Turkish government’s war against the critics of the military campaign targeting Kurdish armed groups in Syria’s Afrin province goes on in the ‘domestic front’ as more than 150 people were detained, 11 of them jailed across Turkey.
According to pro-government mouthpiece Star daily newspaper, over 150 people have been detained across Turkey so far for social media posts related to the Turkish military operation in northern Syria. The newspaper has reported that 11 people have been arrested and sent to jail by Turkish courts.
On Sunday, 13 people, who are among the people who had gathered in İstanbul’s Kadıköy district after organised via social media, were detained. A local court in Kadıköy remanded 11 suspects, while two others were released under judicial control. It was reported that the main charge against the suspects has been making propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Syrian Kurdish sister-party the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
While 11 more people were detained on Wednesday over the same charges across Turkey, prominent journalist and writer Nurcan Baysal, who was detained on Monday for criticising Turkey’s Afrin incursion on social media, was released on bail on Wednesday. The same court has banned Baysal from leaving the country. Meral Danış Beştaş, a deputy of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) announced Baysal’s release on Twitter. Turkish government has detained at least 6 journalists since the beginning of the military operation in northern Syria over their social media posts.
Also on Wednesday, Turkish Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) blocked all access inside the country to pro-Kurdish Jinnews website. Turkish authorities said that the website was blocked for reporting about Turkish intelligence agency’s involvement in the murder of three Kurdish women in 2012. People who visited Jinnews website has seen the message of “according to the decision by BTK on 23.01.2018 with 490.05.01.2018.-30195 reference an administrative measure has been taken for this website.”
Meanwhile, the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has denounced Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım telling journalists to “take account of national interests when quoting international news sources critical of Turkey.” Condemning the “patriotic journalism” directives and detention of dissident journalists, the RSF said, “This censorship has accompanied the Turkish government’s military offensive against Kurdish fighters in northwestern Syria’s Afrin region”.
Reminding of PM Yıldırım’s meeting on January 21, concerning 15 “recommendations” the PM voiced, the RSF said, “the aim of the directives is to put the Turkish media at the service of the government and its war goals.”
In a written press statement, RSF Eastern Europe and Central Asia Chair Johann Bihr said that “The new flood of propaganda, the increase in the witch hunt against critics and the almost complete absence of any debate about this military offensive all highlight the degree to which pluralism has collapsed in Turkey… Not content with its stranglehold on the media landscape, the government is now trying to assert complete control over everything that the media report, at the risk of undermining public trust and fueling tension.”
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has stated over the detentions that the Turkish government’s intolerance of criticism knows few bounds. HRW’s Turkey Director Emma Sinclair-Webb stated on Tuesday that “Police prevented an attempted street demonstration in at least one district of Istanbul, and the move against people who took to Twitter shows that Turkey’s government is determined to censor critical voices.”
Sinclair-Webb has gone on that “Prosecutors in Turkey have repeatedly misused articles of the law such as, ‘spreading terrorist propaganda,’ and ‘inciting hatred and enmity among the population,’ to silence journalists, government critics, and activists. So far, three members of parliament from the pro-Kurdish opposition are also under investigation for their tweets criticizing the military operation. The İstanbul chief public prosecutor’s office has stated that investigation into social media posts and the crackdown on street demonstrations will continue.”
“Turkey’s silencing of voices who speak out against war is in violation of its own laws and obligations under international human rights law,” wrote HRW’s Sinclair-Webb.
TURKISH MILITARY: “287 TERRORISTS NEUTRALISED SO FAR IN SYRIA”
At least 287 PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG and ISIL terrorists have been neutralized since the beginning of the Operation Olive Branch in Syria, Turkish General Staff said Wednesday. Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply that the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.
In a statement, the military said Turkish Armed Forces had carried out airstrikes on the shelters, positions, arms and equipment of the terrorists between 9 a.m. and 1:51 p.m. on Wednesday. Forty-seven terrorist targets were destroyed in total, the statement added.
However, according to a report by pro-PKK Fırat news agency (ANF), Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is an umbrella organisation for Kurdish armed groups in Syria, has claimed on Wednesday that 203 members of Free Syria Army (FSA) and Turkish military have been killed and 5 military vehicles have been destroyed so far.
SDF has also claimed that the Turkish government had falsely claimed that ISIL is present in the Afrin region of northwestern Syria, accusing it trying to mislead global public opinion. “The whole world knows ISIL is not present in Afrin,” Redur Xelil, a senior SDF official, told Reuters. Xelil has also claimed the Turkish military was greatly exaggerating the number of SDF and YPG casualties. He confirmed YPG and SDF fighters had been killed, but declined to say how many. He claimed the SDF had killed tens of Turkish forces and allied Free Syrian Army fighters, but said he did not have a precise figure.
Afrin Canton Health Council Co-President Ancila Reşo has also announced on Wednesday that 35 people have lost their lives as a result of the Turkish military campaign together with FSA militants while the number of those taken under treatment at healthcare centers has risen to 106. Reşo has also called on international institutions and human rights organizations to send medicine for the injured people, and to say stop to the savage attacks targeting Afrin.
According to the report by ANF, an employee at Avrin Hospital remarked that most of those hospitalized with injuries are women, children and elderly, noting that many of these are in critical conditions. The employee added that medical teams are doing their best to treat the wounded in a manner of mobilization amid restricted means.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that total casualties after five days of clashes in Afrin have risen to about 125. The toll includes at least 30 civilians, two killed by SDF shelling and 28 killed by Turkish artillery and shelling, the Observatory stated. It estimated that at least 42 YPG militants had been killed and on the Turkish side at least 48 Syrian militias allied with Turkey, as well as casualties within the Turkish army. The two sides each claim to have inflicted much greater casualties on the other. Northeastern and western areas of Afrin are under intense bombardment on Wednesday, according to the Observatory, which noted that Turkish planes are a near constant presence in the skies over the Kurdish canton.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, two rockets fired from YPG-held Afrin in Syria struck the Turkish border town of Kilis, leaving 2 dead and 13 injured, the local governor said. “The rocket fired from Syria hit Çalık mosque during prayers. Some of the victims have life-threatening injuries,” the Province Governor Mehmet Tekinarslan said.
The mosque which was hit by the terrorists is located approximately six kilometers far from the Syrian border. Turkish media footage showed security forces clearing the areas of civilians following the attacks, as ambulances and emergency teams arrived at the site.
ERDOĞAN CLAIMS TURKISH GOV’T SEEKS JUSTICE, NOT LAND IN SYRIA
Meanwhile, Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has defended on Wednesday that Turkey wants to forge justice, not take land with its military operation in northwestern Syria. Addressing to neighbourhood heads (mukhtars) at his presidential complex, Erdoğan said that in the operation in Afrin, Syria, along Turkey’s borders, the Turkish Armed forces backed by Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters are taking the region under control.
“Our concern is the establishment of justice, not land,” claimed Erdoğan. Turkey will first destroy the terrorists and, after “Operation Olive Branch” ends, enable 3,5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey to return to their homes safely, he added. Erdoğan noted that 268 militants had been killed, while the Turkish army and FSA forces had suffered the loss of eight soldiers over the last four days.
“Turkey is trying to defeat a terrorist organization that posts photos of 13 or 15-year-old children and innocent old women with guns put in their hands and forcing those who need a piece of bread to pay money,” alleged Erdoğan.
Claiming that “the PYD/PKK terror group had released all ISIL prisoners under the condition that they would fight against the Turkish army and the FSA in Syria’s Afrin region,” Erdoğan added that “These terrorist organisations, PYD, PKK, ISIL, YPG, the far-left DHKP-C, are all the same… These are terrorist groups serving the same purpose in the same scenario with different roles.”
Erdoğan slammed those who, he said, misportrayed the operation as “one against our Kurdish brothers while it is clear that this operation targets several terrorist organisations.” Erdoğan said the operation would last until the death of the last terrorist.
Erdoğan has also said that the administration of former US President Barack Obama “failed to keep its promises” to Turkey in Syria, not following up its pledge to ‘leave Manbij to its rightful owners.’ There was an operation during Mr. Obama’s administration. That operation aimed to clear terrorists from Manbij. But he failed to keep up to his promise and cheated us.”
“We’ve done our part but they have not. They promised they would send the terrorists in this area to the east of the Euphrates and leave Manbij to its rightful owners. But they did not keep their promise,” Erdoğan said and added that “God willing, starting with Manbij we will continue to thwart these plans along our border and completely rid our region of this calamity.”
While Turkey is currently focused on the YPG-held Afrin, Ankara has not ruled out further expanding the operation. “There are no Kurds [in Manbij]. Ninety-five percent of it consists of Arabs. They did the same thing in the Syrian city of Kobane,” said Erdoğan.
Meanwhile, Turkish PM Yıldırım said on Wednesday that 214 targets had been hit and destroyed so far during the military campaign in Syria’s Afrin area. Speaking at a joint news conference with his Nigerien counterpart Brigi Rafini in Ankara, Yıldırım said the operation was continuing as planned. “214 targets were hit and neutralized. Clearing operations in the area are ongoing,” he said. The military generally uses the term “neutralize” to signify that targets were killed.
CHP CRITICIZED THE GOV’T OVER NOT INFORMING PARLIAMENT ON OPERATION
As the Erdoğan gave a long speech to neighbourhood heads in his palace, Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) spokesperson Bülent Tezcan criticized the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for initiating military campaign in Afrin without informing the parliament, stating the operation should not be instrumentalised for inner politics.
“The parliament should have been informed right away. There is no point waiting until Jan. 30. This issue should not be restrained as a matter of a political party,” Tezcan said Wednesday following the CHP’s Central Executive Board Meeting in Ankara.
Turkish Parliament has been on vacation from Jan. 18 and will be on break until Jan. 30. Since “Operation Olive Branch” was launched on Jan. 20, the opposition party has criticized the AKP government for its initiation of the operation while parliament was on break.
“It is unacceptable. As we have said before, ‘Operation Olive Branch’ is not an operation of a political party, nor a matter of domestic politics. To present it as if it is at the center of a party, to announce it during party congresses and to inform the public through public congresses are unacceptable,” Tezcan said, criticizing the ruling party for announcing the operation through AKP sources.
“What should have been done was to summon the parliamentary assembly and give a briefing there immediately,” he added. “Why wait until Jan. 30? Is it such an unimportant matter?” Tezcan asked.
The CHP spokesperson reiterated the main opposition party’s support to the military operation into Afrin as “part of a national and border security issue,” stating that they support a “political solution” in the war-torn country.
According to pro-government media reports, thousands of Turkish citizens and Syrian refugees have applied to volunteer with the Turkish armed forces during their operation in Afrin. Pro-government online news outlet Haberler reported that 300 public employees signed up together only in Elazığ province. “Our heroic army continues its epic struggle against the separatist terror organisations,” Bedri Genyüz, head of quality control at the municipality, told reporters after signing up.
In Konya province, around 150 Syrian refugees organised themselves on social media and came to sign up for the Turkish military, pro-government newspaper Habertürk reported. “If our applications are accepted, we want to be soldiers,” university student Muhammed Taci said. “We are all ready for martyrdom … There are maybe thousands of Syrians in Konya who want to be soldiers.”