Turkey faces myriad internal and external challenges, including an escalating conflict with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants, a crisis over three million Syrian refugees, threats posed by the Islamic State (ISIS), and growing social and political polarisation exacerbated by a July 2016 coup attempt. Crisis Group maintains a unique tracker of the death toll in the PKK conflict and conducts field research to prevent, mitigate or end deadly violence and its consequences. Our ten-year-old presence in Turkey puts us in a unique position to engage the government and all parties not just on domestic crises but also to help Turkey stabilise its exceptionally turbulent neighbourhood.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The Watch List Updates include situations identified in the annual Watch List and/or a new focus of concern.
Main opposition party’s candidate won re-run of Istanbul mayoral elections, military continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) insurgency, and tensions increased with U.S. over Ankara’s purchase of Russian missile systems. Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu won 23 June re-run of Istanbul’s mayoral election with 54%; following appeal by ruling party Justice and Development Party (AKP), High Election Board had cancelled results of first vote in March, which opposition won with 48.8%. AKP’s candidate Binali Yildirim and President Erdoğan conceded defeat. Military continued to carry out operations against PKK in south east, along Black Sea in north, and near Iran border in east: insurgents killed fifteen security force members in June and two civilians 10 June. Crackdown continued against members of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and activists supporting Kurdish movement. In northern Iraq, Turkish warplanes hit PKK targets in several regions. In north west Syria, Turkey and Russia 12 June announced they had brokered ceasefire between Syrian govt and opposition forces in Idlib, but fighting continued. Next day Syrian pro-govt forces attacked Turkish observation post, injuring three soldiers; followed by 27 June attack, killing one Turkish soldier (see Syria). President Erdoğan reiterated 4 June that govt would go ahead with purchase of S-400 missile defence systems from Moscow. In response, U.S. 7 June said it would “suspend indefinitely” training of Turkish pilots on F-35 fighter jets and discontinue F-35 material deliveries unless Ankara cancelled deal. Erdoğan met U.S. and Russian presidents during G20 summit in Japan 28-29 June and discussed Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400s. Court in Istanbul 25 June released from house arrest U.S. Consulate employee being tried on terrorism charges. Authorities 21 May-27 June detained 119, and arrested at least 35 suspected Islamic State (ISIS) members in more than ten different cities, including Mersin, Adana, Kilis, Urfa. Tensions rose between Turkey and Republic of Cyprus over gas exploration off island (see Cyprus).
Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, half of whom are under eighteen. Despite European aid, tensions are rising as the country strains to accommodate the influx. The answer is smarter integration policies aimed particularly at meeting the needs of vulnerable youth.
Much of north-eastern Syria has been safe during the civil war. But in the event of U.S. military withdrawal, a mad scramble for control could be unleashed. Washington and Moscow should help their respective allies in Syria reach a decentralisation deal for the area.
Rivalry persists between Russia and Turkey in their shared neighbourhood of the Black Sea and the South Caucasus. But Moscow-Ankara relations have warmed overall. Building on their wider rapprochement, the two powers can work together to tamp down flare-ups of regional conflicts.
Ahead of Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections on 24 June, opinion polls suggest a tighter race than many anticipated. The country’s Kurds could be kingmakers, prompting politicians of different stripes to court their votes and opening much-needed debate about longstanding Kurdish demands.
The quarrel between Gulf monarchies has spilled into Somalia, with the fragile state now caught between the rival interests of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The competition has already aggravated intra-Somali disputes. All sides should take a step back before these tensions mount further.
Host community hostility toward Syrian refugees is on the rise in Turkey’s metropolitan areas. In order to defuse tensions and mitigate rising intercommunal tensions, Ankara and its international partners should support long-term strategies for the Syrians’ sustainable integration.
Turkey has only one interest, which is to defeat the YPG. So that is what it is going to do.
The sense of public spaces [in Turkey] becoming more unsafe is fed by the tendency of criminal networks to use Syrian men and women for theft, prostitution drug sales and the like, and Syrians are blamed for disruption of public order and safety.
[The rapprochement between Russia and Turkey] demonstrates a striking level of pragmatism in this relationship.
The success of the AKP-MHP partnership shows that the Islamist-nationalist fusion is alive and kicking in Turkish society.
Russia needs both the Syrian regime and Turkey. So it has to give a little bit to both and it has to ... make them equally angry, if that's what it wants.
The most worrisome development that we saw was that among Turkish citizens there is a negative stance towards the long-term integration of Syrians across the political spectrum.
Crisis Group's Middle East & North Africa Program Director Joost Hiltermann participated in the 2018 Körber Policy Game, designed to explore possible outcomes in the event of a crisis between Turkey and the West in Syria. While the exercise underscored many of the Syrian conflict's complexities, it also revealed that a strong desire by stakeholders to find common ground can help overcome them.
Originally published in Russia File
Crisis Group's Europe & Central Asia Program Director Magdalena Grono talks about the relations between Russia and Turkey as they reflect on the Black Sea and the South Caucasus.