PRAGUE, 25 August, Caucasus Times. Turkey has become a transit zone for thousands of young Muslims eager to join the so-called jihad waged by ISIS. Key financial flows to support the Islamic State’s militants also cross through Turkey. However, the country’s role in the Middle Eastern conflict extends beyond logistics. In the middle of the summer Turkish government made a decision to fly airstrikes on ISIS militant bases in Syria. At the same time, according to media, the strikes reached Kurdish PKK fighters battling the Islamic State. For a long time Turkey stayed away from the Middle Eastern turmoil and has been reluctant to engage in one of today’s most complicated conflicts before becoming a key player in the warfare around Syria. As a NATO member, Ankara actively supports the Syrian opposition – after all, the headquarters of the Syrian opposition coalition, National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, is based out of Turkey. Simultaneously, Turkey is rounding up Kurdish militants who are supported and armed by the United States while the Kurdish activists accuse Ankara of supporting ISIS. This all goes to demonstrate how complicated and multidirectional Turkish politics in the Middle East is.
According to E.kurd.net with reference to AFP, co-chair of the reputable “pro-Kurdish” Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Figen Yüksekdağ has accused Turkish authorities of supporting the ISIS terrorist organization. In the words of Ms. Yüksekdağ, Turkish government had supported Daesh for years which most recently resulted in a terrorist attack on the town of Kobani. According to the co-chairwoman, the militants are using Turkish border to strike Syria.
In response, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan strongly denied any such accusations. During a speech for Iftar dinner (a festive meal that concludes the daily fasting during the month of Ramadan) with the Turkish business elite, Erdoğan condemned “the barbaric attack by ISIS on civilians in Kobani.”
At the same time, based on a number of media reports, there are many ISIS fighters in the ranks of the Syrian opposition. They use Turkey as a temporary safe haven to recover from the fighting. Moreover, there are identified training camps for the Syrian opposition, and many Turkish citizens have joined sides with the Assad opposition.
According to a number of analysts, the establishment of such a massive logistical center could not have been possible without external support as well as authorization and assistance from the official government of Turkey.
Kurdish dream of their own autonomous state along Turkey’s southern border that would also include part of Turkey has been Ankara’s key problem. The issue exacerbated during the conflict in Iraq when the United States used Kurdish forces to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein. Since then, Iraqi and Syrian Kurds have been officially supported and armed by the West in their valiant fight against ISIS. This arrangement is particularly unacceptable to Turkey which is seriously concerned about the build-up of Kurdish forces on its territory.
In the most recent parliamentary elections, Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK party) suffered a crushing defeat in the southeast of the country taking 256 seats out of 550, thus losing its single-party government. For the first time in Turkey’s history the pro-Kurdish left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) crossed the electoral threshold carrying 12.8% of votes and joined the parliament. Election observers have noted that in the last several years opposition parties were squeezing Erdoğan out. The most troubling fact is that 80% of the population in Diyarbakir, the leading city in Turkey’s southeast and the hub of Kurdish nationalism, cast their votes creating all the conditions for an independent Kurdistan.
HDP’s leader and co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş rejected all possibilities of the coalition with the AK party: “With these elections, the debate on the presidency, the debate about dictatorship, has come to an end in Turkey. Turkey has returned from the edge of a cliff.” This statement could mean only one thing – the Kurds would be realizing their own political agenda, of which Kurdish state is a real possibility.
Ankara’s active engagement in the Syrian conflict results in air strikes and shelling of Kurdish forces along the Turkish border. According to Ankara, this would eliminate the threat of external support to the Turkish Kurds, particularly from the coalition of the Syrian Kurds from Rojava and Free Syrian Army. Therefore, the first war target of Turkey in the active combat was Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq.
Following the attack, Kurdish regional government in Iraq called on the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) to withdraw from its territory to prevent civilian deaths, amid a campaign of Turkish air strikes targeting the group. The statement also condemned Turkish authorities for bombing civilian targets in Iraq and Syria.
However, the most sudden development has been that Ankara used ISIS as a pretext to start military operations against Kurds inside Turkey. This happened in the wake of the terrorist assault on the town of Suruc near the Syrian border. Despite Erdoğan’s attempts to blame the atrocity on the Islamic State, the latter didn’t confirm its involvement.
During NATO’s emergency meeting, Erdoğan called for the creation of a “buffer zone” on the Turkey-Syria and Turkey-Iraq borders. While the official explanation was to have the buffer zone as a protection against the ISIS, suspicions run high that the move would allow Turkey to eliminate the Kurdish threat and control all border regions. The Kurdish Democratic Union Party, a Syrian affiliate of the PKK and a force against ISIS, is already controlling 400 kilometers of the Turkish-Syrian border.
However, the “buffer zone” idea has not found support among a number of NATO members. A particularly strong push came from Germany – it has a significant Kurdish minority in the country, who would not support Turkish moves.
As such, Turkey today is not only facing an external threat from the uncontrollable ISIS, but an internal one from the build-up of the Kurdish forces. After a serious of terrorist incidents inside the country, Turkish authorities are rounding up thousands of people including a handful of ISIS militants and a mass of the PKK affiliates. Peoples’ Democratic Party inclusion in the official political process in Turkey as well as increased anti-government sentiment from the Kurdish populations threaten to further destabilize the country as well as attest to the complete failure of Erdoğan’s long-standing policy of cozying up to radical Islamists in an attempt to hold on to power.