Statement by Turkey on “The Situation in the Middle East” at the Security Council

Feridun H. Sinirlioğlu 24.10.2019
Mr. President,
In the last two weeks, the developments in the northeast Syria have been a subject of lengthy discussions.
Different views have been expressed, which is fine, because we are all entitled to our own views.
But we are not entitled to our own facts.
So, I see this meeting as a platform to set the record straight about the “Operation Peace Spring” and the ensuing developments.
Ladies and gentlemen,
“Operation Peace Spring” was a limited cross-border counter terrorism operation to fight against terror organizations, such as PKK/PYD/YPG and DEASH. I flatly reject and strongly condemn any misrepresentation of our counterterrorism operation as an offensive or aggression.
We all very well know, condemn and fight DEASH which is responsible for despicable and inhumane violence and terrorism.
Turkey has been at the forefront in the fight against DEASH.
As an active member of the Global Coalition against DEASH since its inception, Turkey fought against DEASH in Syria more than any other country and paid the heaviest price. Turkey is the only country that engaged in chest-to-chest combat against DEASH in Syria.
No one can lecture us on the importance of the fight against DEASH.
Mr. President,
There is, however, a deliberate effort to conceal or forget the realities about PKK/YPG.
So let me remind a few facts about this group.
As widely recognized, PYD/YPG is the “Syrian militia of PKK”, as put by the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community published in 2018. This fact has been recently recognized by the President of the United States as well.
And PKK, as we must all know by now, is designated as a terrorist group by the EU, NATO and the US.
However, some member states provided heavy weapons, ammunition and training to PKK/YPG assuming that it is acceptable to use a terrorist organization against another terrorist organization, namely in this case PKK/YPG against DEASH.
Not to our surprise, these weapons have been used to target Turkey and the civilians in Syria. We warned those countries over and over again, but to no avail.
Perhaps, a few Turkish and Syrian civilian souls were seen as “acceptable collaterals” in the fight against DEASH.
Yet, PKK/PYD/YPG did not stop there.
They released DEASH terrorists so that they conduct terror acts in Turkey or northwest Syria.
As reported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, PKK/PYD/YPG has changed the demography of the region by expelling local Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen people from their own land.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrian Kurds have fled their homes for safety in Turkey and northern Iraq as a result of the oppression by PKK/YPG.
Those who opposed to the extremist ideology of PKK/YPG have gone missing or killed.
In a very short time, the area controlled by PKK/YPG became a testing ground for a new, totalitarian terror-state.
So, the idea of supporting one terror organization to eliminate the other failed, once again.
Perhaps this was why the UN member states had initially committed themselves to prevent and combat terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations.
Dear colleagues,
From the very first day, the objectives of the Operation Peace Spring have been clear:
- To eliminate the long-standing existential terror threat along our border with Syria,
- To enforce Syria’s territorial integrity and unity,
- To protect the local population and create an environment conducive to the voluntary, safe and dignified return of Syrians to their homes.
The operation was conducted in full respect of international law and in accordance with international humanitarian law.
It only targeted terrorists and their hideouts, weapons and vehicles.
We took all necessary measures to prevent any harm to civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure.
These are some of the reasons why the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, the National Coalition, the Interim Government, tribal leaders and representatives of minorities, including the Christian communities supported the operation.
Distinguished colleagues,
On the 17th of October, we agreed with the US on future joint steps to address the legitimate security concerns of Turkey.
These included enforcement of a safe zone by the Turkish Armed Forces, withdrawal of YPG and re-collection of their heavy weaponry.
On the night of October 22, at 22.00 local time, the US side confirmed that withdrawal of YPG from the safe zone was completed.
Turkey, in response, declared that there was no further need to conduct a new operation outside the present Operation Peace Spring area.
In the meantime, on the same day, President Erdoğan and President Putin agreed on a Memorandum of Understanding.
Accordingly, the established status quo in the current Operation Peace Spring area with a depth of 32 km will be preserved.
Russian military police and Syrian border guards will facilitate the removal of YPG elements and their weapons to the depth of 30 km from our border, outside the Operation Peace Spring area.
Following the removal of YPG, we will have joint Russian-Turkish patrols in the west and the east of the Operation Peace Spring area with a depth of 10 km from our border, except Qamishli city.
All PKK/YPG elements and their weapons will also be removed from Manbij and Tal Rifat.
A joint monitoring and verification mechanism will be established to oversee and coordinate the implementation of the memorandum.
Mr. President,
Following the successful conclusion of these diplomatic efforts, Turkey decided to halt Operation Peace Spring on October 22.
We would like to thank both our American and Russian friends for acknowledging our legitimate security concerns and accepting to work with us against PKK/PYD/YPG.
Our common efforts have prevented the establishment of a terror-state in northern Syria.
This may not be good news for some, but it is a very important step for the political process towards re-establishing peace and security in Syria.
Now, there are a number of issues that we must all focus on.
One of them is the future of detained DEASH terrorists.
We have already announced that we will take over the custody of DEASH elements and their family members held in detention facilities and camps in the present Operation Peace Spring area.
We are ready to work with the countries of origin and international organizations for the rehabilitation of spouses and children who have not been involved in crimes.
But we all know that the only sustainable solution remains the repatriation of all foreign terrorist fighters and their families by their countries of origin.
It is time to have a frank discussion about this.
Stripping people of their nationalities and dumping them is not the way to fight against terror. It is the way to wash your hands off.
The second issue that I would like to raise is the importance of ensuring the flow of humanitarian assistance in coordination with the UN.
First cross-border humanitarian assistance convoy from Turkey reached Tel Abyad on October 15.
There is now a continuous flow of humanitarian assistance items and services, including food, sanitation, shelter and healthcare.
We will increase humanitarian operations in light of the needs on the ground.
We will continue to cooperate with the UN and other humanitarian organizations in addressing the humanitarian needs.
An office dedicated to coordinate cross-border assistance into the region is already established in Akçakale on the Turkish side of the border.
Following USG Lowcock’s visit to border provinces two weeks ago, we established a direct communication channel on humanitarian issues between the UN and the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
The first outcome has been the reparation of Allouk Water Treatment System servicing over 400.000 people.
The de-confliction mechanism, already in place with OCHA in order to protect civilian infrastructure and humanitarian personnel in the northwest Syria, has also been expanded to cover the northeast.
So far, UN OCHA has shared with the Turkish authorities the coordinates of 425 civilian locations and convoys.
Any report of damage to the civilian infrastructure receives due attention by our authorities.
Thirdly, we must also focus on how to help the displaced people.
Following the previous two operations in Syria, more than 365.000 people returned voluntarily to their homes and lands.
We will pursue the same model in the northeast Syria.
We will make every effort to make sure that those who choose to return to their homeland fully enjoy their basic rights.
And I repeat, all returns will be voluntary, safe and dignified, in close cooperation with UNHCR.
I must also underline that we are surprised by the statements of some European states on the idea of a safe zone.
Those countries, who closed their borders with barbed wire fences against the flow of refugees, were willing to create a “refugee camp” outside their borders.
And yes, we are still waiting for them to honor their obligations arising from the 2016 Turkey-EU refugee agreement.
Mr. President,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me put one thing on record: Turkey reserves its right of self-defense against terrorist elements that may have remained in the Operation Peace Spring area. And, our counterterrorism fight will always be in accordance with international law, including international humanitarian law.
Here, I would like to underline that I agree with some of the previous speakers that any military operation, including counterterrorism operation should be conducted in line with international law as well as with international humanitarian law. This is a point that has been emphasized by the Secretary-General many times. And any violation of humanitarian law should be investigated and perpetrators should be held accountable. Of course, it is true for every operation conducted by any country, including our American and other friends. And we should keep in mind that it is true for operations not only in Syria but everywhere.
As President Erdoğan emphasized on multiple occasions, Turkey cannot and will not tolerate any terrorist activity at its borders.
Terror organizations may take different names or forms. They may adopt different strategies.
But our vigilance in the face of terror will remain the same.
Our commitment will never be shaken for a moment.
And we expect the same from the international community.
And it is time for everyone to recover from the self-imposed amnesia about PKK/PYD/YPG.
PKK/PYD/YPG does not represent Kurds in Syria, Iraq, Iran or Turkey.
This is a terrorist organization with a separatist agenda in Syria. We will never allow this.
Mr. President,
Turkey has never had second thoughts about the future of our southern neighbor.
We have always supported a UN sponsored, Syrian-led/Syrian-owned political solution in line with Security Council resolution 2254.
We have also agreed on with our American and Russian friends and emphasized together the work ahead in the context of the political process that will be revived in Geneva on October 29.
We must all work for the success of this process. On our part, we will do so in full and close cooperation with the UN.
This is why Turkey was among the few countries who made the formation of the Constitutional Committee possible.
And we have always defended the transformation of Syria into a democratic, secular and stable country with secure borders and a strong economy.
When our Syrian brothers and sisters needed a shelter, Turkish people never hesitated to open their doors and their hearths. Today, 4 million Syrians are living in Turkey, including 350.000 Syrian Kurds.
In some countries, even the idea of hosting Syrians was met with hatred and unveiled all forms of xenophobia and racism.
In Turkey, on the other hand, we have shared our schools and our hospitals.
We have shared our present and we are ready to share our future.
And we will never accept outrageous allegations that unfairly target Turkey and Turkish people. Today, unfortunately shame is in retreat and double standard is on the rise in some parts of the world.
These are the facts and the real background of the recent developments.
Mr. President,
With reference to the previous speaker, namely the representative of the Syrian regime, I will not honor his delusional accusations with a response since I do not consider him as my legitimate counterpart. A regime that massacred and tortured the Syrian people for over 8 years lost its legitimacy long ago and should not have the right to sit behind the Syria nameplate in this Chamber. His mere presence is an assault to the millions of Syrians who suffered countless crimes at the hands of this regime.
Mr. President,
The facts about Syria speak for themselves and the entire world knows who is lying.
Thank you very much.