Tensions flared between Ankara and Paris after France’s Macron expressed support for the Kurds in Syria, currently the target of a Turkish military operation. FRANCE 24 talked to Kurdish specialist Olivier Piot about the president’s comments.
French backing for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has angered Ankara at a time when it is fighting the YPG in northern Syria and considers it a terrorist organisation.
President Emmanuel Macron has been criticised at home for his response to a Turkish operation against the YPG militia, with opponents saying he has abandoned the Kurds.
The YPG militia makes up a large portion of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which have been at the forefront of the international coalition’s strategy to defeat the hardline militants.
After Macron’s meeting on Thursday with an SDF delegation, a senior Kurdish official said Macron had promised to send more troops to the area as part of the coalition’s efforts, provide humanitarian assistance and “mediate” between the Kurds and Ankara.
That drew a furious response from NATO ally Turkey, which considers the YPG to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the state within Turkey.
Speaking to reporters to clarify Macron’s comments, a French presidential source said: “France doesn’t foresee any new military operation on the ground in northern Syria outside of the international coalition.”
Turkey said on Friday that France’s pledge to help stabilise the region controlled by Kurdish-dominated forces amounted to support for terrorism and could make France a “target of Turkey”.
To understand the French position, FRANCE 24 talked to Olivier Piot, journalist and author of “The Kurdish people: keystone of the Middle East”. Piot says that Macron is supporting the Kurds in Syria so that France will have long-term influence in the reconstruction of the country.
F24: Why would France support the Kurds in Syria at the risk of provoking Turkey?
Piot: France is beginning to realise, through the statements of [President Trump], that the United States is about to leave the region. This is new; until January, former secretary of state Rex Tillerson [who was fired on March 13], maintained that the fight against Daesh (also known as the Islamic State group) was not over and that Washington planned to stay in the region for several years. But recent statements from Donald Trump show that the United States is seriously considering leaving the region.
Whether the West will play a role in Syrian reconstruction therefore depends partly on France’s intentions. Emmanuel Macron understood this and decided to send a strong if not very clear signal to the Kurds in Syria that France will stand by them. It remains to be seen how France will support them. If we abandon the Kurds, we abandon any chance for an alternative to Syrian reconstruction under the sole aegis of Bashar al-Assad.
Tensions are mounting between France and Turkey. What are Macron’s options?
Emmanuel Macron is crossing a line in his relationship with Turkey. Until now, he expressed concern and warned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he had to pay attention to the stability of the region. But it’s become clear that Ankara’s goal is to capture the 900 kilometre frontier in northern Syria, all the way to the town of Qamishli, to rid the region of terrorists. The United States hasn’t responded to this move, and until now, France hasn’t taken a clear stance. Erdogan is in the habit of making strong statements with no response in kind. This is not the first time he has threatened Western leaders, but Emmanuel Macron has started to be more firm with him.
Would France go so far as to send troops to protect the Kurds in Syria ?
In supporting the Kurds, France is defending its values, the same values that will allow France to weigh in on post-war reconstruction in the region. I think that the French president is beginning to draw a red line for the Turks, warning them against entering the town of Manbij. We’re in a situation in which diplomatic posturing won’t be enough. Soon we are going to find ourselves facing military engagement. If France wants to continue to play a role in the region, it will have to make a choice.