NATO Is Not 'Fit for Purpose' Unless It Acknowledges 'Existential' Kurdish Threat to Turkey, Erdogan Aide Says

A senior adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that fellow NATO members still have not done enough to acknowledge Ankara's concerns over Kurdish forces in Syria, as the alliance's leaders prepared for an end-of-year meeting in London.

Gulnur Aybet—who advises Erdogan on foreign policy—said at a NATO Engages town hall event ahead of the leaders' meeting that a NATO that was "fit for purpose" would accept Turkey's recent incursion in northeastern Syria to attack Kurdish-led forces there as a necessary response to an "existential threat" to her country.

Relations between Turkey and its NATO allies have been especially strained in recent months after Erdogan launched a fresh incursion into Syria, this time in the northeast of the country.

Erdogan was seeking to clear U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces from a buffer area along the border between the two countries.

The SDF is led by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), and has borne the brunt of the Western-backed campaign to drive Islamic State fighters from Syria.

Ankara considers the YPG an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has been fighting an intermittent guerrilla war in Turkey since the 1980s.

Aybet said Tuesday that Kurdish forces in Syria represent a "dire threat," and that YPG and PKK fighters are continuing to plan and execute attacks killing Turkish—and thus NATO—soldiers and civilians.

Aybet added that Turkey's NATO allies have "failed to understand" the nature of Ankara's concerns over the Kurdish statelet across its border, which she said is a prominent "national security threat."

Aybet said that failing to recognize the threat could "undermine NATO," and called for a "realistic and frank dialogue" about the issue.

"A NATO that is fit for purpose would acknowledge this existential threat to Turkey," she suggested.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently said the invasion was evidence of NATO's "brain death," as national priorities diverge and a unified strategy collapses.

This prompted a vicious riposte from Erdogan, who advised that Macron should "have your own brain death checked." He added, "These statements are suitable only to people like you who are in a state of brain death."

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has also attacked Turkey's NATO allies, accusing them—and in particular the U.S.—of funding terrorism through support of the SDF.

In November, Cavusoglu told Hurriyet that the SDF had received "trucks full of weapons" from the Americans. "There should be a serious reason to back this terrorist organization instead of NATO ally," he added.

Intermittent fighting has continued in northeastern Syria despite a deal between Turkey and Russia to end the clashes. Turkish forces and the country's Syrian proxies have been accused of war crimes and ethnic cleansing in the region, while hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the incursion.

Syria, Turkey, Kurds, SDF, NATO, allies
Syrians throw stones towards Turkish military vehicles during a Turkish-Russian army patrol near the town of Darbasiyah in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province along the Syria-Turkey border on November 11, 2019. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images/Getty