Turkey's Erdogan Defends Syrian Offensive in Op-Ed, Slams International Community for Creating 'Maelstrom of Instability' in the Region

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defended his country's military invasion into Syria—claiming his plans will help bring an end to proxy wars in the country while slamming the international community for failing to prevent a "maelstrom of instability".

Erdogan launched Operation Peace Spring last Wednesday after a call between him and President Donald Trump the Sunday prior, after which it was decided that U.S. troops on the Syrian-Turkish border would be withdrawn.

Airstrikes, artillery fire and ground fighting have since riddled the area—claiming an unknown number of lives and causing upwards of 100,000 people to be displaced—however, Turkey maintains it is using the offensive to create a 20-mile "safe zone" within the Syrian border. It says it aims to re-house some of the 3.6 million refugees it has taken in since the start of the country's civil war within that zone.

Writing in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, Erdogan said the decision for the offensive was made after "Turkey reached its limit" on the issue of refugees, the pressure of which, he said, was neglected by the United Nations and the E.U.

"My administration concluded that the international community wasn't going to act," he said. "So we developed a plan for northern Syria. I shared the plan with world leaders at last month's United Nations General Assembly.

"In line with that plan, Turkey last week launched Operation Peace Spring to end the humanitarian crisis and address the violence and instability that are the root causes of irregular migration in our region.

"Absent an alternative plan to deal with the refugee crisis, the international community should either join our efforts or begin admitting refugees."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a meeting in Ankara in Turkey in January, 2019. He has written an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal defending his Syrian offensive. Getty

Erdogan's piece defending the operation follows widespread condemnation of the attacks. The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Turkish ministries and senior government officials, meanwhile the E.U. agreed to limit arms to the country on Monday—stopping short of a total embargo on the NATO ally.

The Turkish leader has so far reacted to such criticism by threatening to "open the gates" of the Turkish border into Europe, a threat that the ruler has repeatedly made since 2016.

That was when Turkey agreed a deal with the E.U. in which the country agreed to stem the flow of migrants into Europe in return for billions of euros in aid. Turkey argues that money has been slow in arriving in addition to stating that a promise to grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens in European countries in the Schengen zone has not been fulfilled.

"At a certain point, Turkey reached its limit," Erdogan said.

"My administration repeatedly warned that we would be unable to stop refugees from flooding into the West without international financial support.

"Those warnings fell on deaf ears as governments, eager to avoid responsibility, portrayed as a threat what was intended as a mere statement of fact."

Turkey refugee camp
Syrian refugees wait in queue to enter to the Kahramanmaras refugee camp after coming from shopping on September 19, 2019. Getty

Erdogan also used the piece to attack Arab countries who condemned his invasion—"How many war victims have they admitted? How much did they contribute to efforts to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria?" he said—in addition to repeating assertions on his commitment to limit the influence of terrorists in the region.

He added that his plans in Syria were an opportunity for a second chance for the country, adding that the U.S., the EU, and the wider world should support what Turkey is trying to do.