Turkish operations in Afrin region are yet another reason to end accession negotiations, Telička says

Olive Branch. That is the name of the military operation launched on 20th January by Turkey in the Afrin region of northern Syria. Turkish authorities have claimed that the operation will not affect civilians. But to this day, hundreds have died. “Negotiations with Turkey regarding EU membership must be terminated,” Vice-President of the European Parliament Pavel Telička said.

Turkey is attacking Afrin both from the ground and from the air. Its aim is to destroy the Kurdish militia YPG and YPJ as they are - according to the Turkish authorities - linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK is considered to be a terrorist organization not only by Turkey, but also by the European Union and the United States. However, YPG and YPJ reject direct military or political links to the PKK. Turkey states that 700 attacks have been launched against Turkish cities from the Afrin area over the course of last year. Actual numbers of international observers tend to be much lower. Despite this, Turkey insists that the Olive Branch operation is its legitimate right of self-defense. According to President Erdogan, the operation does not constitute an invasion but its sole purpose is to attack and destroy terrorists.

It seems, however, that the operation got out of control. Although Turkey promised that the operation will not affect civilians, the reality paints a different picture. According to official numbers from the hospital in Afrin, 227 civilians - including 32 children - died since the start of the operation. The number of injured persons amounts to 651, including 81 children. More than 170,000 people have been displaced.

“Although Turkey remains an important and strategic partner for the EU, opening new chapters in the accession negotiations is completely unacceptable. On the contrary, accession negotiations should be terminated,” Telička said. He reminded that Turkey does not respect the Copenhagen criteria. According the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Turkey imprisoned 300 journalists in the past 18 months and detained and tortured 160,000 people. Another 152,000 people lost their jobs for simply expressing their own opinion and 100,000 websites were blocked - some examples being Wikipedia or Booking.com.

Turkey has long supported the Sunni troops fighting the Bashar Assad regime in the Syrian conflict. Among them is also al-Nusra, a detachment of al-Qaeda. Moreover, Afrin is not the only Syrian territory that Turkey has occupied. It has already conquered cities such as Jarabulus, al-Bab and Azaz where Turkey introduced their own administration. In addition, President Erdogan has hinted that current military operations could be expanded to other areas in northern Syria.

NATO remains relatively inactive in this matter and forceful voices in the EU are missing. “Unfortunately, the European Parliament does not have formal powers to end negotiations. Concrete steps must now be taken in the Council, the representation of the governments of Member States. Unfortunately, there is not enough political will in the capitals across Europe for such a brave step,” Telička added. “This is a serious issue and I will continue to put pressure in order to have an adequate reaction from the European side”, he concluded.

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