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There Is Risk Turkey Could Import Civil War From Syria: Expert

There is Risk Turkey Could Import Civil War from Syria - Expert
Turkey let US-led forces use its bases against the IS, yet, whether it’s going to take a more active part in the international coalition – is still unclear. So, what is it that makes Mr. Erdogan uneasy about fighting the IS? Radio VR is discussing it with Erkan Saka (Turkey) and Halil Karavelli (Sweden).

Turkey let US-led forces use its bases against the IS, yet, whether it’s going to take a more active part in the international coalition – is still unclear. So, what is it that makes Mr. Erdogan uneasy about fighting the IS?  Radio VR is discussing it with Erkan Saka (Turkey) and Halil Karavelli (Sweden).

US officials said that Turkey had agreed to let Washington use its bases for the air campaign against the IS. The Obama administration had been pressing Ankara to play a larger role against the IS, and, according to Today’s Zaman, American officials are "continuing to talk to the Turks about other ways that they can play an important role”.

The IS gained control of large areas of Syria and Iraq, and has recently been involved in fighting against Syrian Kurds. Last week pro-Kurdish protests broke out in Kurdish provinces in Turkey over the government's reluctance to act against the jihadists. Last Wednesday Turkish military had to impose curfew in protest-stricken provinces. 

On Sunday the US officials reported Turkey will let US and coalition forces use its bases. "It is a new commitment and we welcome it with great satisfaction," Susan Rice, Obama's national security advisor, told the NBC network Sunday. —Turkey has many ways it can contribute."

Says Erkan Saka of Bilgi University in Istanbul:

I think he had to agree with letting the US use the airbases. Probably, the US was him in one way or another. And since Turkey is a NATO ally, I think at some point he had to agree. But I think he is quite an unreliable ally, not only he himself, but the AKP leadership in general shows more sympathy to the IS. So, this was just a formality, I believe. And even if there is no sympathy for the IS, at least it is obvious that Turkey is trying to use the IS attack against the Kurdish movement there, to sort of balance or to stop the Kurdish enlargement. I think this seems to be the general strategy and it won’t change.

So, as far as I understand, the logistical issue has been solved with his agreement to let use the bases. Now, what next? Why would the US be pressing?

Erkan Saka: I think it is a legitimization issue for the US – to take a Muslim country into the alliance. And also, Turkey still has a strategic position. And also, I believe the Western powers are still trying to keep Turkey in the alliance by forcing it to be part of the attacks against the IS. That is their intention, I think, despite the hesitation from Erdogan. Turkey’s position cannot be ignored. So, at least on a symbolic level, they want to keep Turkey within the alliance.

But I think that the US administration and Mr. Obama himself have been quite exasperated with Mr. Erdogan, when Erdogan used to be the Prime Minister of Turkey. 

Erkan Saka: I believe you see this also in the high-level editorials in the US, newspapers and all. I think there is a disruption or distance that cannot be easily amended. And also, one should think that the US policies in the ME are not always very rational or well planned. I mean, most of the US policies towards Syria have already failed. As I say, symbolically, I think they want to keep Turkey, but this doesn’t mean that it is well planned or it will have good consequences. What I see, is that even if Turkey is there, it is not a very reliable ally at the moment.

Do you think that the opponents of Mr. Erdogan could use this situation to weaken him?

Erkan Saka: Now the ruling party won the judiciary elections also. So, Erdogan is almost the owner of the state at the moment. I don’t believe that the opponents are powerful. They couldn’t exploit this before. So, in the domestic politics, at least at the official party-level politics, I don’t believe any party can really exploit it. But, probably, the relations with the Kurdish movement will sort of shape the outcome. And I think despite the recent protests, there might still be the peace process going on. And now, it seems that the Kurdish movement is a bit less aggressive. So, in this case, I think that only the Kurdish movement and Turkey’s relations can shape the domestic agenda, not the other parties in the opposition.

And there’ve been such powerful protests in Turkey, in the southeast provinces. Are they somehow connected with the situation around the IS?

Erkan Saka: Yes. I think the Kurdish movement in Turkey is very well aware that the IS movement towards Kobani will also affect their power or their movement within Turkey. So, this is a very vital issue for them. And I'm not sure if the way the protests took place was well planned, but I believe that, sociologically, this is what happens if you call people to the streets, especially the Kurdish militants, who are very well experienced in this kind of situations. But then, the Government has exploited this, claiming that this vandalism or sort of anarchy. And Erdogan could again get some sympathy or support from the Turks. But this is still a very volatile position, so you never know.

But for the moment, I think the protests have sort of slowed down and there might be some meetings and negotiations going on behind the closed doors. And maybe there is a reconditioning of this so-called peace process. But if it doesn’t go smoothly, then we might see more protests in a more violent and aggressive way, that what we have seen in the Gezi Park protests.

Which in its turn might create an additional challenge for Erdogan and his current position?

Erkan Saka: Yes, definitely.

Halil Karavelli, Senior Fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the Silk Road Studies Program:

Turkey, since the civil war in Syria started, has attempted to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad. And it has been its main goal. And for that purpose Turkey has supported all kinds of radical Sunni organizations, starting with Jabhat al-Nusra and continuing with the ISIS today, and that organization that became the ISIS later.

And Turkey has done that by giving all kinds of logistical support and allowing its territory to be used by the jihadists crossing over to Syria. And there is also a circumstantial evidence that suggests that Turkey has been giving more direct support to these groups as well, up until recently at least.

Now, why has Turkey done that? Turkey has done that, primarily, as I said, in order to overthrow Assad. And secondly, it has done so in order to check the aspirations of the Kurds in Syria, because the Kurds, when the civil war broke out, took the opportunity to declare parts of the northern region of Syria – Rojava (which is the western part of Kurdistan) – to declare an autonomous region. Kobani, where the fighting is going on today, is one of those three mainly Kurdish enclaves.

The main Kurdish organization that has established its presence there – the Democratic Union Party – is closely affiliated with PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) that has led an insurgency against Turkey since 1984. So, these two organizations – the Kurdish organization in Syria and the Turkish PKK – are kind of sister organizations, if you want.

From the Turkey’s perspective, what is happening in Syria means that the PKK Kurds have for the first time established kind of an autonomous region, and that region is bordering Turkey. And also, there is a close affinity between the Kurds in Syria and the Kurds in Turkey and the border actually divides families and relatives. It is not entirely the case when it comes to the Kurds in Iraq. But the Syrian Kurds and the Kurds on the Turkish side of the border are closely related.

So, of course, from the viewpoint of Turkey this would mean, or the Turks fear that if that Kurdish autonomous region were to survive in Syria, that would kind of encourage the Kurds in Turkey to seek autonomy. In order to crush the Kurds, Turkey has been lending the support to, as I said, the groups like Jabhat al-Nusra since 2012. It all started, actually, in June 2012, when the Rojava region declared its autonomy and subsequently the attacks against the region started.

So, to sum it up, Turkey’s main priority is to make sure that Assad goes and that the Kurds do not get their autonomy. And the ISIS has been one of Turkey’s instruments in order to achieve those goals. So, that is the reason why Turkey has stood back and has just been watching, as the ISIS has practically crushed the Kurds in Kobani. The ISIS has taken over most of that city and for all intents and purposes the Kobani enclave has seized to exist. Most of the civilian population has fled over to Turkey. So, in a sense, the Kurds are already defeated there.

But as far as I remember, back in 2012 Erdogan was quite praised for supporting anti-Assad forces, whatever forces they were, by Obama himself. And now, it is this very Obama who pushes Erdogan to join the coalition against the forces Erdogan had been supporting. So, what does that imply for Erdogan?

Halil Karavelli: Of course, that shows how politics work. You are absolutely right. Of course, Turkey is not solely responsible for what has been created in Syria. We can go back even to the American invasion of Iraq back in 2003, to see when the seeds of what is happening today were planted.

But what it means for Erdogan…I must say that regardless of the Americans, as always, the Americans are having a difficult time getting things right in the ME. They had it in Iraq and they had a trouble in Syria as well. But the Turks know perfectly well what they are up to.

And I think it is a bit of an outrage that a country that is supposed to be a part of the Western alliance, supposed to be a democracy and which is also supposed to be engaged in peace talks with its Kurdish minority, lets these atrocities to take place and is actually complicit (through its support for the group that is attacking the Kurds) in what is happening.

The Kurds in Turkey very legitimately asked the question – how can we believe that the Turkish regime is sincere in wanting peace with us here in Turkey and is ready accommodate our demands for more autonomy or more cultural and other rights, when Turkey is so afraid that our brothers in Syria will get the same thing and is assisting the crushing of them.

That is a very legitimate question that led to the clashes last week and mass protests all over the Kurdish cities in Turkey. And I believe that is just the beginning and I think that the big Kurdish uprising in Turkey, which is just around the corner, will not be controllable by the Kurdish political movement, as it has been so far, because the younger generation of Kurds in Turkey is extremely frustrated and angry, and has been so for a long time. And what was happening in Kobani, was the thing that blew the lid of the Kurdish anger in Turkey.

And there are some very-very worrying signs in Turkey right now. One of them is that the Turkish Government is now taking measures and pushing through the legislation this week, which will allow the police and also other law enforcement agencies (the gendarmerie and the military), but chiefly the police, to attack and fire upon the demonstrators. And Erdogan has also personally warned that if the things, like those that happened last week, are repeated, the police will answer in-kind. And actually, that is an open threat that more blood will be shed on the streets of Turkey.

So, this is the regime, we saw that during the Gezi protests last year, that they don’t hesitate to crush down and crack down brutally on the demonstrators. And I fear that Turkey, through its intervention and meddling in the Syrian civil war, is about to import the civil war into Turkey itself, because the parties that Turkey has taken up to fight against in Syrian – the Alawites and the Kurds – they are also in Turkey. The Kurds, obviously, and also the Alawite minority has been antagonized and alienated by the Turkish regime.

So, there is a very big potential, or more than that, a risk that the Turkish intervention in Syria will end up spreading the fire of the civil war into Turkey itself.

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