• Sunday, 03 July 2022
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THE SYRIAN KURDS AND THE CONFUSING U.S. SECURITY OUTLOOK GIVEN TURKEY’S ATTACKS AGAINST ISIS & THE PKK

THE SYRIAN KURDS AND  THE CONFUSING U.S. SECURITY OUTLOOK GIVEN TURKEY’S ATTACKS AGAINST ISIS & THE PKK
What do Turkey’s dual air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria and much heavier ones against PKK targets in Iraq portend? Do they signal a tactical and maybe even strategic change in its complicity with ISIS in favor of support for the U.S. war against ISIS? If so, how can such a contradictory Turkish policy against both the U.S. enemy ISIS but tacit U.S. friend the Kurds make sense? What is Turkey’s real intention? The inconclusive Turkish elections of 7 June 2015 that denied President Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP a majority for the first time since 2002 and fear of the Kurds both in Syria and Turkey seem a more likely explanation.

What next?

Look for Turkey either to get bogged down in Syria or what is more likely quickly pull back in hopes that ISIS will see the reasoning of renewed complicit alliance with Turkey against the Kurds. This is a dangerous game, but Erdogan may hope that his actions will help bring him a renewed AKP majority in a snap election by showing how in a time of crisis that Turkey needs a strong majority government. By attaching the PKK, Turkey seems to have given up the peace process with the PKK in part to garner the Turkish nationalist vote in what may soon be the next Turkish election. By appealing to the Turkish nationalist constituency, Erdogan hopes to lessen the pro-Kurdish HDP’s appeal and deny it reentry into the Turkish parliament and thus regain the AKP majority lost to the HDP in the recent election of June 7, 2015.

Analysis

Turkey fears the PKK and its Syrian Kurdish affiliate the PYD even more than it fears ISIS. This is because Turkey has fought a 30-year war against the PKK, and now finds itself faced with the possibility of a Kurdish/PKK state on its southern border in Syria. This is why Turkey has implicitly supported ISIS in Syria and why Turkey stood by watching ISIS come close to destroying the Syrian Kurds in Kobane and also oppose U.S. aid to the Syrian Kurds in the fall of 2014. Turkey also opposed the Syrian Kurdish capture of Tell Abyad on the Turkish border from ISIS in June 2015 and denied its NATO ally, the United States, use of the near-by Turkish airbase at Incirlik, which made it much more difficult for the United States to aid the Syrian Kurds.

Turkish air strikes against the PKK have been much heavier than against ISIS. Turkey has only hinted that it would allow the United States use of the Incirlik airbase to strike ISIS. All this shows that Turkey has not joined the U.S. alliance against ISIS, but really is more interested in attacking the PKK and reducing its Syrian Kurdish ally, the PYD. However, by attacking the PKK, Turkey is killing fighters who are killing ISIS. However, illustrating the complexity of the situation, the PKK is still on the U.S. terrorist list even though the United States has been working with it and its Syrian Kurdish affiliate the PYD to combat ISIS.
Turkish domestic arrests in recent days have targeted Kurdish elements much more than Islamists, again illustrating that Turkey’s main strikes are against the Kurds/PKK, not ISIS. However, according to the most recent (2014) U.S. State Department Country Report, human-rights violations in Turkey remain rampant and are increasing. Turkey also continues to stand accused for the greatest human-rights violations according to the European Court of Human Rights.

Refugees. Turkey is being overwhelmed by more than 2 million refugees from Syria. To help solve this refugee problem, Turkey wants to establish a buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border that would potentially house some of them. A buffer zone would also separate the Syrian and Turkish Kurds, and potentially create a safe house for Syrian opposition forces to attack the Assad regime which Turkey strongly opposes, but the United States does not to the same extend due to Assad fighting against ISIS, which the United States considers the main enemy. In addition, the Syrian Kurds (PYD) tacitly work with the Assad regime against ISIS. Thus for the United States ISIS is the main enemy and the Syrian Kurds the main boots on the ground to fight against ISIS. However, for Turkey the Assad regime and the PYD (Syrian Kurds) are the main enemy. This is no formula for the United States and Turkey to establish cooperation.

Turkish domestic arrests in recent days have targeted Kurdish elements much more than Islamists, again illustrating that Turkey’s main strikes are against the Kurds/PKK, not ISIS. However, according to the most recent (2014) U.S. State Department Country Report, human-rights violations in Turkey remain rampant and are increasing. Turkey also continues to stand accused for committing the greatest amount of human-rights violations according to the European Court of Human Rights.

The United States should realize that both Syria and Iraq are failed states. These two artificial states were created by the notorious Sykes-Picot Agreement after World War I, but have now split apart into their more natural sectarian and ethnic components. However, the United States still supports their territorial integrity in the incorrect view that this contributes to peace and security in the Middle East. On the contrary, this contributes to instability and war because it does not confirm with reality. Rather the United States should support the natural existing components which in Iraq means a three-state solution while in Syria means some sort of either a loosely-organized future federal state or more likely several new smaller states. Most importantly the United States should give greater support to the KRG in Iraq and also the Syrian Kurds as these are two pro-American entities with a proven track record of successfully opposing ISIS.

However, the Kurds in Turkey and Syria have much in common and this rightfully causes Turkish fears that an independent Syrian Kurdish state will act as an unwanted magnet for the Turkish Kurds. The artificial border between Turkey and Syria largely follows the Baghdad railway line that ran between the cities of Mosul and Aleppo before World War I. Many Kurds living in the Syrian province of Hasaka (Jazira) originally fled to the region from Turkey following the failure of the Sheikh Said Rebellion in Turkey in 1925. The newly drawn frontier line after World War I between Turkey and Syria did not mean much to the Kurds. Indeed even today many Kurds in Turkey and Syria do not refer to themselves as coming from those states. Rather for the Kurds of Turkey, Syria is Bin Xhet (below the line), and for the Kurds of Syria, Turkey is Ser Xhet (above the line). Suruc in Turkey is really a Kurdish-populated extension of the famous Syrian city of Kobane, and Nusaybin is merely the Turkish extension of the Syrian city of Qamishli. Adding to the confusion, many of these cities also have Arabic names. Thus Kobane is also known as Ayn al-Arab.

Outlook

Confusion is the immediate outlook. Turkey is running the risk of getting mired in the seemingly never-ending, horrific civil war in Syria. By attacking the PKK, Turkey is apparently ending the peace process with the PKK, which seemed so promising when it began in March 2013. Turkey is running the risk of reigniting a full-scale war again against the PKK and possibly also the PYD. However, Turkish actions are unlikely to end the PKK threat as Turkey has unsuccessfully battled this Kurdish organization for more than 30 years. Turkey’s actions are also unlikely to end what it sees as the problem of Syrian Kurdish autonomy as Turkey is not able to permanently occupy the Kurdish-populated areas of Syria.

Once it becomes clearer that Turkey is not really bent on fighting against ISIS but trying to rein in the Kurds, antagonism with its NATO ally the United States is likely to increase. Already Germany has expressed uncertainty and opposition about what Turkey is doing. U.S.-Turkish cooperation against ISIS is unlikely because fighting against ISIS is not really the Turkish intention.
The civil war in Syria is likely to continue because it also involves the Assad regime, Iran, Hezbollah, Russia, and a number of other groups. Turkish involvement would be much too little to tip the scales toward peace.

However, Turkish actions are likely to encourage often elusive intra-Kurdish ties against a perceived existential enemy. An eventual Kurdish state carved out of northern Iraq is inevitable, but not imminent because it would not serve its interests to antagonize its main sponsor the United States, which opposes KRG independence. Iran and Turkey also oppose it. In Syria, the PYD officially advocates bottom/up local administration or what it terms democratic autonomy, not independence.
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