ISTANBUL – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan laid on Sunday the blame for the deaths of one million Syrians on the shoulders of their embattled leader Bashar al-Assad while speaking at a provincial political congress.
Erdogan’s criticism of al-Assad came just days after the Syrian government sent pro-regime fighters to back the Kurdish YPG militias fighting against Turkey’s cross-border military incursion into northern Syria’s Afrin enclave, a move which increases the odds of direct clashes between Turkish and Syrian troops, both of whom are allied with Russia.
“Didn’t he kill around 1 million people? How does the world protect this man? How do they stand by him?” Erdogan said during a Justice and Development Party congress in Gaziantep province.
“We’ve never sided with tyrants,” he asserted.
Erdogan also stated that 2,021 alleged Kurdish militia members had been “neutralized” during his country’s military operation to push the YPG out of Afrin, which began Jan. 20.
Although YPG militias have been armed and trained by the United States against the Islamic State terror organization, Turkey regards them as a terror group linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish separatist guerrilla group that has conducted a low-scale civil war in eastern Turkey for decades.