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.
Govt kept up military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and intensified crackdown on people affiliated with Kurdish movement. In south east, govt launched operations against PKK in Şırnak, Hakkari and Van provinces 19 Aug and in Mardin, Şırnak and Batman provinces 28 Aug. Turkish media 8 Aug reported that security forces had “neutralised” two PKK militants allegedly responsible for 17 July killing of Turkish diplomat in Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital Erbil. Govt increased pressure on members of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP): authorities 15 Aug arrested 21 HDP members in cities of Mardin, Şırnak and Izmir; 19 Aug dismissed newly-elected metropolitan mayors of majority Kurdish provinces Diyarbakır,Mardin and Van on grounds that they were affiliated with terrorist organisations and replaced them with state-appointed trustees; same day detained 418 people affiliated with Kurdish movement in 29 provinces. Authorities 22 Aug detained seventeen in Ankara and 27 in Izmir during protests over removal of Kurdish mayors. Batman province governor’s office removed four elected neighbourhood heads from their posts “due to investigations into them and trials they face on terrorism charges”. In north-western Syria, as regime forces threatened to take Turkish observation post in northern Hama province, Turkey 19 Aug sent military convoy to support rebels; Syrian regime carried out airstrikes targeting convoy, killing three Syrian civilians (see Syria). U.S. and Turkey 7 Aug said they had reached agreement on general framework for way forward in north-eastern Syria, despite continued disagreement over depth of proposed safe zone along Turkey-Syria border and composition of troops that would man it. Turkey and U.S. defence officials 12 Aug started to establish joint operation centre in Şanlıurfa to coordinate safe zone preparations. In Istanbul, authorities 1 Aug said they had transferred to refugee camps 12,474 irregular migrants for deportation and 2,630 unregistered Syrians 12-31 July; interior minister 20 Aug extended to 30 Oct deadline for refugees to leave Istanbul and return to places where they registered. Authorities 8 Aug detained suspected Syrian suicide bomber in Şanlıurfa’s central square; 6-15 Aug arrested 48 suspected Islamic State (ISIS)-linked individuals in Hatay, Konya, Izmir and Adana’s Yüreğir district.
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.
Today's news that Turkey's suspended the readmission agreement with the EU will not make much practical difference for either Brussels or Ankara nor for refugees/migrants.
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.
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.