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Turkey (Afrin)

Volume 636: debated on Tuesday 20 February 2018

1. Whether he has made representations to his Turkish counterpart on that country’s operation in Afrin. (903889)

The Foreign Secretary has spoken to Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu about the operation in Afrin. We have called for de-escalation for the protection of civilians, while recognising Turkey’s legitimate interest in the security of its borders. It remains in our shared interests to focus on achieving a political settlement in Syria.

Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that the Kurdish-led Administration in Afrin has built a secular, democratic system that has worked collaboratively with the international community to defeat Daesh, most recently in Raqqa? Does he accept that the international community owes a debt of honour to the Kurds? Will he step up efforts to stop the bloodshed in and around Afrin?

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but we must also recognise the legitimate security interests of Syria. They consider that, having launched Operation Olive Branch in January, it is in response to attacks from the Afrin area, and they believe that they are in compliance with proper UN standards.[Official Report, 21 February 2018, Vol. 636, c. 4MC.]

When we make representations to our Turkish NATO allies, can we also make representations on behalf of the tens of thousands of journalists and others who have been locked up by the Turkish Government?

I can assure my right hon. Friend that we do, and we do so in all our meetings at all levels with our Turkish counterparts.

Do the Government agree that the Democratic Union party—the PYD—and the People’s Protection Units—the YPG—should be included in the Geneva process to end Syria’s war and discuss the country’s future?

That is primarily a question on Syria, rather than Turkey. However, I would point out to the right hon. Lady that the PKK is a proscribed organisation in the UK, whereas the organisations to which she principally refers are not and so can be spoken to.

Will the Minister make representations to the Turkish Foreign Minister to ask the Turkish navy to cease obstructing vessels seeking to extract hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean?

I understand the issue to which my right hon. Friend refers, which is the drilling for oil and gas on the edge of Cyprus. We are assessing what has been reported over the past day or so about what exactly is happening in that area.

We on this side of the House unequivocally condemn Turkey for its disgraceful assault on Afrin. We are especially appalled that it has enlisted in its army the very jihadist militias that the Kurdish forces have worked so hard to drive out of northern Syria. If the Foreign Secretary is unable to join me today in condemning Turkey, will the Minister of State at least explain why he believes that “Turkey’s legitimate interest in the security of its borders” gives it the right to brutally attack the innocent Kurdish community in Afrin?

I do not think it is exactly as the right hon. Lady says. We need to recognise Turkey’s legitimate interests. Of course we condemn any kind of attacks on civilians and we wish to see a de-escalation of that, but the legitimate rights of Turkey should be recognised.

The truth is that the Turkish assault is part of a broader pattern, where too many foreign parties engaged in the Syrian civil war are now acting just like the Assad regime itself—without any regard for international law. When the Government obtained a military mandate for joining the coalition action in Syria, David Cameron guaranteed in this House that it was “exclusively” to combat the threat from Daesh. Given that that threat is now almost totally gone, will the Minister of State please spell out the coalition’s current military objectives in Syria? When will he seek a mandate for them from this House?

I find the right hon. Lady’s analysis extremely bizarre, particularly as the YPG has been reported as wishing to ally itself with the Assad regime in order to fight back against Turkey’s activity.

Further to that point, what is the Minister’s assessment of the veracity of reports that the Assad regime and the Kurds are joining forces militarily to resist the Turkish incursion?

That is exactly the issue to which I have just referred. We are assessing it, and I am sure that there will be further reports later, but it is too early to say exactly what may be happening.