Turkey, Syria and the Kurds – The Never-ending Conflict

By Gabriella Twinning

The latest bombing at a wedding party in the eastern border city of Gaziantep, along with bombings of military and police vehicles in Van and Elazig, should have sent shockwaves through Turkish society. However, attacks of this kind have unfortunately become commonplace in Turkey’s recent history. President Erdogan, in his address to the people, equated the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighting in Syria. This surprised many a western audience, especially after shelling of both IS and YPG targets in Syria in response to the attacks. On the 24th of August, Turkish tanks entered Syrian territory and provided support for the Free Syrian Army taking back the city of Jarablus, previously an IS stronghold. The Turkish advancement blocked any possible encroachment of the YPG over the Syrian border town and in turn threatened other YPG strongholds, such as Manjib. CEFTUS, in this commentary, shall provide analysis to make sense of the Turkish position in Syria that seems so at odds with that of the International Community.

There has been an unprecedented rise in the levels of violence in Turkey, over the past couple of weeks, most notably the attack in Gaziantep, killing 54 with the majority of the victims being women and children. President Erdogan attributed blame to the Islamic State (IS), followed by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s statement vowing to wipe out IS. Further, one cannot ignore the less publicised bombings of military and police targets that took place in the cities of Van, Elazig, Cinar and Bitlis, killing 14 and wounding hundreds others. Attacks of this kind against ‘hard targets’ (military bases, political or state security outlets) in Turkey is the modus operandi of the PKK, who has a long history of insurgency against the Turkish state since their inception in 1984. President Erdogan, in response to these attacks, publically associated IS with FETO (Fetullah Gulen Terror Organisation), as well as the PKK and YPG. President Erdogan, in doing this, has simultaneously outlined the enemies of the state and his Syrian strategy.

By equating IS with the dissident cleric, currently residing in the US and supposed leader of the failed coup, Fetullah Gulen, President Erdogan is implying that the Gulenists are also terrorists and should be dealt with as such. This may have greater implications domestically, as we shall see how the imprisoned coup plotters and associates are dealt with. Further, by stating that the PKK and the YPG are one and the same insurgency, President Erdogan is justifying Turkey’s shelling of the YPG in Syria. It must be noted that President Erdogan and Turkey do not share the same strategy in Syria as that of NATO and the US. YPG movements and military operations against IS that involve re-taking towns along the Turkish-Syrian border is a cause for concern for Turkey. The fact these are strategic towns, teamed with the lengthy PKK insurgency that Turkey has been battling, President Erdogan feels there is a need to restrict YPG advancement as it threatens the territorial integrity of Turkey.

To conclude, the upheaval that Turkey has been experiencing recently has been a sad and bloody turn of events. The retaliation was swift and hopefully shall come to be known as a turning point in the war in Syria. Turkish domestic matters and history must be taken into account and fully evaluated to understand their manoeuvrings in Syria, despite initially appearing contradictory to the strategy of the International Community.

Photo credit: www.haberler.com