By Emil Sanamyan
AFRIN, Syria (Eurasia.net) – As Turkey’s military intervention in Kurdish-majority Afrin, Syria, entered its third week, a parallel public relations battle has raged on airwaves and social media, with varying messages tailored to Armenian and Azerbaijani audiences.
The Kurdish Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, which has administered the Afrin area since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2012, and its People’s Protection Forces (YPG) have accused Turkish forces of a variety of abuses, including killing civilians in air strikes. Kurdish forces released a video showing members of a Turkish-allied Syrian militia abusing the body of a dead female YPG fighter. The YPG also tried to portray itself as victorious on the battlefield, publishing dozens of recordings of its forces successfully targeting military vehicles of the Turkish forces and its allies.
The Turkish government, in turn, tried to present its fight against YPG – effectively a branch of long-time enemy number one, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – as a battle against the Islamic State (IS). Turkish officials accused the YPG of indiscriminate rocket fire into Turkish border towns and claimed that “utmost care and sensitivity” were taken not to harm civilians, highlighting cases of Afrin residents being “thankful” for actions of the Turkish forces.
As Turkey and the Kurds battled for international public opinion, there were several examples of more specific signaling to the publics in Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Accounts associated with the Azerbaijani lobby in Turkey distributed photos, apparently taken in the war zone, showing messages written on shells like “Karabakh is Turkish, will remain Turkish” with a hashtag for the Turkish official name for the Afrin operation, “Olive Branch.”