tied to the Kurdish group, that the PKK did not know who carried out the attack "but it could have been in retaliation for the massacres committed (by the Turkish state) against Kurdistan."

The PKK has been battling it out with Turkish security forces in several Kurdish towns in southeastern Turkey in a dangerous escalation of fighting following the breakdown of peace talks last summer.

The PKK has vowed to punish the Turkish state for the destruction of several towns and the death of civilians, while Turkey has vowed to root out every last terrorist.

Türkei Zerstörte Straßen in Cizre
Clashes between Turkish security forces and the PKK have made cities like Cizre resemble war-torn Syria.Image: picture alliance/abaca

Turkish security perceptions and the Kurds

The Ankara bombing comes as Turkey steps up its rhetoric and military actions against the YPG.

Complicating things is that the PYD/YPG is supported by the US, which views the Syrian Kurdish fighters as some of the best forces against IS. The US recognizes the PKK as a terrorist organization but not the PYD/YPG.

Turkey has told Washington that it should choose between Turkey and the PYD. Ankara's assertion that the PYD carried out its first attack on a NATO ally will complicate the US-PYD-Turkey triangle.

Infografik Syrienkrieg 16. Februar 2016 Englisch
The Syrian Democratic Forces are dominated by the YPG but include Arab, Turkmen and Christian forces.Image: Getty Images/AFP/D. Souleiman

Turkey has looked on with concern as the Kurds have carved out autonomous regions and expanded territory following the strategic withdrawal of Assad's forces from Kurdish areas in 2012.

In Turkish security perceptions, there is no difference between the Kurdish populated southeastern Turkey and Kurdish areas of northern Syria - they are the cultural, social and geopolitical extension of each other.

"Turkey wants to do everything to prevent any Kurdish side from having any democratic rights in Syria in the future," Muslim told DW. "We believe the politics followed by Turkey are very dangerous for all the area, for Turkey, and all the Middle East."

Türkei Anschlag in Ankara brennender Bus

Alarm bells and escalation in Syria

YPG fighters and allied Free Syrian Army groups collectively fighting under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have taken advantage of a Syrian regime offensive in Aleppo backed by Russian airstrikes over the past week to strike out from Afrin, one of three cantons set up by the Syrian Kurds.

The YPG's ultimate objective is to unite the cantons of Afrin and Kobane, creating a contiguous Kurdish entity along the border with Turkey.

The Syrian and Russian offensive combined with the YPG advances have devastated the Turkey-backed rebel ranks in the northern Aleppo countryside, cutting off a key rebel supply route to Aleppo.

Turkey has responded to the Kurdish drive by lobbing artillery across the border. Ankara is mulling sending in ground troops and again pushing for a safe haven zone in Syria.

While these military proposals are ostensibly to go after IS and protect refugees, Turkey's real motive is to check the Kurds. Importantly, the Turkish military itself has reportedly been the biggest check on the government's desire to enter the Syrian quagmire.

Any intervention is complicated by Russia's air power in the Syrian skies and the falling out between Ankara and Moscow. Russia and the PYD have a tactical and political relationship.

Turkey has also transported hundreds of rebels from Idlib province through Turkey to northern Aleppo in a bid to halt Syrian Kurdish gains. Turkey has vowed not to let the Kurds capture the key political and logistic hub of Azaz.

Salih Muslim told DW that the Syrian Kurds are only acting in self-defense against Islamist rebels and "depending on the ground situation" would take Azaz, pointing out that the city is part of Syria and none of Turkey's business.

"They are trying to escalate, for one week they have been shelling, it's a type of escalation," Muslim said.

Syrian Kurdish fighters in Afrin and various Turkish-backed Islamist groups in northern Aleppo have been fighting off-and-on for the past three years.