A report by the BBC on Tuesday disproved a widely held Turkish claim voiced by the highest echelons of power in Ankara that there were over 700 attacks on Turkey from the Afrin province of northwestern Syria in 2017, an allegation that constituted one of the primary justifications for a Turkish military campaign targeting Afrin and its 360 villages.
Turkish airstrikes and ground shelling during the past two months have killed over 250 civilians, wounded over 500 and displaced hundreds of thousands, leading to a Kurdish exodus from the region. Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has vowed to give Afrin back “to its rightful owners.”
The study conducted by the BBC’s Reality Check found that the number of incidents publicly reported in that area and period, checked against multiple sources, appeared to be far lower than 700. Twenty-six attacks from Syria were recorded, only 15 of them from Afrin, according to the study.
“Over the last year alone, more than 700 attacks have been launched from the Afrin area under Democratic Union Party/People’s Protection Units (PYD/YPG) control against Turkish cities. Turkey has had enough and decided to act,” İbrahim Kalın, a spokesperson for Erdoğan, wrote for CNN shortly after the Turkish military assault was launched on the Kurdish enclave. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ joined presidential releases pushing the claim in statements in January. A newly appointed Turkish consul general in Arbil gave the same figure in an interview with Kurdistan24.
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs told BBC that it defined the 700 incidents as “harassment fire,” which included “anything that does not directly target Turkey but is felt as a side-effect of an ongoing incident or clashes in Syria.”
Turkey and its Free Syrian Army (FSA) proxies captured Afrin town center over the weekend after two months of fighting against US-armed Kurdish forces. Once in the town center, they raised the Turkish flag, although Erdoğan has repeatedly said the Turkish government was not seeking to occupy “others’ lands” while at the same time recalling the territorial vastness of the Ottoman Empire and threatening to capture all other Kurdish cities despite a potential confrontation with the US.