February 28, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8596

Turkish Government Reacts To Syrian Idlib Strike That Killed 33 Turkish Soldiers: Defense Minister Says Attack Happened 'Even Though Our Units' Positions Were Coordinated With Russian Federation Authorities'; Politician Vows To Bus Syrian Refugees To Europe's Border; Social Media Accounts Are Examined For 'Terror Organization Propaganda'

February 28, 2020
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 8596

On February 28, 2020, Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said in a statement that 33 Turkish soldiers had been killed in a Syrian strike in Idlib the day before. He further said: "Our army will certainly bring the Assad regime, which has blood on its hands, to account. The crisis in Idlib has surpassed all limits."[1] The strike came amid escalating violence in Idlib between the Turkish and Syrian militaries, and also only days ahead of a deadline that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan set when he said on February 15: "The solution in Idlib is for the [Syrian] regime to stop its aggression and withdraw to the border in the agreements. Otherwise we will do this job before February is over."[2]

Attorney General's Office Investigates Social Media Accounts That "Contradict The Reality" For "Terror Organization Propaganda"

While the official government count of the number of Turkish soldiers killed in the strike is 33, higher numbers have been given on Turkish social media. One online news outlet claimed to have spoken to a soldier who said that he had counted 165 dead.[3] The attorney general's office in Ankara announced that social media posts about the attack that have "provocative purposes" and that "contradict the reality" were being investigated for crimes including "making terror organization propaganda."[4] The Counter-Cyber Crimes Directorate of the Directorate of Security announced that it had begun investigating provocative posts on social media and that "proceedings" had begun concerning 91 social media accounts.[5]

The NetBlocks internet observatory reported that in Turkey on February 27 "Social platforms Twitter, Facebook and Instagram became unreachable at 11:30 p.m. local time (8:30 p.m. UTC) via national provider Turk Telecom (AS9121) and subsequently other leading service providers. Data show that YouTube and WhatsApp messaging backend servers were also partially restricted at the same time or shortly after. The restrictions are technically consistent with techniques used to filter content in Turkey, with SNI and DNS filters in use varying by provider." It later reported: "The observed core incident duration is in excess of 16 hours with impact to subscribers spanning an 18-hour period."[6]

Turkish Government Opens Border To Syrian Refugees Trying To Go To Europe – Politicians, Police, Private Citizens, And Refugees Themselves Reportedly Organize Buses To Border For Refugees

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said in a statement: "This attack was carried out even though our units' positions were coordinated with Russian Federation authorities in the area ahead of time, and despite another warning being given after the first shot, unfortunately the attack continued." He said that the Turkish military had hit 200 Syrian regime targets following the attack, including five helicopters, 23 tanks, 10 armored vehicles, 23 artillery pieces and howitzers, five ammunition trucks, one SA-17 air defense system, one SA-22 air defense system, three ammunition depots, two supply depots, and one headquarters building. He also said that 309 Syrian regime soldiers had been "neutralized."[7] It was reported that hundreds of "commandos" are being sent to the Turkey-Syria border in Hatay as "reinforcements" following the strike.[8]

AKP spokesman Ömer Çelik said in a statement: "This attack was carried out, despite the Sochi Memorandum and the other memoranda, by the perfidiousness of the [Syrian] regime and with the encouragement of those who support the regime."[9] Çelik also announced following an emergency meeting at the Presidential Complex in Ankara that the government would open the borders to allow Syrians to try to enter Europe.[10] Thereafter there were reports that refugees living in Istanbul, İzmir, and Çanakkale had set out for the border.[11] Greek media reported that Greek border guards had used tear gas to disperse hundreds of migrants at the Turkey-Greece border.[12] Tanju Özcan, a member of the opposition CHP and mayor of the city of Bolu, announced that he would be paying for buses to bring to the border any Syrian refugees who live in Bolu and want to leave Turkey. He said: "We have begun to receive requests. We will start running our buses tomorrow [February 29]."[13] Private citizens are reportedly driving Syrian refugees to the border and refugees in the cities of Bodrum and İstanbul are organizing buses themselves to go to the border. One refugee said: "I was in jail for a month in Turkey. Today they set me free and said: 'go.' I'll go to Europe and help myself. The police brought us to the border."[14]

Journalist Ümit Kıvanç: "For What Are You Sending These Kids To Their Death?"

Yavuz Ağıralioğlu, spokesman for the opposition İYİ Party, said in a statement after the attack that "information I received yesterday said that the guys in the region [i.e., in Idlib] were afraid that they would be struck and that they were so squeezed that it was impossible to reach them logistically and I conveyed this to the defense minister. It means an airstrike was expected. Our air forces should have had information on this."[15] Dr. Hakan Güneş, a professor of international relations at Istanbul University said of the attack: "Turkey is spending all of its political gunpowder in almost a single stroke. It has very few options, and no true allies."[16] In a column titled "What Is All Of This For?" following the strike, opposition journalist Ümit Kıvanç asked: "For what are you doing these things? For what are you tormenting people? For what are you sending these kids to their death? For what, for whom?"[17]

Dr. Salih Yılmaz, director of the Russian Studies Institute said that: "Turkey can invoke the 21st article of the Montreux Convention [Regarding The Regime Of The Straits]. The tanks that the Syrian regime uses do not go by air, they go by a sea route using the [Bosporus] straits. We also know that the weapons sent to the Haftar regime in Libya go by the straits. If the Syrian regime is responsible for the attacks against Turkish soldiers in Syria, Turkey needs to block all of the ships going to the Syrian regime because it senses a threat of war."[18] An article in Yeni Akit titled: "Performing Prayers In Damascus Is Farz [Obligatory]! That Option Is On The Table!" talks about the emergency meeting President Erdoğan held yesterday following the strike. The article says that Yeni Akit's sources in the "palace" say that the response to the strike will be more than retaliation, and that "the decision was made to give a multidimensional answer."[19] This is at least the second time that such language has been used in the space of a month; MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli said on February 11: "The Turkish nation should, if necessary, if there is no other option, begin planning now to enter Damascus."[20]


[1], February 28, 2020.

[2], February 28, 2020.

[3], accessed February 28, 2020;, February 28, 2020.

[4], February 28, 2020.

[5], February 28, 2020.

[6], February 27, 2020.

[7], February 27, 2020.

[8], February 28, 2020.

[9], February 28, 2020.

[10], February 28, 2020.

[11], February 28, 2020.

[12], February 28, 2020.

[13], February 28, 2020.

[14], February 28, 2020;, February 28, 2020.

[15], February 28, 2020.

[16], February 28, 2020.

[17], February 28, 2020.

[18], February 28, 2020.

[19], February 28, 2020.

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