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.
Sultangazi is home to a mix of religious and ethnic groups – as well as 50,000 Syrian refugees. The district received the refugees warmly. But resentment is rising, as public services suffer and opposition forces suspect the ruling party of using refugees to exacerbate social divisions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
[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 war initiated by Turkey’s military and its Syrian proxies] is likely to prove indecisive and costly for both sides.
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.
[Turkish] policymakers need to ensure that [the] skills taught [to Syrian refugees] are matched with local market needs.
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.
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