TOPSHOT - Syrian children stand near military vehicles during a joint Russian-Turkish patrol in the eastern countryside of the town of Darbasiyah near the border with Turkey in Syria's northeastern Hasakah province on July 28, 2022. (Photo by Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

Claims to Greek islands, the persecution of the domestic opposition and attacks on Syria’s Kurds – Turkey remains a difficult ally for Germany. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) did not want to hide that during her visit there. After a dispute with his counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, Baerbock met leading opposition politicians over the weekend, including representatives of the pro-Kurdish HDP.

Despite the Turkish invasion plans, Berlin wants to continue to support the Syrian Kurds with medical supplies. This emerges from the response of Niels Annen (SPD), State Secretary for Economic Cooperation and Development, to the request of MP Daniela De Ridder, which is available to the Tagesspiegel in advance. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Germany has spent 33.7 million euros on health care in the regions of Syria not controlled by the Damascus regime.

At 30.4 million euros, most of the money went to aid projects in Idlib in the northwest, which is ruled by Islamists. However, around 3.3 million euros were used for the autonomous region in the north-east, which is dominated by Kurds. In addition, there are four million euros of German funds that are used there by the Malteser. Annen writes: “According to the current status and subject to Parliament’s budget law, continued support for basic health structures can be expected in 2023.”

Foreign Minister Baerbock warned Ankara of a new Syrian invasion; Turkish troops have occupied areas there with Arab Islamists since 2018. Human rights activists speak of torture, kidnappings and expulsions of Kurds there. The Kurdish self-government felt compelled to ask the Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad for help.

In May, Turkish head of state Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his intention to completely smash Syria’s Kurdish autonomous region. Development Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) shows backbone when she finances health projects there despite Erdogan’s threats against self-government in north-east Syria, said De Ridder. “The Turkish government is trying to mediate in the Kremlin’s hunger war against Ukraine – but this should not make us forget that Erdogan is aggravating the plight of civilians in Syria.” The Lower Saxony SPD MP is the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s special representative for Eastern Europe.

On Thursday, Ankara’s army killed four police officers from the Kurdish Autonomous Government using a drone. Out of consideration for Ankara, the federal government is only holding unofficial talks with the self-government of the region, also known as Rojava. It has been governed by an alliance under the secular Kurdish party PYD since 2012. Erdogan regards the PYD as a sister organization to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party PKK, which is also banned in Germany.

The US has officially supported Syria’s Kurds with arms in recent years. Above all, the Kurdish YPG liberated northern Syria from the “Islamic State” (IS). Washington warned the NATO partners in Ankara that a Turkish invasion would lead to a resurgence of IS – which Foreign Minister Baerbock also addressed during her visit to Turkey.

Only a few US troops remain in Syria, and Russia has the majority of air sovereignty. So far, Assad’s protective powers, alongside Russia and Iran, have refused the Turkish invasion. There are Russian-Turkish patrols on Syria’s northern border, and in a few days Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan will meet for the second time in a month. The Sunni Islamists, who are allied with Turkey, are particularly dangerous for the Shiite mullahs’ regime in Tehran.

The Turkish opposition welcomed Baerbock’s comparatively clear stance. “Direct statements and confrontation are sometimes unavoidable,” said pro-Kurdish HDP co-head Mithat Sancar after speaking with Baerbock in Ankara. AKP Minister Cavusoglu always speaks directly, and now his German counterpart has behaved so clearly for the first time. The opposition in Turkey has been under massive pressure for years. The HDP is threatened with a ban, the ex-party leader Selahattin Demirtas has been in prison since 2016, although the European Court of Human Rights ordered his release.

According to a survey by the Metropoll Institute, the AKP would have failed to achieve an absolute majority in the current alliance with the far-right MHP in June. Inflation in Turkey is officially 80 percent. Again and again Erdogan tries to present foreign policy successes.

Because of the “Kurdish question”, Erdogan had prevented Sweden and Finland from being accepted into NATO for weeks after Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Stockholm and Helsinki had to pledge that they would take tougher action against PKK sympathizers and not support northern Syria’s Kurdish self-government.

As reported, Ankara’s army has been bombing suspected PKK positions in Iraq for years. Nine Arab tourists were killed in a rocket attack a few days ago. Iraq’s central government in Baghdad requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

The Kurdish region in northern Iraq, administered by a pro-Western government, is widely recognized internationally, and the Bundeswehr helped the Peshmerga, who act as an army there, in the fight against IS. The mandate expires in the fall. Tobias Lindner (Greens), Minister of State in the Foreign Office, recently told the Rudaw broadcaster that there were “good reasons” for a longer Bundeswehr mission.

Despite all the criticism, Baerbock then said that Germany and Turkey are dependent on each other – Ankara is an “indispensable partner”.