Violent rumblings along the Kurdish fault line are giving Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan nothing but a headache and a bundle of bad options. The tenuous truce between Turkey and Iraqi Kurds – a vital one for Iraq’s stability – has been jeopardized this past month by two lethal attacks on Turkish policemen and soldiers. As the Economist puts it:
Matters came to a head when the PKK set off a landmine in the township of Cukurca near the Iraqi border, killing nine soldiers. Declaring that his patience had run out, Mr Erdogan ordered a wave of air strikes against PKK targets in northern Iraq. The army claims that at least 100 rebels have been killed since the operation started on August 17th. The PKK says it has lost only three men…
Syria and Iran have long used the PKK as leverage against Turkey…. America, which has backed Turkey in its battle against the PKK (it shares satellite intelligence on the rebels), is getting nervous. The fitful entente between the Turks and the Iraqi Kurds is crucial to America’s quest to keep Iraq stable. But Turkey insists its attacks will continue.
Erdogan is in a bind. PKK hardliners scoff at his attempts at social and political reform and have responded with violence. Erdogan can continue fighting the rebels, but fighting will continue to destabilize the region. The parts of Syria, Iraq and Iran closest to Turkey have large Kurdish minorities. Erdogan fears that if any part of this multinational Kurdish territory gained independence, Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey would get material support as well as publicity in international forums.The Kurds (more numerous than the Palestinians and subjected to much crueler treatment across much of the region where they live during most of the last sixty years), are the largest Middle Eastern nationality that does not yet have a state. Given that an independent Kurdistan would come only after a general regional war in which hundreds of thousands if not millions would die or be displaced, even many Kurds look for compromise solutions — wisely, in Via Meadia’s opinion. Even so, the fragmentation of Kurdish leadership, the interest various governments have in using the Kurdish issue to make life difficult for others, and the natural tensions that have filled the last 200 years with repeated ethnic slaughters and violence across Europe and the Middle East all suggest that more conflict may lie ahead.Turkey’s journey to the east remains as problematic as it is unavoidable. Weak regimes in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq plus the ambitious instability of Iran and the unsettled state of the Caucasus drag Turkey into a world of risk but the stakes are too high for Turkey to stay out of the game.