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.
20 July 2017 marks the two-year anniversary of a collapsed ceasefire that previously held for two-and-a-half-years between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Crisis Group's new analysis of open-source data reveals that the ongoing cycle of violence has now killed three times as many as the 2011-12 escalation.
Military operations in south east continued: clashes in Hakkari’s Şemdinli district 2 Nov between security forces and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants reportedly crossing border from Iraq killed two village guards and six soldiers; President Erdoğan next day vowed to “smash all terrorist camps” threatening Turkey from Iraq and Syria. Turkish security forces reportedly seized bomb-laden drone allegedly belonging to PKK in Ağrı province early Nov. Govt 14 Nov announced death in Şırnak of high-ranking member of PKK’s senior council Hülya Eroğlu; chief prosecutor’s office 18 Nov filed criminal complaint against three Democratic People’s Party (HDP) MPs for attending Eroğlu’s funeral. Following Oct spat, U.S. embassy in Turkey 6 Nov announced plan to partially resume visa services; Turkey’s embassy in U.S. reciprocated same day. Visiting Washington 7-11 Nov, PM Yıldırım reiterated demands for extradition of Fethullah Gülen, alleged mastermind of July 2016 coup attempt, and called on U.S. to stop support for Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) in Syria; said Turkey’s defence cooperation with Russia did not undermine NATO alliance. Turkey, Russia and Iran 22 Nov held high-level summit in Sochi, Russia, to discuss future of Syria (see Syria). Turkish foreign minister 24 Nov announced that U.S. President Trump promised in phone call that U.S. will no longer provide weapons to YPG; however Pentagon 27 Nov said it was “reviewing pending adjustments to the military support”. Turkish military continued operation in Syria’s Idlib province. YPG 20 Nov reportedly launched five mortar attacks targeting Turkish military positions on Idlib-Afrin line. Turkey’s National Security Council 28 Nov discussed expanding Idlib operation to areas around Afrin and western Aleppo. Number of incidents between refugees and hosts decreased from Oct; some 200 people 4 Nov attacked Syrian homes and shops in Konya’s Karatay district, injuring one. EU 19 Nov announced €105mn cuts in pre-accession assistance to Turkey due to deterioration of democracy, rule of law and human rights. PM Yıldırım 27 Nov threatened to withdraw from EU refugee deal if YPG/PYD is given role in Syrian peace talks.
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.
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.
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.
Originally published in Turkish Policy Quarterly
The Syrian civil war has exposed Turkey to an unprecedented influx of refugees, totaling more than 3.2 million since the start of the crisis. While the backlash has been less serious than anticipated, violence against refugees and asylum seekers is on the rise and the integration of Syrians into Turkish society remains extremely limited. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Third Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to support the integration of Syrian refugees in order to defuse the risk of worsening inter-communal confrontation.
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.