The conquest of Mount Bursayah and of the nearby village of Qastal, near Azaz in the eastern part of Afrin, represents the first strategic success in the Turkish campaign in the Kurdish Afrin region, more than a week after the start of the offensive. Small advances have also been registered in the western part of the region, with the capture of the village of Ushagi, while the rest of the area is being strongly defended by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The number of casualties is the object of a fierce dispute in the media. Turkish military sources claim to have killed more than 600 militants from the ranks of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and SDF, while the Kurdish militias claim to have killed 350 fighters from the coalition between the Turkish army and the rebel groups that have been joined together under the name of the “Free Syrian Army” (T-FSA) under the guidance of Ankara.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has estimated no more than 60 dead on each side. In addition, according to estimates by the Airwars organization, which has been meticulously collating reports of the events, there have been around 55-60 deaths among civilians since the start of the fighting.
In recent days, the first suicide attack since the outbreak of hostilities took place. A Kurdish female fighter, known as Avesta Khabur, blew herself up in the Jandaris area in an attack against a column of soldiers and a tank belonging to the T-FSA.
While the Russia-backed negotiations to find a solution to the conflict, likely to favor the central government in Damascus, have begun in Sochi, Ankara needs to face the consequences of the US refusal to abandon the Manbij region, something that the Turkish government had been calling for in the past days through its most senior members. Commander Joseph Votel of the US CENTCOM unit deployed in the region told CNN there is no plan for any withdrawal.
If Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan follows through on the threats that he has been making repeatedly over the recent days to invade the Manbij region, he will have to find a way to get rid of the US presence in the area, at the risk of a military confrontation between two of the most prominent NATO members.
The reverberations of this war, which the Speaker for the Turkish Grand National Assembly Ismail Kahraman did not hesitate to call a “jihad,” are being felt throughout Turkey. The Interior Ministry has released a statement indicating that 331 have been detained for “terrorist propaganda via the Internet” for posts in support of the defenders of Afrin or critical of the war.
At least 15 people have been officially arrested. Those targeted include many regional and provincial members of the Kurdish HDP party, but also many students and retirees. Nine members of the party, including its co-leader Figen Yüksekdağ, have announced the start of a hunger strike to protest the military operations in Afrin.
Even the Turkish Medical Association has come into the crosshairs of the Turkish government. In a press statement, they called the ongoing war “the result of human decisions causing harm to nature and human beings and threatening public life.” The statement continues: “Every conflict, every war brings a huge humanitarian tragedy with it by causing irreparable physical, psychological, social and environmental damage. As members of a profession that vows to preserve human life, we keep in mind that advocating for life and looking out for peace is our primary duty. The only way to deal with war is to support a fair, democratic, equalitarian, independent and peaceful life. No to war, peace right now!”
Erdogan attacked the organization in harsh terms: “A section of the so-called Turkish Medical Association, which is disturbed by this, wants to run a campaign in protest of war. We haven’t heard these terrorist lovers saying yes to peace until now.”
The president’s words were followed by immediate legal action: the Ankara prosecutor’s office opened an investigation and launched legal proceedings against 11 members of the association, and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu announced he will press charges.
The Chair of the Istanbul Chamber of Medicine, Selcuk Erez, intervened on behalf of the association in an interview given to the Turkish news portal Bianet: “Wishing that the children of our country and neighbours don’t die is a patriotic, humanitarian attitude.” He added that “we as doctors always prefer peace over war,” and that “this attitude cannot be interpreted as terrorist-loving.”