Photo: Courtesy/Iranian Presidency Office via AP
TEHRAN,— Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani called on Turkey on Wednesday to show restraint and avoid military action in Syrian Kurdistan (northern Syria), as Ankara’s forces were poised to advance into an area there being vacated by the U.S.
As Rouhani spoke, Iran’s Army Ground Forces began an unannounced military drill in Iranian Kurdistan, the Kurdish northwest of the country that borders Turkey, the Iranian Students’ News Agency ISNA reported.
Turkish forces and their Syrian Arab rebels allies, who are considered as mercenary fighters for Turkey, will push into the Kurdish region in Syria “shortly”, a Turkish official said on Wednesday, in an operation world powers fear could open a new chapter in Syria’s ruinous eight-year-old war.
Iran, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has regularly urged Turkey to respect Syria’s territorial integrity and says all foreign military forces “with an illegal presence” – including the United States – should leave the country.
“We have openly said that the only solution to ensure safety and security in southern Turkey and northern Syria is the presence of the Syrian army,” state news agency IRNA quoted Rouhani as saying on Wednesday.
“We are calling on our friendly and brotherly neighbour Turkey to act with more patience and restraint, and to revise its decision and chosen path,” he said.
Iran, like Turkey, is home to a large ethnic Kurdish population and Rouhani expressed understanding for Turkish concerns about security on its borders, adding: “We believe that a correct path should be adopted to remove those concerns.”
Turkey fears the creation of a Kurdish autonomous region or Kurdish state in Syrian Kurdistan could encourage separatism amongst its own Kurds, according to analysts.
Syria’s Kurds have established a semi-autonomous region in northeastern Syria during the country’s eight-year war.
In 2013, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party PYD — the political branch of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — has established three autonomous Cantons of Jazeera, Kobani and Afrin and a Kurdish government across Syrian Kurdistan in 2013.
On March 17, 2016, Kurdish and Arab authorities announced the creation of a “federal region” made up of those semi-autonomous regions in Syrian Kurdistan.
“Kurds in Syria… should support the Syrian army,” he said.
Reporting on Iran’s own military drill that started on Wednesday, ISNA said it included rapid reaction units, mobile and offense brigades, and helicopters from the Army Ground Force’s Air Unit.
“The aim of the military exercise is to evaluate the combat readiness of army units and their mobility and agility in the battlefield,” ISNA said, without referring to the planned Turkish operation in northeast Syria.
Ankara has said it intends to create a “safe zone” in Syrian Kurdistan in order to return millions of refugees there, but the scheme has alarmed some Western allies as much as the risks posed by the military operation itself.
But the Kurds argue that Turkey’s goal is to weaken the Kurdish presence in Syrian Kurdistan by modifying the demographics of the area with the return of mostly Sunni Arab refugees.
For Ankara, which views Kurdish YPG fighters in northeast Syria as terrorists because of their ties to militants waging an insurgency inside Turkey, an influx of non-Kurdish Syrians would help it secure a buffer against its main security threat.
Kurds are spread out in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
Shi’ite Muslim-dominated Iran has up to 12 million Kurdish citizens, mostly Sunni Muslims live in Iranian Kurdistan (Rojhelat).
It is facing demands for greater Kurdish autonomy from several armed Kurdish opposition groups.
There have also been frequent clashes in the area between Iranian security forces and Iranian Kurdish militant groups based in neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan, such as the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), accused by Tehran of having links to Kurdish PKK insurgents in Turkey.
Ever since its emergence in 1979 the Islamic regime imposed discriminatory rules and laws against the Kurds in all social, political and economic fields.
Iran’s Kurdish minority live mainly in the west and north-west of the country.
They experience discrimination in the enjoyment of their religious, economic and cultural rights.
Parents are banned from registering their babies with certain Kurdish names, and religious minorities that are mainly or partially Kurdish are targeted by measures designed to stigmatize and isolate them.
Kurds are also discriminated against in their access to employment, adequate housing and political rights, and so suffer entrenched poverty, which has further marginalized them.
Kurdish human rights defenders, community activists, and journalists often face arbitrary arrest and prosecution.
Others – including some political activists – suffer torture, grossly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts and, in some cases, the death penalty.
Kurdish armed nationalist groups including PJAK have been carrying out attacks against Iranian forces in the Kurdistan Province of Iran (Eastern Kurdistan) and other Kurdish-inhabited areas.
Since 2004 the PJAK (Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistane) took up arms to establish a semi-autonomous Kurdish regional entities or Kurdish federal states in Iran, similar to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq.
The PJAK has more than 3,000 armed militiamen, half the members of PJAK are women.
Estimate to over 12 million Kurds live in Iranian Kurdistan.
The United States views the Syrian Kurdish YPG as a close ally in the fight against the Islamic State group.
The Kurdish PYD and its powerful military wing YPG/YPJ, considered the most effective fighting force against IS in Syria and U.S.
has provided them with arms. The YPG, which is the backbone of the SDF forces, has seized swathes of Syria from Islamic State.
The Kurdish forces expelled the Islamic State from its last patch of territory in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz in March 2019.
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