Anxious reactions to the handover of Sawakin came as no surprise to anyone, given the current regional tensions. The war in Yemen on the east coast of the Red Sea has been ongoing for three years, with no end in sight. Turkey’s manoeuvering, which is at odds with many of its powerful neighbours, notably Saudi Arabia, has been interpreted as a threat to their position.
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As painful as Zarrab’s testimony must have been for some in Ankara, the revelations seem to have done little to rock the foundations of the current Turkish government, and Erdogan’s hold on power looks secure. However, the case comes amid the worst deterioration of US-Turkish relations for decades, and its fallout is unlikely to be over.
The threat posed to Hatay by the PKK and its Syrian affiliates was highlighted again in January 2018, when the Turkish army and Turkish-backed forces attacked Afrin. Whether the threat was exaggerated to justify the Afrin operation is difficult to say, but once again Hatay has found itself, through no fault of its own, on the sidelines of war.
Since the operation in Afrin began, Turkey has been quick to exploit the international concern about the Islamist group, asserting that it is fighting IS as well as the YPG in the area. Turkey’s state news agency reported that ‘the PYD/PKK terror group has released all Daesh [IS] prisoners under the condition that they will fight against the Turkish army and Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Syria’s Afrin region’.
It appears that not even prison can make Sik compromise his ideals. In his opening court statement, which he gave on 26 July 2017, he blasted Erdogan for persecuting those who think for themselves. He then declared that journalism is not a crime despite what the rulers of totalitarian regimes, their judiciaries and collaborators may say.
With no quick solutions to the Syrian conflict in sight, Turkey’s approach to the war has become one of self-interest. Gone are the days of demanding regime change. Al-Assad looks here to stay, a fact reflected in Turkey’s changing stance on the war, which is now focused on countering Kurdish military strength. The resurgent Kurdish threat will ensure that Turkey will not be leaving Syria any time soon.