Turkey's 'Operation Olive Branch' Raises Eyebrows for its Irony

Published January 22nd, 2018 - 07:04 GMT
Turkey's 'Olive Branch' for Syria's Kurds (Nazeer al-Khatib/AFP)
Turkey's 'Olive Branch' for Syria's Kurds (Nazeer al-Khatib/AFP)

On Saturday, Turkey said that it had launched an offensive against Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters in Syria’s Afrin region.

The operation has been called “olive branch,” a title that has already attracted much comment.

“What a name for a military operation,” tweeted Al Jazeera correspondent Stefanie Dekker.

A ground campaign began Saturday following weeks of Turkish threats to wipe out the YPG. Ankara describes the Kurdish-Syrian militia as terrorists, while the group has been Washington’s key anti-ISIS ally in Syria.

Amid the use rocket fire and airstrikes, which have already reportedly killed seven civilians including an eight-year-old child, the name “olive branch” has been branded “ironic.”

The olive branch, of course, is typically used as a peace gesture.

Middle East satirist Karl Sharro tweeted: “'Operation Olive Branch'. The Turkish military is doing irony now.”

“'Operation Olive Branch,'” added director of the Human Security Center Julie Lenarz, “is Turkey’s “synonym for carpet bombing Kurdish forces in northern Syria.”

Afrin had previously remained largely untouched by fighting in Syria’s seven-year civil war.

Many made the comparison to the inappropriately named ministries in the novel 1984. George Orwell’s “Ministry of Peace,” for instance, is in charge of its armed forces.

“When a military offensive is called “Operation Olive Branch,” Orwell shudders in his grave,” tweeted CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman.

Turkey’s jarringly unsuited choice of name for its military operation has been variously explained by its supporters and critics.

The fact that the city of Afrin is surrounded by olive trees has been put forward as a leading theory.

“Olive trees are much more densely populated at Afrin,” wrote @HilmiYigit, “And those trees are against any easy movement of Turkish artillery.”

“So name of operation seems to be a 'mockery'.”

Many Turks, meanwhile, have fitted the title into the rhetoric adopted by their own government.

Turkish paper Haberturk, for instance, suggested in a headline Sunday that the operation was an “iron fist to terror” and an “olive branch to civilians.”

@AnalitikBorsaci claimed the name was given “because there is terror and all the terrorists and countries in the war, the Turkish military will bring peace there.”

“In other words, Turkey is saying: if you believe that by changing the name of the PKK into YPG, you’re changing its nature then we’re calling a military operation an ‘olive branch,’” wrote online editor of The Arab Weekly, Mamoon Alabbasi.

His words echoed those of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"The PKK, YPG, PYD are all the same; changing names does not change the fact that they are terror organizations," he said Saturday, referring to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has long been engaged in an armed campaign against the Turkish state.

Others, meanwhile, even speculated that operation was meant as an “olive branch to [Syrian President Bashar] Assad.”

Whatever the intention behind the name, many pointed out that Turkey is not the first state to wrap its military operations in pleasant-sounding names.

One tweet made reference to “operation enduring freedom,” the U.S. government’s name for the global war on terror. That name too, it implied, was ironic.

U.S. support for the YPG has been an ongoing source of tensions between Washington and Ankara. Turkish leaders were enraged by the announcement last week that the U.S. would create a border force of 30,000, including Kurdish fighters, in northern Syria.

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