FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Turkish Mission: Reining in the Kurds

The situation is pressing. Turkey, having always expressed an ambivalent position on how to deal with the threat of Islamic State, has gone on the offensive against their mortal enemy, the Kurds. This is problematic, not least because the Kurds have also provided considerable fight in the battle against Islamic State and its assortment of forces.

The US-led coalition created to fight IS has attempted, with varying degrees of success, to assist the Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria by way of airstrikes. Much of this is symbolic push rather than tangible gain, but the Kurds have taken it in their stride to make gains. But while this particular action was taking place, Ankara’s view towards its own Kurdish minority is one of wariness, ever watchful about the actions of the PKK. The creation of a Kurdish state is the last thing on the policy making books, especially if it is to be created along Syria’s northern border with Turkey.

The successes of the YPG have been striking. In recent months, they have managed to force Islamic State fighters from 2,000 square miles of territory in northern Syria. Administrative autonomy has been established in the three Kurdish cantons, something aided by the YPG victory at Tal Abyad last summer. Even as this is happening, Ankara has gotten busy bombing PKK positions in northern Iraq. This is the artificial difference between the ideological Kurd and the pragmatic one; the Kurd that will do business with Ankara; and one willing to fight it.

Effectively, Ankara finds itself at war with several groups, with a promise that it will also target the YPG if it gets too zealous and stroppy in victory. On July 23, Turkish forces, after breathing heavily on the border, finally joined the battle against the Islamic State with air and artillery strikes in Syria. Simultaneous access to the United States was also granted at the Incirlik and Diyarbakir airbases.

Turkey is now in the process of establishing a safe border zone in the northwest of Syria which will act as a buffer against Kurdish nationalist aspirations, though whether this receives full approval from the United States is still not clear. (The messages at this point suggest the affirmative.) Certainly, the message from Turkish officials is that Washington ought to abide by it, ostensible to protect other ethnicities that would, it is argued, suffer under a Kurdish dominated administration.

“That’s the red line,” claimed a Turkish official in the Wall Street Journal. “There are almost no Kurds in the area that would be the ISIL-free zone. Forcing the issue would trigger a new wave of ethnic cleansing, which is unacceptable to us.” When Turkish officials refer to the book of ethnic cleansing, history is truly out of joint.

Domestically, the police state is abuzz with arrests of ISIS sympathisers and suspected PKK members. The Erdogan government has managed to steal US support to effectively right its own domestic ills, notably the electoral advances made by the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party. Having failed to secure the mandate that would have given him near despotic powers, Erdogan has had to find other schemes to trample on democratic sentiment.

Targeting the PKK nad dealing with ISIS are not seen as mutually exclusive, and the boutique of paranoid ideologies is being frequented by such individuals as the presidential foreign advisor Ibrahim Kalin. “Although acting with different motivations, ISIS and the PKK both employ similar tactics and goals to maintain their presence in the region, carrying out terrorist attacks.” Like Siamese headed monsters, ISIS and the PKK sought to manipulate the political process for military gain. “No democracy can allow that. Terrorism must be opposed in all its forms whether it is ISIS or PKK terrorism.”

The PKK is treated as a radical, anti-democratic body that would perish under transparency. But this is always Kalin’s point: Turkey cannot abide by such an organisation. Then comes the domestic sting: that the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is doing little to actually condemn the activities of the PKK. “They condemn the deaths without making any reference to the PKK despite the fact that the PKK has claimed responsibility for them.”

The interventions by Ankara, now cloaked by Washington’s backing, are richly cynical in calculation. The targeting of ISIS positions is being undertaken in a way that may weaken the body without actually benefiting the Kurds. In joining the broader fight, the goal here is to keep the lid on the Syrian Rojava canton, stomping on any prospects that a sovereign Kurdish state might develop.

The true beef Turkey has here is not with the caliphate designs of Islamic State, but its deeply visceral dislike and suspicion of Kurdish ambitions. In this, it has relied on Washington’s meddlesome desire to rally in a manner that is undermining the very fighters that have proven to be most effective. “In effect,” argued Stephan Richter of The Globalist, “the Americans have managed to sell out the Kurds, perhaps Syria’s only true ‘freedom fighters’, as they proved to be in the defence of Kobane.”

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
Patrick Cockburn
Is ISIS About to Lose Its Last Stronghold in Syria?
Joseph Grosso
The Invisible Class: Workers in America
Kim Ives
Haiti’s Popular Uprising Calls for President Jovenel Moïse’s Removal
John Carroll Md
Dispatch From Haiti: Trump and Breastfeeding
Alycee Lane
On Heat Waves and Climate Resistance
Ed Meek
Dershowitz the Sophist
Howard Lisnoff
Liberal Massachusetts and Recreational Marijuana
Ike Nahem
Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle
Olivia Alperstein
Kavanaugh and the Supremes: It’s About Much More Than Abortion
Manuel E. Yepe
Korea After the Handshake
Robert Kosuth
Militarized Nationalism: Pernicious and Pervasive
Binoy Kampmark
Soft Brexits and Hard Realities: The Tory Revolt
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Localization: a Strategic Alternative to Globalized Authoritarianism
Kevin Zeese - Nils McCune
Correcting The Record: What Is Really Happening In Nicaragua?
Chris Wright
The American Oligarchy: A Review
Kweli Nzito
Imperial Gangster Nations: Peddling “Democracy” and Other Goodies to the Untutored
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail