Tremors of Afrin attack reach Europe

Turkey’s military intervention in Afrin, a northwestern Syrian town on the border region, to oust the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (PYG) militia is not only escalating the the conflict in Syria but has also triggered protests and counterprotests by Kurdish and Turkish migrants around the world. Turkey sees the YPG, the militia of the Syrian Kurdistan which is guarding the border towns that were freed from the Islamic State, as an ally of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been listed as a terrorist organisation by Ankara.

Military tensions between Turkey and the YPG have been brewing for a few years along the border. With the invasion finally under way, the tension appears to be spilling over to other countries. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has large crowd of supporters among the Turkish diaspora, mostly living in Europe. The same goes for the PKK, which has thousands of Kurdish supporters across Europe. Germany and Austria, where tens of thousands of Turkish and Kurdish migrants have been living for decades, saw several demonstrations late last week. In Austrian and German towns, the protesters marched either for the Turkish government or for the Kurds. Posters of Mr. Erdoğan or Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK, were everywhere.

However, not every immigrant is happy with the turn of events. “In times of globlisation, people should find a way to engage each other and not fight over political or religious differences. I believe that people like President Erdoğan should not welcome that. The Turkish-Kurdish community is totally split,” said Serkan Kaya, 28, a pharmacist from the city of Innsbruck in Austria. Mr. Kaya, who has Kurdish and Turkish roots, believes the ongoing situation in Afrin “will not just kill innocent people” but also “destroy many friendships”. “In fact, it’s an abuse of the olive branch, which is a symbol of peace,” he said, referring to the code name of the operation.

Turkish immigrants have come out against the war too. “I feel there is a fundamental problem rooted in Turkish society. In no other country the military is so overly glorified and soldiers seen as the pride of the nation,” said Anil Altintas, 26, a student from Berlin. He says many of his compatriots do not take human rights violations by the Turkish military seriously. “The so-called strength of the Turkish nation has been a very popular narrative — not only under Erdoğan but also throughout Turkish history,” Mr. Altintas said.

Heavy price

Demonstrations took place in Turkey as well. Mr. Erdoğan threatened that there will be a “heavy price” for those who protested. Dozens of journalists and social media users have already been arrested for criticising the operation. The crackdown at home is having a ripple effect on the protests abroad.

“It’s problematic. We have already seen escalations during demonstrations. I think it is very obvious that the lines have been drawn clearly. Extreme positions are dominating both sides of the conflict,” said Cengiz Gunay, vice-director of the Vienna-based Austrian Institute for International Affairs.

According to Mr. Gunay, current events make clear that the so-called peace process between the Turkish government and the PKK is truly over. “It is understandable that the local political establishment does not like to see such protests here [in Austria and Germany]. However, they are partially responsible for these developments. Many immigrants, whether Turkish or Kurdish, do not still feel that they have really arrived here.”

Germany and Austria, where tens of thousands of Turkish and Kurdish migrants live, saw several demonstrations late last week, either for or against Turkey’s attack on Syria’s Afrin

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