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    What and who is this safe zone for?

    Nihat Ali Özcan, PhD18 August 2019 - Okunma Sayısı: 4644

    According to a statement by the Defense Ministry, deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, arrived in Turkey on Aug. 15. The reason for his visit is the matter of the east of River Euphrates, which has been occupying the agenda for a long time, and technical preparations for the to-be established “safe zone.” In other terms, his visit is to decide what will be done militarily for the safe zone and the establishment of the “Joint Operations Center.”

    What’s interesting is that the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) is the U.S. unit in charge of the Middle East but the visit comes from another command post.

    CENTCOM is responsible for the SDF/PYD/PKK strategy of the U.S. in Syria, which came into effect in October 2015. It has deep military, political and emotional ties with the organization. What’s attention grabbing is that CENTCOM has remained in the background for the establishment of the joint operations center, whose duty is to regularize the center, as part of its area of responsibility.

    This task seems to be undertaken by the U.S. European Command. Although this decision appears to us as the U.S. army’s rules and approach in taking joint action, it still does not prevent us from understanding the general picture and ask some questions. Apparently, it seems like the U.S. European Command will oversee Turkey while CENTCOM oversees the SDF/PYD.

    Two outcomes of the steps Ankara and Washington have taken seems to stand out. On one hand, there is the “public diplomacy” that creates the image that everything is fine and the crisis has been solved. On the other hand, there is military, diplomatic and political maneuvers of both sides to realize and transform their overt and secret political objectives.

    The biggest problem for the involved parties is the expectations from the notion “safe zone,” its context and with what activities it can be provided. Even though today both sides seem to be focused on the same picture with the same words, it is hard to say these words carry the same political and military contents. As a matter of fact, the U.S. asserts that “Turkey’s security concerns will be removed” with the establishment of the joint operations center and activities that will follow that.

    This adds up to a calm and quiet “band” along the border where no firearms will be used. For the U.S., if the aforementioned is accomplished, then the safe zone mission is achieved. Consequently, the U.S. seems to have advised the SDF (call it the PKK) to behave themselves while promising a future in which it can protect its political and military existence. The SDF/PYD seem to comply with the agreement on the conditions that the control is “joint” and composed of “military activities that seem standardized.”

    Terrorist organizations such as the PKK, which has been experiencing military and political weakness against a state even after 40 years, will assign a different meaning to geography. They will form a social control that will take its control more from the “people/organized persons” more than geography. On top of that, if there is a bigger political goal and a sponsor such as the U.S., the meaning gets much different.

    Under these circumstances, the “safe zone” will not be provided by patrolling with armored vehicles, establishing observation points or gathering data with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). No “security” can be provided or no “safe zone” can be established until the soldiers’ feet touch the ground, a political web in which the region’s people believe its legitimacy is constituted or a functioning public order is formed.


    This commentary was published in Hürriyet Daily News on 17.08.2019