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.
Turkey’s ruling party sees recent battlefield and electoral gains as vindicating its hardline policies toward the PKK. But these same policies fuel the Kurdish grievances that keep the fighting going. Ankara would thus be wise to consider exploring ways of winding down the destructive conflict.
Originally published in Valdai
Fatalities in conflict between govt and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) remained low while security situation in Turkish-controlled territory in Syria continued to be volatile, and parliament approved military deployment to Libya raising stakes in eastern Mediterranean. Harsh winter conditions resulted in fewer casualties in PKK conflict in south east. Interior Ministry 11 Jan announced completion of Operation Kiran after 11th phase of military operation against PKK. Military 10 Jan launched Operation Kapan in attempt to clear out militants from rural areas of southern Hatay, south-eastern Mardin and Batman provinces. President Erdoğan 8 Jan met Russian President Putin in Turkey to discuss military situation in Syria; following meeting, Putin 10 Jan announced ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province. Temporary ceasefire failed to halt Syrian govt attacks there. Erdoğan 29 Jan criticised Russia for not abiding by its commitments under Sochi and Astana accords in Idlib region. UN same day said violence in Idlib province had displaced nearly 390,000 in past two months. Amid rising number of displaced persons, Erdoğan 31 Jan expressed concern at new threats near Turkey’s border and said Turkey ready to take necessary steps including using military force in Syria. In Turkey-controlled area of north east Syria, Defence Ministry 8 and 16 Jan said seven Turkish soldiers had died in car bomb attacks attributed to Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units. Parliament 2 Jan authorised troop deployment to Libya to support Tripoli-based Govt of National Accord; military has reportedly deployed 80 Turkish officers for training and coordination purposes as well as some 2,000 allied Syrian fighters. Erdoğan 14 Jan vowed Turkey would not refrain from “teaching Haftar a lesson” if latter’s forces maintained offensive on Tripoli (see Libya). FM Çavuşoğlu 18 Jan accused Greece of sabotaging efforts to bring peace to Libya following 17 Jan visit by Haftar to Athens in response to its exclusion from 19 Jan Berlin Conference on Libya; accusation comes amid rising tensions between Turkey and Greece particularly over Turkey-Libya maritime deal (see Cyprus).
Gulf states are competing for influence in the Horn of Africa to control the Red Sea, transposing internal rivalries onto a fragile region. Horn governments should increase their bargaining power with their powerful neighbours, who should recognise the risks their policies pose to regional security.
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.
Escalation is likely going to continue [in Syria] as long as Turkey and Russia cannot agree on a new cease-fire.
L'EI constitue toujours une menace qui pourrait métastaser si les FDS voient leur attention et leurs ressources détournées [...] au profit d'une bataille défensive contre la Turquie.
[By deciding to withdraw its troops from North East Syria] the United States just threw away the last leverage it had.
Even if efforts to create a 'buffer zone' [in Northern Syria] succeed, the underlying source of tension will remain and with it, the potential for a Turkish military response to Ankara's perceived YPG threat.
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.
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.