Swedish and Turkish foreign ministers exchange words over latter’s occupation of Syria

ANKARA / NORTH AND EAST SYRIA — During a tense joint press conference on Tuesday, the Swedish and Turkish foreign ministers exchanged not-so-subtle barbs. In a response to Swedish Foreign Minister Anne Linde’s recent calls for Turkey to withdraw from the territory it occupies in Syria, which have seen systemic and wide-spread violation of human rights, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu asked, “On whose authority are you telling Turkey to withdraw from Syria or warning Turkey?”

In response Linde firmly stated, “I am your guest. I would not take a debate here.” And she retorted; “I will just hope that everybody in Turkey will have the possibility to express their views as frank as you are doing, minister,” referencing Turkey’s poor track record on freedom of expression – Turkey is now one of the world’s largest jailers of journalists.

In October 2019, Linde urged Turkey to halt its invasion of North and East Syria and hosted Co-Chair of the Executive Council of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) Îlham Ahmed. The SDC is one of the governing bodies of North and East Syria.

SDF and SDC express gratitude for Swedish FM Ann Linde

General Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Mazloum Abdi, the defense forces of North and East Syria, expressed his support for Linde’s call that Turkey to withdraw from Syria and for a political solution to be found that respects the territorial integrity of Syria.

In a tweet, Îlham Ahmed also expressed her gratitude for Linde’s continued support for the region.

Çavuşoğlu talks about Arameans and Assyrians, no mention of “Süryaniler”

In his reply to the apparently discussed topic of indigenous components and minorities in North and East Syria Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu mentions the Syriacs; “You mentioned the minorities who live there (i.e. in North and East Syria). I want to make a suggestion. Please listen to the Arameans. Listen to the Assyrians. Listen to the Christian minorities…” FM Çavuşoğlu is referring here to the Syriacs living in Europe and specifically Ann Linde’s Sweden, and who are highly critical and oppose the Kurdish-led Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA).

The sometimes slightly nervous-looking Turkish FM talked in Turkish and seems to avoid or at least does not use the well-known and commonly used Turkish name for Syriacs which is “Süryaniler”. The seemingly conscious use of the names Arameans and Assyrians – and not Syriacs (Süryaniler) – is done here to specifically to divide Syriacs over the name, and point out Syriac organizations espousing the Aramean and Assyrian denominational name who oppose the PYD/YPG Kurds and the DAA.

Turkey invaded North and East Syria in October 2019 and considers the PYD/YPG a direct affiliate of the PKK which Turkey has outlawed as terrorist organization.

The mentioning of the Aramean and Assyrian name is somewhat remarkable and seems to indicate that Turkish politics, and in line with that also Turkish intelligence services, follows the Syriacs closely. Syriacs are indigenous to current-day Turkey but their number is not more than 25 thousand today. This might also indicate to possible Turkish efforts to (try to) maintain close ties with such groups or use these political, cultural, and social organizations and their fierce opposition to the PYD/YPG and the DAA for its own propaganda purposes – an important element of war.

Such Turkish propaganda tactics are not new. Turkey for example has strong ties to the Syriac churches in the country. In 2013, Syriac clerics from Turkey accompanied former Turkish President Abdullah Gul on a visit to Sweden. In a meeting with Syriac organizations, according to sources present at the meeting, the Turkish delegation asked the Syriacs to hold back on mentioning the Sayfo Syriac Genocide of 1915 in public and soft-tone their media statements on the Turkish role in the Sayfo Genocide.

And when Turkey invaded North and East Syria last year October, Turkey gathered up several bishops from different churches to pray for peace in the Syriac Orthodox Mor Hananyo Monastery (dayr al-Zafaran).