MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Let’s hear now about an issue playing out in Turkey. The U.S. would like Turkey’s military to restrain its offensive against the Kurds in Northern Syria. That’s because the U.S. has troops in the region supporting Kurdish fighters against ISIS. But Turkey sees the Kurds as terrorists with ties to militants inside Turkey. The country launched an invasion it calls Operation Olive Branch to clear those Kurds out of the way. NPR’s Peter Kenyon reports on how this is all going over in Istanbul.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Istanbul is not known as a stronghold of support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK Parti. But with Turkish soldiers on the offensive across the border in Syria, people are nodding in approval when asked what they think of the push into Syria’s Northwest Afrin region.
SERTAC TOPUKSAL: (Through translator) I totally support this operation. It’s needed for our border security and the safety of the republic. In my opinion, it’s overdue.
KENYON: Fifty-nine-year-old taxi driver Fikret Palabiyik leans against a low stone wall next to an elderly man hunched over his shoeshine kit. He knows how unpopular it is abroad to see Turkey attacking another U.S. ally. And he knows there’s a risk Turkish troops could run into American forces, but he doesn’t care.
FIKRET PALABIYIK: (Through interpreter) The U.S. is supporting this terror group and we are against this group, so I think we should just go in. God willing, nothing terrible will happen. I would go myself. I’m 59 years old. I would definitely go. I’m not kidding.
KENYON: Of course, no one is asking him to go. Turkey’s military has no shortage of manpower. But it’s a common sentiment among people here. Backing for the government is crossing party lines even as international calls gril for Turkey to show restraint and avoid destabilizing violence. Four men huddled around a table at a cafe say they’re all opposition supporters and wouldn’t vote for Erdogan.
IHSAN: (Foreign language spoken).
KENYON: But 60-year-old Ihsan says he definitely supports the operation in Syria. He says it’s a fitting response to what he calls American imperialism in the Middle East. Ihsan is also not worried about a possible confrontation with U.S. troops.
IHSAN: (Through interpreter) What are they doing here? What is their purpose? The U.S. should pull out of Northern Syria and let the local people decide their own affairs.
KENYON: Rallying behind the government in times of conflict is common, but critics say authorities are also cracking down on those who publicly oppose the operation, arresting more than 300 people.
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KENYON: I found one person willing to say he’s not happy with the operation in an Istanbul music shop. Soft jazz played in the background as Sertac Topuksal explained that he just doesn’t see more violence solving anything.
TOPUKSAL: (Through interpreter) What if this chaos is contagious? There are millions of people who’ve lost everything – homes, jobs. They’re living in foreign countries. What if something like that happens here?
KENYON: But these days, at least in public, that’s a minority view. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.