Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

TURKEY: Caught Between Syria’s Kurds and a Hard Spot

EurasiaNet / Inter Press Service

In a display of muscle-flexing, Turkish tanks recently carried out military exercises on the Syrian border, just a few kilometres away from towns that Syrian Kurds had seized from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

The seizure of the Kurdish towns sent alarm bells ringing in the Turkish capital. “It took a lot of people by surprise in Ankara. It is one of the toughest and serious issues in the last period of Turkish history,” said Metehan Demir, a military expert and columnist for the Turkish daily Hürriyet.

“The capture of Kurdish towns in Syria is perceived by Kurdish groups in Turkey as the signal for (a) future autonomous Kurdish region on Turkey’s border, which is seen as the start of (a) wider Kurdish state, including Iran, Iraq and Turkey,” Demir added.

Turkey has a restive Kurdish minority, accounting for around 20 percent of its population of 73.6 million. Since 1984, Ankara has been fighting the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which is fighting for greater Kurdish rights. Many of its fighters are drawn from Syria’s Kurdish minority. Adding to Ankara’s angst, the PKK flag was raised in one of the seized Syrian towns.

“We will not allow the formation of a terrorist structure near our border,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutog­lu told a Turkish television channel on Jul. 29. “We reserve every right . . . No matter if it is Al-Qaeda or the PKK. We would consider it a matter of national security and take every measure.”

The tough words are seen as a government attempt to assuage anger, bordering on panic in sections of the country’s often-nationalist media.

This is because Ankara had not prepared the Turkish public for this event. “I cannot believe Ankara was surprised,  said international relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University. “Syrian Kurds are going to look after their own self-determination. They will seek to achieve at least autonomy. We had this coming for a long, long time.”

Since the seizure of the Syrian towns, Turkish armed forces with armour have been sent to Turkey’s border with the Syrian Kurdish region.

“Turkey will see and understand whether this territory is a matter of right of the Kurds, or a base of the PKK,” warned Hurriyet’s Demir. “Depending on this situation, Turkey might actually carry out an operation.”

Any military action by Turkey, Ozel believes, would be counterproductive. “I think that would be close to a suicidal move as I can imagine,”  he said. “Because I am not quite sure that the Turkish military is ready to take on yet another enemy . . . Turkey would be fighting a war on two, or even three fronts, if the Iraqi Kurds were involved.”

For now, Ankara appears to be looking to diplomacy rather than force. The semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan regional government shares a border with Turkey and the Syrian Kurdish region. In the past few years, Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party has developed close ties with the region and with Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani.

“There is now a very close dialogue between Ankara and Barzani,” said Sinan Ulgen, head of the Istanbul-based EDAM research institute. “However, in Syria we see two rival Kurdish entities; one dominated by the Kurdish National Council, but the other one is an offshoot of the PKK. There, Barzani does not really have leverage.”

Questions over Barzani’s influence over developments in Syria are increasingly being raised in Ankara. Before Syrian Kurds’ gains in northern Syria, Turkish media broadcast pictures of hundreds of Syrian Kurdish fighters being escorted by Barzani’s forces back into Syria.

Adding to Ankara’s concern is that Barzani brokered a deal between rival Syrian Kurdish factions, including the National Democratic Party, which is linked to the PKK. It remains a point of controversy whether Ankara was aware of this deal, although a regional diplomatic source claims Turkish officials knew about the pact.

On Jul. 26, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdog­an warned the Iraqi Kurdish leadership that “we are no longer responsible  for what might happen.”

But tensions were markedly reduced after the Turkish foreign minister met with Barzani on Aug. 1 in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil. A joint statement was issued promising to work together on Syria. Ankara’s anger could be tempered by the increasing trade relationship with the Iraqi Kurds. Iraq is now Turkey’s second largest trading partner, of which the lion’s share of commerce is taken by Iraqi Kurds.

Analyst Ulgen said that if Ankara takes steps to resolve its own Kurdish conflict, it will have no reason to worry about Kurds setting up a state across the Turkish border. But he warns that events in Syria threaten to drive up the price for Ankara of any domestic deal.

“It will make it more difficult for Turkey to negotiate with its own Kurds, to the extent (that) each type of development across the border has tended (to make) the Turkish Kurds to raise their expectations as to what they can accomplish,”  Ulgen said.

Dorian Jones is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the more effective U.S. lobbying outfits, aims to ensure that the United States backs Israel regardless of the policies Israel pursues.


Donald Trump’s second attorney general, William Barr is the focus of a growing controversy over the Robert Mueller report because his decision to unilaterally declare that the the president had not obstructed justice during the Mueller investigation.


Gina Haspel is the first woman to hold the position of director of the CIA, winning her confirmation despite her history of involvement in torture during the Iraq War.


United against Nuclear Iran is a pressure group that attacks companies doing business in Iran and disseminates alarmist reports about the country’s nuclear program.


Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, is the president’s senior adviser, whose dealings with the Persian Gulf leaders have come under scrutiny for conflicts of interest.


Erik Prince, former CEO of the mercenary group Blackwater, continues to sell security services around the world as controversies over his work—including in China and the Middle East, and his alleged involvement in collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia—grow.


Robert Joseph played a key role in manipulating U.S. intelligence to support the invasion of Iraq and today is a lobbyist for the MEK.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

President Trump’s announcement that he would recognise Israeli sovereignty over the western part of the Golan Heights destroys the negotiating basis for any future peace between Israel and Syria. It also lays the groundwork for a return to a world without territorial integrity for smaller, weaker countries.


The Senate on Wednesday passed a measure mandating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Saudi/UAE-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. The vote marks the first time since the War Powers Act of 1973 became law that both chambers of Congress have directed the president to withdraw American forces from a conflict.


The Trump administration’s failed “maximum pressure” approach to Iran and North Korea begs the question what the US president’s true objectives are and what options he is left with should the policy ultimately fail.


In the United States, it’s possible to debate any and every policy, domestic and foreign, except for unquestioning support for Israel. That, apparently, is Ilhan Omar’s chief sin.


While Michael Cohen mesmerized the House of Representatives and President Trump resumed his love affair with North Korea’s Kim Jong, one of the most dangerous state-to-state confrontations, centering in Kashmir, began to spiral out of control.


The Trump administration’s irresponsible withdrawal from the landmark Iran nuclear agreement undermined Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and emboldened hardliners who accused him of having been deceived by Washington while negotiating the agreement. However, the Iranian government could use the shock of Zarif’s resignation to push back against hardliners and take charge of both the domestic and foreign affairs of the country while Iran’s foreign opponents should consider the risks of destabilizing the government under the current critical situation.


Europe can play an important role in rebuilding confidence in the non-proliferation regime in the wake of the demise of the INF treaty, including by making it clear to the Trump administration that it wants the United States to refrain from deploying INF-banned missiles in Europe and to consider a NATO-Russian joint declaration on non-first deployment.


RightWeb
share