In response to Western criticism over Turkey’s operation in northeastern Syria, Erdoğan questioned the West’s loyalty to Turkey as a partner in NATO in a statement while in Baku, Azerbaijan on Oct. 14.
“’Are we partners in NATO, or not? Or did you allow a terror organization to join NATO without my knowledge,’ I said,” Erdoğan said, regarding a conversation he had with German chancellor Angela Merkel after the German foreign minister made a speech in parliament vowing to cut arms sales to Turkey.
“You’ve got to be kidding me with this kind of approach. Are you on our side? Or are you on the side of a terrorist organization. On one hand we are engaging in discussions on how to fight terror in different parts of the world, on the other hand now you’re coming out and taking the side of this terrorist organization,” Erdoğan said.
The group in question is the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG), the militia that controls a significant amount of territory in northeastern Syria, and which Ankara considers to be the Syrian wing of Turkey’s banned militant Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).
After supporting the YPG militarily in its fight against ISIS for several years, in a surprise move American President Donald Trump decided to withdraw American troops from the area, setting the stage for Turkey’s operation. Ankara says it wants to establish a safe zone along the border it shares with Syria, and aims to force the YPG out of the area east of the Euphrates river.
In a puzzling tweet, Trump then vowed to destroy Turkey’s economy if the country did anything in northeastern Syria that he considered to be crossing the line.
Erdoğan said that since the beginning of the operation, 652 mortar and rocket attacks have been fired by the YPG into the Turkish provinces of Şanlıurfa, Mardin, Şırnak and Gaziantep, resulting in 18 civilian deaths and around 200 injuries.