Turkey: Damned if they do, damned if they don’t

This morning I watched a couple of Talking Heads on an American News TV channel once again openly criticise Turkey for not doing enough to help the Kurds or stop the march of the Islamic extremist group, which now calls itself Islamic State (IS). Of course, neither objective could be gained easily or in isolation from the other as they are essentially the same thing. This would only be achieved (according to the commentators sat in their comfortable TV Studio 8,000 miles away) after Turkey did one dramatic thing… invade Syria. However, this potentially disastrous situation did not arrive yesterday, it has been bubbling away for years, largely ignored by the rest of the world until it finally reached crisis point towards the end of this summer. So it isn’t just Turkey’s problem. It is a problem that the whole world should have been seriously addressing for at least two years now.

More than a year ago I twice highlighted the complicated position that Turks find themselves in as its neighbour Syria continued to implode. At that time the rest of the world seemed quite happy to simply stand by wringing it’s hands or criticising Turkey for not getting involved, despite the fact it had accepted countless refugees. In the months that followed, as with most modern crises, the fall-out from Syria was largely forgotten once some Governments had made themselves feel a little better by sending a few million dollars to get the desperate refugees through a cold winter. However, the ultimate consequences of the worlds inaction to deal with the true cause of the disease last year, instead of its symptoms, has now exploded spectacularly in their faces.

Photo by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

In my post The Noisy Neighbours I described the push and pull and conflicting loyalties and expectations that existed within the regions many ethnic groups, who more often than not lived on both sides of many different international borders. I also described in The UN Veto Waltz, the total failure of the UN to do anything, mainly because of both China and Russia’s willingness to use their Veto to protect the Syrian Government and their own military or economic interests in the region, while Bashar Assad continues to murder his own people.

In the west, where News is packaged, politicised and then dumbed-down for an increasingly disinterested social media generation, governments have tried to pigeon hole everything as either black or white. Nothing was so true when it came to dealing with a resurgent Islam in the wake of 9/11. Bush’s War on Terror turned out to be little more than crude revenge and if he had his way may well have been called something like: Time to Sort These Muslims Out. So is it any surprise that Turkey, with its own Islamist leaning Government, can appear a little wary of the motives of the western powers. Or that it sometimes comes across, despite having the 2nd biggest army inside Nato, as reluctant to get more involved.

So we now read headlines like ‘Could Turkey be about to return to the bad old days of armed conflict with the Kurds?’ Some would say that with troops on the streets, curfews for the first time in 22 years, protests in almost 30 cities and state buildings attacked – that the situation is already dangerous and escalating fast. However, in a country of people raised as political as well as ethnic chameleons, nothing is ever what it seems. Yes there is fighting within the Kurdish community, between Turkey’s Islamist Hezbollah group – which backs Islamic State (IS) – and supporters of the PKK, the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is vehemently opposed to IS militants, but, the main protests and the fiercest anger is still directed at the Turkish government. Some Kurds now feel that Turkey sees them, rather than IS, as the true enemy. They are also furious at Turkish troops blocking them from crossing over into Syria to fight with the Kurdish militia there, the YPG. Many also believe that Turkey would be happy to see the fall of Kobane if it means Kurdish hopes for an autonomous entity in Syria went up in those flames.

As I said earlier, most of these tensions could have been eased a year ago if the world had dealt with Assad then. But that ship sailed a long time ago, particularly as there is now, astonishingly, a ground swell of opinion, even within the US and Europe that these issues and the stopping of IS can now only be achieved if an alliance is made with the murderous Assad. And despite this sounding about as ridiculous as the Allies siding with Hitler at the end of 1945, just to stop the spread of a new threat – Stalin’s Red Army; in many world capitals it seems to be the only show in town. Therefore it should come as no surprise that many Turks now view the situation as devil if you do, devil if you don’t. So is it any wonder that they hesitates on the border?

Photo by scrolleditorial

For now, Turkey refuses to budge and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated this week that his country would only get more involved in Syria if the US-led coalition also targeted President Assad’s regime, as well as IS. He also said a no-fly zone had to be imposed to halt regime air strikes and help cope with the refugees. The US state department reiterated that the coalition was focused for now on IS alone. So Turkish troops are unlikely to spring into action.

Turkey turned against President Assad early on in the war, betting he would fall quickly. But in so doing, Ankara was widely criticised for taking an “anyone but Assad” policy, backing armed groups, which became ever more extreme. However the Turkish government have, it appears, only just woken up themselves to the threat posed by IS – mainly after the group kidnapped 46 Turkish citizens in June, holding them for more than 100 days. But critics believe Ankara is still not serious about tackling the extremists. “For us, the PKK and IS are the same,” President Erdogan also said this week. “So it is wrong to consider them as different from each other.”

The bitter legacy of conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdish minority goes a long way towards explaining Turkey’s inaction in Kobane. So Ankara fears helping the Kurdish militia in Syria, which is closely allied to the PKK, itself still labelled a terrorist organisation by the West. Some 40,000 people have been killed in the Kurdish insurgency in Turkey since the 1980s, and although a peace process with the Turkish government was launched recently, it remains fragile, particularly after Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, said if Kobane falls to IS, it will spell the end of the peace process.

So is it any wonder that Turkey refuses to listen to the rest of the world, when the worlds own in-action has not only exasperated the Syrian war and allowed IS to fill a very dangerous power vacuum, but has potentially caused even more unnecessary chaos within Turkey itself.


7 thoughts on “Turkey: Damned if they do, damned if they don’t

  1. I must say that I agree and disagree with you Mr Bradley. Yes Turkey is in a difficult position and yes America is wanting it both ways, but also no I don’t think the world should just let that city fall to these IS people because the world should have done something last year. War is bad and people need to be flexible and react as things change.

  2. I would like to agree. Everyone thinks the US are policing the world but in its own truth they are much more happier when they can make another country do it. I feel sorry for Turkey with all of the problems it must face.


  3. Was hoping for something a bit lighter Anthony this week Lol. No I enjoyed it again of course but wont be going to turkey any time soon. How long will it be a problem weeks months years?!

    • That is a question no one knows the answer to, so I wont even begin to guess Greta. However, I should point out that Turkey really is a very large country and the trouble is way, way over in the far south east – hundreds of miles from the normal tourist traps, where it is just as safe as it always has been. So don’t let what’s happening in Syria put you off, come and enjoy a great holiday, in a beautiful country.

  4. The US and UK created a a power vacuum in Iraq by removing SH and then standing back and watched chaos reign. For once in the past few years I find myself agreeing with RTE’s policy which is hard to write.

  5. Shifting sand Anthony! Just heard that the Turks are finally allowing Kurds over the border to defend Kobane. Now damned because they did I suppose?

    While I write my friend Fiona said she subscribed last week but did not receive your post notice?

    • Hello again Greg. Thanks for your comment.
      As far as I can see the Turks have decided to allow only Iraqi Kurds over the border from it’s territory – so I guess technically they are still preventing their own Kurdish citizens from getting involved. So still on the fence to a certain extent as they try to keep domestic and international audiences happy.

      I have pm’d you about your friend. I suspect simply a missing character in her address?

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