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Eyes on Ankara
Is Kobani Erdogan's Warsaw?

Kurdish-Turkish rapprochement is on the rocks after Ankara first spent a week watching Kobani slowly fall to ISIS, and then bombed its own Kurds within Turkey. The Financial Times reports:

Turkey has carried out airstrikes against Kurdish militants for the first time since a halting peace process began last year, the latest sign that fighting in Syria and Iraq is fuelling sectarian strife across the border.

The strikes by F-16 fighter jets against outposts of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers People party, or PKK, in Daglica, in the mountainous province of Hakkari, follow protests against Ankara’s non-interventionist stance towards Syria that left more than 30 people dead in Turkey’s largely Kurdish east and southeast.

The one major achievement of Erdogan’s rule so far that the West could embrace was the ongoing peace process with Turkey’s Kurds, which looked like it might end that decades-long struggle. Now, after more than a year’s effort, it seems like a lost cause.

The Kurds are enraged because of Ankara’s passivity in the face of the ISIS attack on Kobani, a major Syrian Kurdish town on the border with Turkey. Until recently, many thought that Turkey was caught in a predicament of its own making: If it helped the Kurds, it risked antagonizing Islamist-sympathizers among its population; but if it did nothing, it would inflame the Kurds. (And then there’s the importance of its Alevis and the question of what sort of Kurds to help.) It looked like quite the pickle.

Increasingly, though, a more cynical explanation seems likely. In 1944, Stalin parked his tanks for two months within striking distance of the Warsaw Uprising, while he let the Nazis slaughter independence-minded Poles by the hundreds of thousands. Only once those Poles who would be inclined to resist him had been utterly crushed did Stalin advance into the city and drive back the Nazis. Is Erdogan doing something similiar in Kobani? As TAI editor Adam Garfinkle discussed in his recent Reddit AMA, there are reasons to think so.

If Kobani falls, the Syrian PYD party, which is aligned with the more radical factions of the PKK and is antagonistic to Ankara, could be decimated. Turkey could then move in and impose its own peace, on both the Kurds in the border region in Syria and the PKK at home. It could also use the Syrian refugee crisis as a “humanitarian” pretext to settle large numbers of Arabs in that region, diluting Kurdish power further.

All that’s needed is a willingness to tolerate tens of thousands of unnecessary Kurdish casualties.

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  • Anthony

    A troubled Middle East convulsed in a period of changing alliances. See Erdogan of Arabia

    • Curious Mayhem

      Erdogan is now accusing various actors of being new “Lawrences” — a good example of the psychology of projection, a classic symptom of paranoia.

      Erdogan is the one who has long harbored neo-Ottoman fantasies, starting with Turkey’s increasingly aggressive denial of the Armenian genocide. It’s mostly backfired on him and Turkey, however; he and Turkey are largely isolated in the Middle East.

      • Anthony

        Some have likened Turkey’s (Erdogan’s) latest actions to old Soviet Union (using proxies to enhance position). But one thing is clear, Recep Erdogan interests may not be in U.S. interest.

  • gabrielsyme

    Kurdish anger is not due to Erdogan’s “passivity” but due to the active measures Erdogan has taken to frustrate the Kurdish defence of Kobane. Since Erdogan until recently allowed ISIS and al-Qaeda fighters and matériel to move without hindrance across the border, it is doubly galling that he has prevented reinforcements and resupply from reaching Kobane.

    Kobane is besieged by ISIS. Erdogan is enforcing one part of the siege line. Erdogan is on the side of those who have murdered, forcibly converted, raped and enslaved thousands of Kurds. Describing his actions as passive is entirely inaccurate.

    • Curious Mayhem

      The reality is that ISIS was supported until recently by Turkey. And ISIS, like Erdogan and the AKP themselves, was catapulted into significance by money from the Gulf, mainly Qatar.

      All of these are the Muslim Brotherhood in various mutant forms. Again, why is Turkey a member of NATO?

      • Tom

        The Cold War and bureaucratic inertia.

        • rheddles

          And listening stations for the NSA. Look at a map.Turkey has what all realtors want, location, location, location. And until the AKP a secular military.

  • Angel Martin

    but, but, but… i thought Turkey was going to help deal with ISIS and was going to recognize an independent Kurdistan in Iraq…

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Turkey should be expelled from NATO, or the US should withdraw from NATO, either would be a better choice than the present Enemy inside our own camp.

  • AndrewL

    Perhaps we can learn something from the Turks: First, sit back and watch ISIS fight it out with Syria and Iran. Then, after the belligerents are exhausted, we swoop in and impose the peace on our terms.

  • Curious Mayhem

    Explain to me why Turkey is still a member of NATO – ?

  • Jojo Jobxyzone

    Repeating my comment on an piece by Adam Garfinkle of a few days ago –

    Assume there is a tacit agreement between IS and Turkey – “don’t hurt us and we will not hurt you”
    That would explain why:
    1. Turkey allows the international IS volunteers to freely cross the border to Iraq and Syria (see what happens when they want to stop the flow in the case of Kurdish volunteers who want to cross the same border)
    2. Turkey allows contraband oil flow the other direction to finance IS
    3. Turkey does not aid Turkemans, Yazidis, or moderate Sunnis either – not just Kurds
    And in return
    1. The Turkish hostages were nicely treated and then freed
    2. No IS terrorism inside Turkey – even though beheading some beer drinking immodestly clad western tourists on the Turkish riviera must be a very exuberating thought in the minds of many IS sympathizers inside Turkey.

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