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.
With one quarter of its inhabitants’ homes destroyed in the past year, Nusaybin is a victim of Turkey’s 33-year conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The state has taken economic steps to help the town, but outreach and Kurdish rights must be improved to prevent new flare ups.
Security forces continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) insurgency in SE; 23 members of security forces killed in clashes in eastern provinces, however clashes generally remain at low intensity. Pressure continued on Kurdish movement with new arrests and detentions. Authorities 9 May stripped Democratic People’s Party (HDP)’s Nursel Aydoğan of her MP status. HDP extraordinary congress 20 May elected Serpil Kemalbay as party co-chair to replace imprisoned Figen Yüksekdağ, stripped of her parliamentary seat in Feb. Security forces 11 May arrested at least seventeen alleged members of PKK’s youth wing in eight provinces. Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) elected President Erdoğan new party chairman at extraordinary congress 21 May. Govt continued crackdown on alleged members of state-christened FETÖ/PDY it blames for July 2016 coup attempt. Rhetoric on EU resumed positive tone: Erdoğan 9 May announced EU membership remained strategic goal for Turkey, wished to pursue accession process in “mutual respect”. Relations with Berlin remained strained; Turkey 15 May barred German MPs from visiting German troops stationed at Incirlik air base in south; Chancellor Merkel said Germany would seek alternatives to Incirlik air base such as Jordan. President Erdoğan met with EU officials 25 May during NATO summit in bid to revive strategic relations and accession negotiations. Ankara criticised U.S. announcement 9 May that it will arm Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG)-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) ahead of offensive against Islamic State (ISIS) in Raqqa, warned PKK would benefit from deal. Deputy PM Veysi Kaynak 13 May announced Turkey would set up bases near Syrian town al-Bab to train and equip local forces (see Syria). Erdoğan and President Trump in Washington 16 May discussed strategy in Syria, fight against PKK, ISIS and extradition of Fethullah Gülen, alleged leader of state-christened FETÖ/PDY. Violence targeting Syrian refugee communities increased with incidents of mob violence reported in SE and western cities in April and May, highlighting social cohesion challenges. This follows April crackdown on several international NGOs working with refugees.
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.
New frictions in Iraq and Syria threaten Ankara and Tehran’s usually peaceful management of their Middle East rivalries. To rebuild trust and avert open conflict, they should coordinate de-escalation, exchange intelligence and designate representatives to open a new channel between their leaders.
Turkey is under growing pressure from nearly three million Syrian refugees. To mitigate domestic tensions and spillover from regional conflicts, Ankara needs to develop, and find support for, new policies that open refugees’ routes to jobs, education and permanent legal status.
Around 900 people, including 350 members of the security forces, have been killed in fighting since peace talks broke down last July between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkey. As insurgents mix with civilians and rights are violated, some of the worst affected are ordinary people like those in south-eastern Diyarbakır’s district of Sur.
New clashes between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have deepened the country’s social cleavages, killed hundreds, and helped the Islamic State. Neither side can win militarily. To end the conflict, Turkey needs more than just a new ceasefire: a clearly defined peace process and, in parallel, a reform agenda addressing Kurdish rights.
Regardless of their actual views on the constitutional changes, Erdoğan's supporters feel the need to support him after the coup.
There is no durable military solution to Turkey's PKK conflict. Peace talks between Ankara and the PKK are the only way forward for a durable solution.
Turkey has always set the Euphrates as a red line [for Kurdish forces in Syria]. The problem is it will be a huge gamble to really do that with US, Russia and YPG, who are a proficient fighting force.
Both because of the Syria theater and domestic politics, it doesn’t look like either [Turkey or Kurdish militants] are going to be willing to seek an alternative route in the foreseeable future.
President Erdoğan has long seen himself as a natural ally of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the Middle East. Any action against the Muslim Brotherhood he saw as a threat to himself.
The fighting in the southeast, which reignited in July 2015, has killed 1,761 people, according to new figures released by the International Crisis Group.
Directly arming one mainly Kurdish faction in Syria makes U.S. partly responsible for the fate of Syria’s Kurds. Given Ankara’s bitter opposition to the group, Washington should push its Kurdish partner to focus on regional autonomy in Syria, not its insurgency in Turkey.
Originally published in Middle East Eye
On top of major challenges, including the spillover from the war in Syria, Islamic State terrorism and increasingly heavy-handed governance, Turkey's conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) also reignited last year. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2017 annual early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to increase efforts toward two related objectives: improving relations with Ankara and finding a political end to the PKK conflict.
Originally published in The New York Times
The journey from the best to the worst of days in recent Turkish geopolitics was partly determined by a deteriorating diplomatic context. Our Director of Communications & Outreach Hugh Pope looks back on two decades of change in a keynote speech for the Dutch Peace Research Foundation’s annual prizes for best new MA theses on peace.