Turkey’s Worst Nightmare

Turkey’s worst insecurity, and thus nightmare, is nothing else but its territorial dismemberment and therefore anything that has to do with Kurdish autonomy regionally or nationally. As the situation in Syria is getting worse, Assad is focusing on securing Damascus and his own self and family, thus leaving the forces of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in charge. The PYD is said to be linked to and have similar goals with the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has been fighting against the Turkish state for Kurdish autonomy since the early 80s. The fact that Kurdish flags in northern Syria and on border checkpoints with Turkey are becoming more and more can only be alarming for Turkey that is experiencing a déjà vu.

The first negative development for Turkey came with the gradual emergence of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq. Ankara watched its establishment and solidification, during the two Iraq wars, without being able to do something while the Kurdish issue was one of the reasons the Turkish-American relations entered a period of decline, with the 2003 Iraq war notably being the starting point.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) has tried several ways and tactics in its effort to manage the Kurdish issue, both as a social problem within Turkey as well as a transnational security problem; its efforts ranged from hard military action to soft political and economic measures. Turkey, since the AKP’s election to power in 2002, has militarily collaborated with Iran and Iraq with regard to the Kurdish issue; it has attempted the so called “Kurdish Opening” in 2009; recently it has made significant steps to approach Iraqi Kurdistan, through economic and energy agreements, and it made significant efforts domestically to bring the different political parties together to the end of reaching a mutual political solution to the problem.

Yet the problem does not seem to be going away. The problematic and long history of the Kurdish issue as well as the fact that the AKP is often not pursuing its initiatives wholeheartedly seem to have put the negative for Turkey developments on a one way track. Despite Ankara’s efforts for the establishment of good relations with Iraqi Kurdistan, hoping that such relations would somehow prove helpful against Kurdish separatism, the KRG is training Syrian Kurds in order to send them back to Syria to fight by the side of the PYD. Recently the KRG also managed to unite the PYD and the rest of the Kurdish opposition under the umbrella of the Kurdish National Council (KNC). Iraqi Kurdistan helping the Syrian Kurds to fight for the potential establishment of Syrian Kurdistan is not the best thing that can happen to Turkey right now. Even worse, a possible Syrian Kurdistan could be the second piece in a four-piece puzzle called “Great Kurdistan” – something that many are even skeptical or afraid to say. The first piece was northern Iraq, while the last two pieces would be southeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran. Perhaps the question here is: which piece of the two will follow, the Iranian or the Turkish one? In any case, it is certain that a Syrian Kurdistan would create an unprecedented political stir among the Kurdish community of Turkey and would probably boost the PKK and its goals as well as encourage more moderate Kurds to claim their rights.

Having all this flammable geopolitical situation in mind, “better late than never” is perhaps not suitable to characterize Erdogan’s remarks about Turkey being ready, once again, to take all necessary steps or that Turkey maintains the right to intervene in Syria if there is a [Kurdish] terrorist threat. While it was for many obvious where the Syrian crisis was headed, that is, that the Kurds would somehow exploit the situation in Syria, the Turkish leaders seem to have been caught by surprise. And their answer is to make threats, as they have been doing for the last couple of years with Israel, Cyprus, Syria, and so on. And although there is little reason to believe that they will carry out these threats, one (not so) small factor could make us see things differently: the Kurdish issue, and by extension the possibility of territorial dismemberment, is perhaps the only serious existential threat to Turkey. Whether or not this will play a role in how Turkey will react to the developments and the gradual completion – if that is the case – of the “four-piece puzzle”, remains to be seen.

So, “Great Kurdistan”? Turkey’s worst nightmare. Somebody wants it. Somebody is fighting for it. Somebody obviously fosters its creation. And somebody is doing nothing of essence about it (?)

Published on Strategy International, 01/08/2012.

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