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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.

CrisisWatch Turkey

Unchanged Situation

Turkish military 20 Jan launched “Olive Branch” land and air operation against Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) positions in Afrin, north-western Syria, in conjunction with Turkey-backed Sunni rebel groups. Ankara cited need to maintain security of Turkey’s border provinces, prevent Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) from reaching eastern Mediterranean and infiltrating Turkey, and counter what it called U.S. support for terrorist organisation. Move followed statement from U.S.-led coalition spokesperson 13 Jan that they were working with YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to set up new 30,000-strong border force, with Kurds serving in areas in northern Syria. U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson 18 Jan denied U.S. had any intention of building Syria-Turkey border security force. Ankara 30 Jan said five soldiers and 24 Turkey-backed rebels had been killed in fighting. Erdoğan vowed that Manbij would be next military target in northern Syria, citing broken promises over YPG withdrawal, and said Turkish military could continue east to Iraq (see Syria). Four YPG-attributed missile attacks hit residential border areas in Kilis province 21 Jan. Five civilians including one Syrian killed in cross-border YPG-attributed attacks on residential border areas in Hatay and Kilis since beginning of Afrin operation. Interior ministry 29 Jan announced 311 people had been detained for making terror propaganda on social media regarding Afrin operation; most of those charged had criticised operation or made anti-war comments. Security operations by the military in rural south east continued throughout month. Military also continued to carry out cross-border airstrikes targeting PKK positions in northern Iraq. Parliament 18 Jan voted to extend state of emergency for sixth three-month period.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

31 Jan 2018
Saying that Afrin will be returned to its rightful owners will leave many people wondering if they can return after the fighting [between Turkey and Kurdish forces in northern Syria] is over. AFP

Heiko Wimmen

Project Director, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon
30 Jan 2018
[If Washington and Ankara do not set the necessary de-escalation mechanism], things could get especially messy if Turkey expands operation to Manbij as U.S. and Turkish forces could collide. Xinhua

Noah Bonsey

Senior Analyst, Syria
27 Jan 2018
[The Turkish offensive targeting Afrin] highlights the fundamental difficulty of a U.S. strategy that requires maintaining active alliances with two forces which are at war with each other. The Washington Post

Noah Bonsey

Senior Analyst, Syria
26 Jan 2018
[The war initiated by Turkey’s military and its Syrian proxies] is likely to prove indecisive and costly for both sides. Rudaw

Noah Bonsey

Senior Analyst, Syria
25 Jan 2018
The U.S. supporting the People’s Protection Units (YPG) while the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) maintains an active insurgency against its NATO ally is an unsustainable situation. The New York Times

Noah Bonsey

Senior Analyst, Syria
27 Dec 2017
[Turkish] policymakers need to ensure that [the] skills taught [to Syrian refugees] are matched with local market needs. Deutsche Welle

Berkay Mandıracı

Analyst, Turkey

Latest Updates

Video / Europe & Central Asia

Video: Integrating Syrian Refugees in Istanbul's "District of Victimhood"

Crisis Group’s Turkey Project Director Nigar Göksel talks about identity politics and growing frictions in the job market between Syrian refugees and host communities in the refugee-dense neighbourhoods of Turkey’s major western cities.

Turkey’s Growing Refugee Challenge – Rising Social Tensions

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.

The U.S. joins the Turkey-PKK fight in northern Syria

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

The PKK’s Fateful Choice in Northern Syria

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.

Also available in العربية, Türkçe

Our People

Alçay Akay

Office Manager, Turkey

Nigar Göksel

Project Director, Turkey

Berkay Mandıracı

Analyst, Turkey