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
Govt continued criminalising pro-Kurdish opposition and intensified crackdown on suspected Islamic State (ISIS) operatives, while military continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in south east Turkey and northern Iraq, and began joint patrols with Russia in parts of border areas in Syria’s north east. Fatalities in PKK conflict decreased amid harsher winter conditions; Turkish military 13 Nov launched “Kıran-6” operation against PKK in Van, Hakkari and Şırnak provinces; air raids targeting PKK militants in northern Iraq also continued. Govt intensified efforts to criminalise pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), replacing several more HDP co-mayors with state-appointed trustees. In north east Syria, Turkish and Russian troops 1 Nov carried out first join patrol in designated border areas; as of end-Nov, twelve joint patrols were carried out. Two Turkish soldiers killed by mortar fire in north east Syria 27 Nov. FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 18 Nov threatened further military action if U.S. and Russia fail to ensure full withdrawal of Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) from agreed areas (see Syria). President Erdoğan 13 Nov met with U.S. President Trump in Washington DC in attempt to address tensions caused by Turkey’s incursion in Syria, Ankara’s acquisition of Russian S-400 missile systems and other points of contention. While both sides expressed intent to improve relations, hardly any concrete progress was marked. Following Oct assassination of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi near border in Syria, govt redoubled crackdown on ISIS networks in Turkey. Turkish forces captured sister of al-Baghdadi in Azaz in north east Syria 4 Nov before arresting 25 other close relatives in Turkey mid-month. More than 100 individuals suspected of ISIS links were also detained during month, while govt intensified repatriation efforts of foreign nationals with ISIS ties. U.S. 19 Nov imposed sanctions on three Turkey-based companies and two Turkish citizens for allegedly providing financial and logistical support to ISIS.
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.
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.
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.
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.