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Erdoğan’s nationalist ally, CHP leader trade barbs over gov’t’s cross-border motion

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Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu slammed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ally, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, for his call to the CHP to approve a parliamentary motion extending the government’s mandate to launch cross-border military operations in northern Iraq and Syria.

The Turkish Parliament will this month debate extending a motion authorizing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to launch cross-border military operations in northern Iraq and Syria for two more years.

The motion was submitted to parliament on Oct. 5, after a suicide bombing on Oct. 1 in Ankara that was claimed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community.

Turkey has been conducting airstrikes targeting Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq since then.

In a speech to his party in parliament on Tuesday, Bahçeli asserted that the CHP faces a “historic test,” urging them to approve the motion if they are genuinely concerned about terrorism. He warned that a “no” vote would be equivalent to “openly betraying the flag, the homeland and martyrs.”

Kılıçdaroğlu, in his own remarks, said his party would vote against the motion. He questioned a clause that allows foreign armed forces into Turkey.

“What does it mean to invite foreign armed forces into Turkey?” Kılıçdaroğlu asked, directing the question to Bahçeli. “Are you saying ‘yes’ to foreign boots setting foot on Turkish soil?”

Kılıçdaroğlu went on to say that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have been effectively combating terrorism without the need for foreign intervention. He questioned who these foreign forces might be and raised concerns based on past incidents where Turkey’s interests clashed with those of foreign nations.

Kılıçdaroğlu also took a jab at the notion of nationalism propagated by Bahçeli and his party. “You cannot question the nationalism of the party founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk [founder of modern Turkey]. You are not nationalists.”

Toll of Turkish airstrikes

Earlier this month, Turkey had conducted airstrikes against militant targets in northern Iraq and Syria after the PKK claimed responsibility for a bombing near government buildings in Ankara that injured two police officers.

Northern Iraq is the base of the outlawed PKK, which has carried out many deadly attacks in Turkey over the decades.

Turkish operations in Syria are directed against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a militia that Ankara considers a terrorist group linked to the PKK. The YPG is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US ally in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The downing of a Turkish drone in Syria last week by the United States underscored the tension between the two NATO allies over the YPG.

According to a special analysis by Reuters published on Tuesday, Turkey’s aerial operations have increasingly put civilian lives at risk and raised questions about adherence to international humanitarian law. Turkish airstrikes have hit health facilities, with at least eight medical centers affected between 2018 and mid-2023. Legal experts have gone on the record stating that such attacks likely constitute war crimes.

Reuters’ analysis also sheds light on the widespread impact of Turkey’s military campaign on local communities. The strikes have led to the evacuation of hundreds of villages, contributing to a sense of vulnerability among local residents, who are often caught in a conflict that they did not choose. Since 2015, more than 800 villages in Iraq have been vacated due to Turkish airstrikes.

This extensive air campaign disrupts not only the lives of those in the affected regions but also the broader international efforts against extremism. Turkey’s focus on fighting the YPG disrupts the larger anti-ISIL coalition, potentially weakening the united front against extremist groups.

Turkish media reported that the autonomous Kurdish administration in northern Syria declared a three-day period of mourning following recent Turkish airstrikes, which resulted in the death of 29 people from the Kurdish militants and civilians and injured 28. The administration criticized the international community for remaining silent on Turkey’s increasing airstrikes, which have targeted not only armed forces but also civilian areas like agricultural projects and oil facilities.

In an incident reported by the Nupel Haber news outlet, a child named Fereh Ednan El Xayir lost both her legs while picking cotton with her family in a village in northern Syria, due to a bombing by Turkish warplanes.

In response to the civilian impact of the airstrikes, pro-Kurdish lawmaker Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu posted on X, “Children are being injured by bombs from Turkey! They were in a cotton field. You can’t get anywhere with conflict, chaos, death. We want peace, not war; life, not blood. The Kurdish issue can be resolved with understanding, fairness, dialogue and negotiation.”

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