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.
Clashes between state security forces and Kurdish PKK militants in SE continued at lower intensity. Two soldiers reportedly killed during operation against PKK in Şırnak (south east) 6 Jan; two soldiers killed 14 Jan and six alleged PKK militants reported killed in airstrikes 15 Jan during Bitlis operation (east). IED explosion attributed to PKK killed five police in Diyarbakkı’s Sur district (south east) 16 Jan. Car bomb attack outside İzmir courthouse (west) 5 Jan killed four including police officer and two attackers; PKK affiliate Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) claimed responsibility. As prosecution of Kurdish parliamentarians continued, prosecutor called for heavy sentences against jailed Democratic People’s Party (HDP) co-chair Salahattin Demirtas and co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ; defending himself in court 6 Jan Demirtas denounced what he called politicised justice system biased against HDP. Police 31 Jan arrested two additional HDP lawmakers, including party spokesman Ayhan Bilgen, on charges of membership of “armed terror organisation”. Parliament early Jan extended state of emergency introduced following July 2016 coup attempt for another three months. Govt continued post-coup purges, dismissing 6,000 additional police, civil servants, and academics 6 Jan and later in month, and issuing hundreds of arrest warrants for military and security personnel. Parliament 21 Jan approved controversial constitutional amendment set to increase President Erdoğan’s powers, paving way for referendum planned for early April. Increased Russian support for Turkey’s military operation in Syria marked new level of cooperation between Ankara and Moscow: Russia early Jan provided air support for Turkish offensive geared at taking Al Bab town from Islamic State (IS); Turkey and Russia 18 Jan launched joint airstrikes on town (see Syria). Police 17 Jan apprehended Uzbek national believed to be gunman who killed 39 people in New Year’s attack on Istanbul nightclub. EU 12 Jan unlocked additional €200 mn from aid package for Syrian refugees in Turkey to build schools and provide humanitarian aid. Greece’s Supreme Court 26 Jan ruled against extradition of eight Turkish military officers who fled to Greece on night of July coup attempt; court justified its decision saying that the soldiers, if sent back, would face “curtailment of their fundamental human rights”. Turkish FM criticised decision saying Ankara would take necessary punitive steps including possible cancellation of bilateral readmission agreement with Greece, key component of EU-Turkey refugee deal.
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.
The peace process between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is threatened by ceasefire violations and spillover from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Both sides must set aside pretexts and inertia and seize the opportunity of having powerful leaders able to implement a deal whose outlines are clearer than ever.
Continuous refugee flows from Syria are stretching Turkey’s capacities and necessitate long-term adjustments as well as stronger international engagement to better share the burden.
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.
The people [in Turkey] did what they needed to. They stood by the government. They showed political maturity. But now the ball is in the court of the government to reciprocate.
Either Erdogan utilizes this incident to redesign institutions in Ankara to his own benefit...or he takes the opportunity with the solidarity that was extended to him by the opposition and different segments of society to reciprocate by investing more genuinely in rule of law and legitimate forms of dissent.
Nor would a coup decisively end a revived Kurdish insurgency, which has claimed over 1,700 lives since July 2015, according to the International Crisis Group.
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.
In this video, our Project Director for Turkey Nigar Göksel explains the main findings of Crisis Group's report Turkey’s Refugee Crisis: The Politics of Permanence and advocates a long-term strategy to integrate Syrian refugees into Turkish society.
Originally published in Nikkei Asian Review