James M. Dorsey
like much of the Middle East, is discovering that what goes around comes
Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have miscalculated the fallout of what may
prove to be a foolhardy intervention in Syria, neglecting alternative options
that could have strengthened Turkey’s position without sparking the ire of much
of the international community.
Refusal to Acknowledge the Rights of the Kurds
prove to be a bad strategic error on his part is rooted in a policy of decades
of denial of Kurdish identity and suppression of Kurdish cultural and political
rights. This was more likely than not to fuel conflict rather than encourage
policy midwifed the birth in the 1970s to militant groups like the Kurdish
Workers Party (PKK), which only dropped its demand for Kurdish independence in
that has waged a low intensity insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives
has been declared a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the
refusal to acknowledge the rights of the Kurds, who are believed to account for
up to 20% of the country’s population, traces its roots back to the days of
carving of modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire by its
visionary founder, Mustafa Kemal, widely known as Ataturk, or Father of the
entrenched in Mr. Kemal’s declaration in a speech in 1923 to celebrate Turkish
independence of “how happy is the one who calls himself a Turk,” an effort to
forge a national identity for country that was an ethnic mosaic.
was incorporated half a century later in Turkey’s student oath and ultimately
removed from it in 2013 at a time of peace talks between Turkey and the PKK by
then prime minister, now president, Erdogan.
government had traditionally referred to Kurds not as Kurds but as mountain
Turks. It took the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the late
1980s and early 1990s as well as the 1991 declaration by the United States,
Britain and France of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq to enable the emergence of
an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region and subsequently spark a real debate inside
Turkey about the Kurdish question.
Turkish Kurds, who could rise to the highest offices in the land as long as
they identified as Turks rather than Kurds, resembled Palestinians with Israeli
citizenship, whose options were more limited even if they endorsed the notion
of a Jewish state.
that there was no alternative to the Turkish intervention in Syria is further
countered by the fact that Turkish PKK negotiations that started in 2012 led a
year later to a ceasefire and a boosting of efforts to secure a peaceful
To Live Within the Borders of Turkey”
prompted imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to publish a letter endorsing
the ceasefire, the disarmament and withdrawal from Turkey of PKK fighters and a
call for an end to the insurgency.
predicted that 2013 would be the year in which the Turkish Kurdish issues would
be resolved peacefully.
military leader, Cemil Bayik, told the BBC three years later that “we don’t
want to separate from Turkey and set up a state. We want to live within the
borders of Turkey on our own land freely.”
broke down in 2015 against the backdrop of the Syrian war and the rise as an
ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State of the PKK’s Syrian
affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
opposed to the U.S.-YPG alliance, Turkey demanded that the PKK halt its
resumption of attacks on Turkish targets and disarm prior to further
responded to the breakdown and resumption of violence with a brutal crackdown
in the southeast of the country and on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic
emergence as one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s foremost investors and trading partners,
a move made in exchange for Iraqi Kurdish acquiescence in Turkish countering
the PKK’s presence in the region, could have provided inspiration for a
U.S.-sponsored safe zone in northern Syria that Washington and Ankara had
scholar Sonar Cagaptay suggested in August that a safe zone would have helped:
realign the relationship between Turkey’s
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot… The safe-zone
arrangements… envision(ed) drawing down the YPG presence along the border—a
good starting point for reining in the PKK, improving U.S. ties with Ankara,
and avoiding a potentially destructive Turkish intervention in Syria.
opportunity that could have created the beginnings of a sustainable solution
that would have benefitted Turkey as well as the Kurds fell by the wayside with
Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria.
as is the case so often, Mr. Erdogan is not guided by true strategic
considerations in his foreign policy moves, but rather by often petty and
short-term domestic political considerations.
decision to go after the Kurds inside northern Syria did split the multi-party
coalition that was formed to elect as the new mayor of Istanbul, very much
against Mr. Erdogan’s wishes.
move bears great political risks for Erdogan at home if he doesn’t succeed in
the manner he has very publicly advertised. After a temporary patriotic hurray
period, the country may soon find itself in the economic doldrums again.
Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
and an award-winning journalist. [Singapore]
Headline: Turkey and the Kurds: What Goes Around Comes Around
Source: The Globalist