Syria’s refugee flows, violence and instability have pushed us to the limit of our tolerance.
By Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of the Republic of Turkey
Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, no country has felt the pain of the ensuing humanitarian crisis more severely than Turkey. We took in 3.6 million Syrian refugees—more than any other country—and spent $40 billion to offer them education, health care and housing. Our culture of hospitality compelled us to shoulder the burden of hosting millions of war victims with very little help from the international community.
Yet at a certain point, Turkey reached its limit. My administration repeatedly warned that we would be unable to stop refugees from flooding into the West without international financial support. Those warnings fell on deaf ears as governments, eager to avoid responsibility, portrayed as a threat what was intended as a mere statement of fact.
My administration concluded that the international community wasn’t going to act, so we developed a plan for northern Syria. I shared the plan with world leaders at last month’s United Nations General Assembly. In line with that plan, Turkey last week launched Operation Peace Spring to end the humanitarian crisis and address the violence and instability that are the root causes of irregular migration in our region. Absent an alternative plan to deal with the refugee crisis, the international community should either join our efforts or begin admitting refugees.
As part of Operation Peace Spring, the Turkish military, together with the Syrian National Army, will remove all terrorist elements in northeastern Syria. These militants are preventing Syrian refugees, including some 300,000 Kurds, from returning home. Our mission is simultaneously to combat the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the terrorist organization known as the PKK, along with its Syrian affiliates and Islamic State. Turkey has no argument with any ethnic or religious group. From our perspective, all citizens of the Syrian Arab Republic—who don’t belong to terrorist groups—are equal. In particular, we object to equation of the PKK with the Syrian Kurds.
Likewise, Turkey opposes equation of ISIS, which has murdered thousands of innocent people, with Islam. We will ensure that no ISIS fighters leave northeastern Syria. We are prepared to cooperate with source countries and international organizations on the rehabilitation of foreign terrorist fighters’ spouses and children.
The same countries that lecture Turkey on the virtues of combating ISIS today, failed to stem the influx of foreign terrorist fighters in 2014 and 2015. Perhaps the government of a certain European country, which I won’t name, would like to explain to the world how one of its nationals could board a flight to Istanbul in 2014 with live ammunition in his checked luggage. Likewise, France has blocked weapons sales to Turkey, but why did it ignore our repeated early warnings about imminent terrorist attacks?
Members of the Arab League, which has described Turkey’s operation in northern Syria as an invasion, need to answer some questions. Since they are so unhappy with Turkey’s efforts to reunite Syrian refugees with their ancestral lands, how many war victims have they admitted? How much did they contribute to efforts to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria? Which political initiatives did they support to stop the civil war? The Arab League, whose statements don’t reflect the true views and sentiments of the Arab people, has no legitimacy.
The international community missed its opportunity to prevent the Syrian crisis from pulling an entire region into a maelstrom of instability. Many countries have had to deal with the conflict’s negative side effects, including irregular migration and an uptick in terrorist attacks. Operation Peace Spring represents a second chance to help Turkey end proxy wars in Syria and restore peace and stability to the region. The European Union—and the world—should support what Turkey is trying to do.