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.
Security forces continued operations against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in south east Turkey and northern Iraq, while contested results for Istanbul in 31 March local elections led to increased domestic tensions, and relations with U.S. remained strained over purchase of Russian air defence systems. In south east, operations against PKK continued: four Turkish soldiers were killed in PKK attack on military base in Hakkâri 19 April. Turkish military responded with ground operations in south east and air raids into northern Iraq targeting PKK. Tensions followed 31 March local elections as ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) contested opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s narrow victory in Istanbul, alleging election irregularities. High Election Board (YSK) partial recount resulted in narrowed margin of victory for CHP; AKP and MHP also demanded re-run of Istanbul vote. In majority-Kurdish south east, AKP increased its overall vote share especially in rural areas, while pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) largely maintained or increased its votes in urban areas. YSK 10 April refused to grant mandates to HDP mayors-elect in six district municipalities in Erzurum, Van and Diyarbakır, and two town municipalities in Kars and Siirt, allowing AKP runners-up to assume mandates. In Ankara, mob 21 April attacked CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu during the funeral of a Turkish soldier; police briefly detained nine people, including an AKP member who was seen punching Kılıçdaroğlu. Meeting with Russian President Putin in Moscow 8 April, President Erdoğan announced imminent delivery of Russian S-400 air defence systems, also discussing situation in northern Syria’s Idlib province and Russia-Turkey Investment Fund. This followed U.S.’s 2 April pledge to suspend transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, amid U.S. warnings that S-400s are not compatible NATO systems.
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.
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.
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.