By Doğu Ergil
October 28, 2014
Sultan Muslim, a Syrian Kurdish woman from the besieged town of Kobani, has given birth to her seventh child in Suruç, a town in Turkey where she sought refuge with her family. You would expect that she and her family would feel grateful that Turkey has offered them a safe place and livelihood during such dire times. Instead, she and her husband named their newly born son Muhammed Obama Muslim, after US President Barack Hussein Obama. One might expect that the child would be named Recep Tayyip or Ahmet. But instead they honored President Obama as their savior, not Turkey's president or prime minister.
Explaining her choice, Sultan said: “I gave my son this name from my heart. I will never change this name… He [Obama] dispatched planes, aid for us. Because of his help maybe this cruelty will end and we will get back to our homes.”
We Turks have to wonder why a woman and her husband, Mahmut Beko Muslim, together with 200,000 Kurds from Kobani, and another million-and-a-half Syrians who have been welcomed in Turkey, are thanking a man on the other side of the world and not the county that gave them shelter and a chance to survive. I believe the answer lies in a statement by the father: "We want Obama to help us so that we can get back home. We, the Kurds, attacked whom? Fight against whom?"
The Turkish government and part of the population seem to think otherwise. Long at odds with Kurdish separatists, namely the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) at home, they consider the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the leading Kurdish party heading the defense of Kobani, to be an adjunct of the PKK. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacks are seen as a lesson to Syrian Kurds who have not succumbed to the demands of Turkish officials. This political attitude of indifference towards Kobani Kurds fighting for their town and lives has led them to believe that their real friends are the Americans, not the Turks.
These sour feeling have born bitter fruits in the town of Yüksekova in eastern Turkey. Three unarmed soldiers in plain clothes who had gone out shopping were each shot in the back of the head by two masked attackers in broad daylight.
In response to the attack, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said, “It is obvious that this attack is a planned provocation instigated by certain internal and external groups." This typical empty rhetoric in the face of crimes committed by unknown perpetrators says a lot, although nothing concrete. There may be many state actors who would not want Turkey to play a definitive role in the Middle East but would prefer to keep Turkey entangled in the Kurdish problem that it has thus far been unable to solve.
The assassination of the three soldiers was followed by the murder of a village guard who was part of a pro-government local militia organized against the PKK. The style of his murder, including leaving money in the mouth of the slain victim, was certainly an attempt to send a message to the other guardsmen and cause them to question their allegiance.
While the country mourned these losses, at the same time that a cease-fire agreement between the government and the PKK was under way, another provocation was staged in Cizre last Saturday. The Patriotic Revolutionist Youth Movement (YDG-H) -- an affiliate of the outlawed PKK -- declared autonomy in Cizre, a district of the southeastern province of Şırnak.
Hundreds of masked YDG-H members waving PKK flags declared the Sur and Nur neighborhoods as autonomous territories that would “rule themselves.” Their declaration reflected the rise of a unified Kurdish political consciousness rendering country boundaries meaningless: “The Kobani resistance has shown us the truth. If the revolution does not take place in Turkey, all other gains will remain in peril forever…”
Turkey's inaction against the possible fall of Kobani to ruthless ISIL has wider repercussions than the government may have expected, unwittingly uniting all the Kurdish enclaves in the Middle East. Furthermore, it has put the “solution process” between the Turkish government and the PKK at risk. Kurdish people who may have supported the government's peace initiative are now having second thoughts as the Turkish government made the dismantling of self-ruling Syrian Kurdish cantons a higher priority than coming to Kobani's defence.
Every Kurd knows that Kobani's fall would dismantle the Kurdish political existence in Syria. ISIL, known for its ceremonial beheadings, would do the same not only to Kobani Kurds but also to other Kurdish entities in northern Syria along the Turkish border. This possibility seems to have turned the emotional tide among Kurds, both within and without the country, against Turkey.
The Turkish government has rendered Turkey's former role as the Middle East's secular, pro-Western force to the Kurds. Things are now a little more difficult for Turkey.