Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg got tougher against Turkey on Tuesday, after a meeting in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Solberg said Norway now joins both Germany and the EU “in condemning Turkey’s military operations in Syria,” as fears rose that Turkey is creating huge problems for all three countries’ collective defense through NATO.
“We are deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in the area,” Solberg added. “So we urge Turkey to immediately cease the operation and to respect international law. I think that’s the most important message that we can give. They should stop the fighting.”
Solberg’s remarks came after several days of criticism in Norway, not least from the opposition in Parliament, that Solberg’s government wasn’t responding strongly enough to Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s decision to send Turkish troops over the border into Northern Syria. Norway and Turkey are allies within NATO, as is Germany, and they’re all supposed to get along, but Erdogan has upset most everyone by what most consider his invasion of Kurdish territory in Syria.
Erdogan claims he needs to set up a buffer zone along the border to protect Turkey from Kurdish forces, even though the Kurds played a key role in defeating everyone’s common enemy, the terrorist group IS. Erdogan views the Kurds as terrorists as well, and wants to “neutralize them.” Political commentators claim Erdogan is mostly keen on reigniting national political support for himself by drumming up nationalist feelings in Turkey, after he challenged but had to accept recent local election losses.
European allies in NATO are, meanwhile, also upset with US President Donald Trump over his decision to dump the US’ own alliance with the Kurds and pull out of their area in Syria. That left them vulnerable to Turkey’s attack. Oslo newspaper Dagsavisen editorialized on Tuesday that Trump’s retreat was “a gigantic and shameful betrayal.”
Huge challenge for NATO
The serious disagreements among NATO allies are posing one of the biggest challenges ever for NATO and its leader, former Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg. He was criticized as well for not condemning Turkey’s invasion immediately. He has since made it clear that NATO does not support what he (along with Merkel and Solberg) refers to as Turkey’s “military operations.”
Turkey’s ambassador in Oslo, Fazli Corman, has also come out strongly on behalf of his president, blaming the media, the US, Norwegian and other European allies for all making mistakes and failing to accept Turkey’s position. “This is an anti-terror operation, not an invasion,” Corman told Oslo newspaper Klassekampen on Tuesday. “We will withdraw when the crisis is over.”
Corman has only been in Norway since January, but claims he’s seen far too much sympathy for the Kurds and not nearly enough for Turkey: “We have suffered under terror for a long time, and this terror comes from a (Kurdish) organization that wants to divide up Turkey and create a new state,” he told Klassekampen. He downplayed both the Kurds’ own suffering under IS (which he refers to as Da’esh) and the Kurds’ success in defeating IS: “Yes, they were attacked by Da’esh, but who wasn’t?” he stated dismissively.
Won’t back down
Then Corman questioned the credibility of the US when confronted with how the US military itself had “very clearly stated” that YPG (the Kurdish group) played a decisive role in the war against IS: “If the American military says something, do you think it’s true? That’s the problem. They should have sided with a terror organization to go to war against another terror organization. The US made a mistake when they cooperated with a terror organization and are trying to cover that up.”
The Turkish ambassador is also clearly frustrated with his Norwegian hosts: “When I hear the Norwegian foreign minister is worried that Turkey will carry out ethnic cleansing, it’s not true.” Corman claims his president merely wants to wipe out or displace the Kurdish population in Northern Syria and then replace it with all the millions of Syrians who have been living as refugees in Turkey. He claims the area was never really Kurdish, rather “Arabic.”
Solberg’s condemnation of Turkey’s “military operation” came after the interview with the Turkish ambassador in Norway, but he made it clear that Turkey will not give in to pressure. “We will stop the threat (of terrorism) even if the whole world is against us,” Corman told Klassekampen. On Tuesday it appeared that it was.