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.
Month saw continued military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in south-east Turkey and northern Iraq and uptick in crackdown on suspected PKK sympathisers; spike in tensions with Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi killing; and implementation of deal on removal of heavy weapons from Syria’s Idlib province alleviating immediate concerns over refugee influx. Eight soldiers killed 4 Oct in PKK-claimed attack in Batman, triggering wave of detentions of suspected PKK sympathisers, with almost 400 detained by 10 Oct; govt dismissed 559 village guards and suspended 259 neighbourhood heads for alleged PKK links. In crackdown on pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Diyarbakır head arrested on terrorism charges 9 Oct. Ahead of March 2019 municipal elections, President Erdoğan 7 Oct said, “If those involved with terror are elected we will do what is needed and replace them with [state-appointed] trustees”. Turkish military carried out three major cross-border air raids against PKK in northern Iraq; and late Oct reportedly hit People’s Protection Units (YPG) targets located east of Euphrates at Turkey-Syria border. Implementation of Sept deal between Russia and Turkey on demilitarised buffer zone in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province continued, forestalling mass influx of refugees (see Syria). Turkey, Russia, France and Germany agreed joint communiqué at summit in Istanbul 27 Oct calling for “inclusive, Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political process” and emphasising “need to create conditions throughout the country for the safe and voluntary return of refugees”. Turkish officials expressed dissatisfaction with “U.S. delaying tactic” in implementation of so-called “Manbij roadmap” despite launch of training for joint U.S.-Turkish patrols in Manbij. Tensions with Saudi Arabia spiked as Turkey accused Riyadh of murdering Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Istanbul consulate 2 Oct, and provided details to press on alleged torture and dismemberment of body (see Saudi Arabia). Tensions with U.S. eased somewhat after Ankara 12 Oct released U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson, although differences remain over key strategic issues. Relations with EU improved following Ankara’s efforts to mend ties with key EU capitals.
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.
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.
Saying that Afrin will be returned to its rightful owners will leave many people wondering if they can return after the fighting [between Turkey and Kurdish forces in northern Syria] is over.
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