Category Archives: Kurds

Turkey, Kurds and the Islamic State: A Strange Triangle

Among the paradoxes of the Middle East today is Turkey’s relationship with Iraqi Kurds and the “public secret” of its relationship with Islamic State which has seized territories in Syria and Iraq and has announced the de facto establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. How could Turkey’s collaboration with the Kurds – whom it used to see as a threat – be explained, and what does it have to gain from Islamic State?

That Turkey (along with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and other Western powers) has funded and supported Islamic State (IS) is a fact, though neither Turkey nor Qatar admit it. Is it possible that Turkey uses IS against the Kurdish separatist movement in Iraq, Syria and beyond? Such scenario is not supported by the evidence at hand. If for example Turkey wanted to deter the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan then it would not have ignored provisions of the Iraqi constitution and the central Iraqi government of Baghdad, among others, to sign economic and energy agreements with Kurdish Regional Government. Rather, it would have done the opposite: to try and isolate Kurdistan by cooperating with Baghdad. That would be similar to how Turkey acted when it cooperated with Baghdad in the middle to late 2000s while trying to deal with Kurdish guerillas who found safe haven in Iraqi Kurdistan and other locations on Turkey’s southern borders. Moreover, we should not forget that the emergence of IS accelerated Kurdistan’s process of independence instead of the opposite – both in Iraq and Syria. Continue reading

A Note on Turkey and the Kurdish Issue: “Hearts & Minds” out the Window

There has been almost two months since around seven hundred (700) Kurdish inmates went on hunger strike in Turkish prisons. They are demanding better conditions for the PKK’s (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) imprisoned leader (Abdullah Öcalan) as well as greater minority rights for the Kurds, such as the right to use their language for instruction purposes and in courts. This development has sparked a broader debate involving, among other things, Prime Minister Erdoğan questioning the motives of the inmates and the extent to which the strike was real – calling it a “show”. An important degree of attention has also been given to the health of the inmates and the possibility that after a point, deaths may begin (see here, hereand here).
As if these were not enough – let alone the greater regional geopolitical instability due to the Syrian crisis and the increased clashes between the Turkish government and the PKK – two events came to add complexity to the Kurdish issue and all but help the difficult situation. On the one hand Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), during the 10th congress of the party – which will also decide about the next party leader – statedthat “there is no Kurdish issue” while he blamed the government of planning to release Öcalan. One would of course expect that from an opposition party and especially from a man who is fighting to keep its chair at the leadership of the party. Yet, considering the current stage of the Kurdish issue such remarks are clearly, to say the least, not constructive.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The ‘Arab Spring’ and the Kurds of Syria

– The ‘Arab Spring’, has not only influenced Arab peoples but other groups as well. –

The wave of uprisings that has been sweeping the greater region of the Middle East is first and foremost a wave of hope, ambition, and inspiration. This wave has also touched the Kurds. To be sure, the most important issue with regard to the Kurds which has arisen in the midst of the Arab Spring, relates to the case of Syria, and, by extension, to Turkey. What are the ambitions and limitations of the Kurdish minority opposition in Syria?

Continue reading

Turkey: Zero Chances for "Zero Problems"

Since the election of Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power in 2002, Turkey followed a different foreign policy orientation. The man behind this foreign policy shift was Ahmet Davutoglu, today’s Foreign Minister. Davutoglu had a whole new idea about how the goals of Turkish foreign policy should be pursued and in his book “Strategic Depth” (Stratejik Derinlik) (2001) he brilliantly drafts a strategic doctrine for Turkey’s new foreign policy. Despite its relative success, this doctrine is seriously challenged by many regional developments, which are making it hard to believe that its implementation could ever be possible.

“Zero Problems”

A central theme of Davutoglu’s, and Turkey’s, foreign policy doctrine is the “zero problems with neighbors” principle. In brief, this suggests that Turkey wants to re-engage with the Arab world and the broader region more generally, by playing the role of the peace broker and mediator for regional disputes and conflicts. Based on “zero problems” Turkey is willing to abandon its crisis prone attitude and resort to “soft power”, cultural and historical bonds with its neighbors, and create economic and political relations of interdependence between the states of the Middle East and beyond, in order to resolve any bilateral or regional problems. At the same time Turkey is not neglecting the good relations that it should maintain with international actors like the US, EU and Russia. However, the last few months Turkish foreign policy has been facing quite a few problems not only in its region but also internationally. This has led many analysts to reconsider the feasibility of the “zero problems” principles and the goals of the Turkish foreign policy themselves.

Continue reading