Right Web

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

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

Recent gains by rebellious Syrian Kurds have unnerved the Turkish government and media.

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

Haim Saban is a media mogul and major donor to the Democratic Party known for his hardline stance on Israel and opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.


Nikki Haley, Donald Trump’s first U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is known for her lock-step support for Israel and is widely considered to be a future presidential candidate.


Brian Hook is the director of policy planning and senior policy advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and is the head of the Iran Action Group.


Josh Rogin is a journalist known for his support for neoconservative policies and views.


Laurence Silberman, a senior justice on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, was a mentor to controversial Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and has been a vocal supporter of right-wing foreign and domestic agendas, including the campaign to support the invasion of Iraq.


The People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, advocates regime change in Iran and has strong connections with a wide range of top political figures in the U.S.


Eli Lake is a columnist for Bloomberg View who has a lengthy record of advocating for aggressive U.S. foreign policies towards the Middle East.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

The tragic end of Jamal Khashoggi should serve as a reminder that it’s time for the United States to move on and leave the motley crew of undesirable Middle Eastern partners, from Israel to Saudi Arabia, to their collective fate. They deserve each other.


Jobs should not be an excuse to arm a murderous regime that not only appears to be behind the assassination of a U.S. resident and respected commentator but is also responsible for thousands of civilian casualties in Yemen—the majority killed with U.S-supplied bombs, combat aircraft, and tactical assistance.


The contradictions in Donald Trump’s foreign policy create opportunities for both rivals and long-standing (if irritated) US allies to challenge American influence. But Trump’s immediate priority is political survival, and his actions in the international arena are of little concern to his domestic supporters.


While the notion that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic is decades old, it has been bolstered in recent years, by the campaign to add to the definition of anti-Semitism any criticism that singles Israel out and doesn’t apply the same standard to other countries. The bottom line is that this entire effort is designed not to combat anti-Semitism but to silence criticism. 


Short-term thinking, expedience, and a lack of strategic caution has led Washington to train, fund, and support group after group that have turned their guns on American soldiers and civilians.


Trump is not the problem. Think of him instead as a summons to address the real problem, which in a nation ostensibly of, by, and for the people is the collective responsibility of the people themselves. For Americans to shirk that responsibility further will almost surely pave the way for more Trumps — or someone worse — to come.


The United Nations has once again turn into a battleground between the United States and Iran, which are experiencing one of the darkest moments in their bilateral relations.


RightWeb
share