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.
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.
President Erdoğan said Ankara would postpone planned military offensive against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in north-eastern Syria following unexpected U.S. announcement of withdrawal of troops from Syria. Following series of statements by U.S. officials during month suggesting U.S. was determined to continue backing SDF in Syria, Erdoğan 12 Dec said Ankara would launch an offensive against SDF east of Euphrates River “within days”. Announcement initially prompted U.S. to voice “grave concern” over risks for U.S. military personnel; then on 19 Dec, U.S. President Trump unexpectedly announced full and rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, following call with Erdoğan during which they also agreed on sale of U.S. Patriot air defence system to Turkey. Erdoğan 21 Dec said Turkey would postpone the announced offensive against the SDF “for a while”; also said relations with U.S. now at “desired level”. Despite statement, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 23 Dec reported Turkish military build-up at front line of SDF-controlled town of Manbij; Syria’s military 28 Dec entered Manbij area amid calls from Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) for help against threat of attack by Turkey. In Turkey’s south east – likely due to harsh winter conditions – clashes between military and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) saw a downturn, while Turkish air raids against PKK in northern Iraq intensified. Turkish military carried out five major cross-border air raids against PKK in northern Iraq; Iraqi authorities 14 Dec summoned Turkish ambassador in Baghdad to protest airstrikes; Turkey 15 Dec said it remained determined to continue cross-border “anti-terror” operations against PKK in Iraq’s Sinjar region. Efforts for constructive engagement between EU and Turkey continued with EU foreign policy chief Mogherini’s late Nov visit to Ankara resulting in some progress toward visa liberalisation.
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.
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.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its Syrian affiliates face a stark choice: risk their gains in northern Syria through continued prioritisation of the PKK's fight against Turkey, or pursue local self-rule in the area they have carved out of the chaos of the Syrian war.
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.
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.
Ein Gespräch mit Berkay Mandıracı von der „International Crisis Group Istanbul“ über soziale Spannungen in türkischen Großstädten, die Unterstützung der EU und die Rolle der Flüchtlinge in der türkischen Außenpolitik.
Originally published in Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung