Global Independent Analytics
Miray Aslan
Miray Aslan

Location: Turkey

Specialization: Media, Politics

THE ROASTED "TURKEY" SANDWICH

Turkey's Syrian strategy based on ousting Assad and the fall of Kobane had failed. Turkey got stuck between Russia and US/Russian-supported YPG

The conflict in Syria is in its fifth year. Since the beginning, Erdogan has always voted in favor of ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  US and Turkey had formally supported Syrian rebels against Assad in the context of "train-and-equip strategy.” According to reports by two Turkish journalists, Erdem Gul and Can Dundar - who are jailed in Turkey over smuggling reports, Turkey provides weapons to ISIL and al-Nusra.  Russia's official accused Turkey of buying oil from ISIL. In short, ISIL and Turkey have a "sufficient" relationship.  However, ISIL pushed out by the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units) and the Russian army, along with US coalition airstrikes, now mean that almost the entire border of Turkey has been captured by Kurdish forces.  The struggle of Kurds to build an autonomous Kurdish state called Rojava continues.

Turkey does not seem to welcome its new neighbor. The Turkish military has shelled Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party) positions near the city of Azaz in northwestern Syria. "YPG units have been warned to withdraw from the border territory captured from Syrian rebels," said Turkish President Ahmet Davutoglu on February 13. According to Turkish security officials, the shelling was done in retaliation under Turkish military rules of engagement. The day later, PYD leader Salih Muslim replied to Davutoglu: "Turkey has no right to interfere in the internal affairs of Syria." He explained PYD will not leave Azaz and if Turkey continues shelling they are going to respond.

ROJAVA: WHEN? WHERE? HOW?

2.2 million Kurds are estimated to live in Syria before the civil war. When the Arab Spring spread to Syria the momentum began to grow against Assad’s government. The Kurdish protests started on April 2011, and the government attempted to appease the Kurds by promising citizenship to Kurds.  Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) founded a political branch in Syria, the PYD, in 2003. Since then, PYD and its armed wing the YPG, struggle for cultural and political rights and for self-determination for Kurds in the area in Northern Syria called Rojava which consists of three cantons: Kobane, Jazira and Afrin. 

Kobane has come under the control of the Kurdish YPG  militias since 2012 but by October 2014, ISIL captured most Kurdish villages and towns within the vicinity of Kobani, after a nearly 5 months long siege. ISIL has ethnically cleansed the city and surrounding areas of Kurds.

Visiting the refugee camps near the Syrian border on October 7, President Erdogan was told by a local that "Kobani is about to fall to the Islamic State." The resident added "Where is Kobani? It is a dream that will not come true, the name of the town is Ayn Al-Arab, not Kobani." The Kurds of Turkey protested in almost 30 cities against Turkish support for Islamic State militants attacking Kobane. Curfews have been imposed in several cities in southeastern Turkey inhabited by the Kurdish population. The Turkish army intensified its operations in the Kurdish provinces of  Şırnak and Diyarbakır.

VICTORY IN KOBANI

However, Kobane did not fall. The US-led aerial coalition, which has been conducting strikes against IS targets in Iraq since August, launched its first attacks on the group near Kobane. Turkey had  refused to join the coalition but allowed Iraqi Kurdish fighters to cross the border into Kobani after UN called Turkey to allow Kurdish fighters and weapons to reach the besieged town. Finally, the Kurdish forces have driven out ISIL and recaptured Kobane City in its entirety.  The victory in Kobane was an important milestone in creating a Kurdish zone along almost the entire length of Syria’s northern border - both symbolically and strategically. YPG plans to take control of the area from Jarabulus to Azaz - then it could link the cantons of Jazeera and Kobani with Rojava’s third canton Afrin.  Jarabulus is the last ISIS border-crossing point into Turkey. The Turks are anxious to prevent a new Kurdish entity emerging in Syria.  Turkish officials said that they want a no-fly zone, policed by the US and Turkish warplanes, to be established from Jarablus to Azaz. Turkey has long pushed for a safe zone  in the name of " protecting civilians from Syrian airstrikes " but the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly rejected the idea as too difficult to implement.

EITHER TURKEY OR PYD

Erdogan has called the US many times to regard PYD and its armed wing YPG as the terrorist organization over their affiliation with the PKK. "You accept the PKK as a terrorist organization? Then why don't you list the PYD and YPG as terrorist organizations, too?" Erdoğan asked US senior official Brett McGurk in his visit to Kobani.  Erdogan called on Washington to choose either Turkey or "terrorists in Kobani" as their partner.  While the US shares Turkey's view toward the PKK and sees it as a terrorist organization, it differs in its view regarding the PYD and YPG. On February 8, U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said they had provided support, mostly through the air, to the PYD, which he said would continue and he added "we don’t, as you know, recognize the PYD as a terrorist organization. Even the best of friends aren’t going to agree on everything. Kurdish fighters have been some of the most successful in going after Da’esh inside Syria.”  The Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) has opened its first European representation office in Moscow, the office in Washington is planned to be opened soon.

SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES VOLUME 1

2 months ago, after a Turkish F-16 jet shot down a Russian warplane, Turkey had claimed the Russian Aircraft was downed in accordance with engagement rules. Vladimir Putin called Turkey “accomplices of terrorists” and warned of “serious consequences.” After rebels from Syria's ethnic Turkmen community, whose villages Turkey said had been bombed by Russian aircraft, opened fire at the crew and  killed one Russian pilot,  Russian planes increased their bombardment on Turkmen territories. Turkey-supported Turkmen have been driven out of villages which means Turkey has lost a zone of influence in Syria. Obviously, Turkey's aggressive foreign policy on Syria that has  focused on the fall of Assad and the fall of Kobane has totally failed. Hosting 2.5 million Syrian refugees, Turkey is angry that it is not one of the main actors in re-shaping Syria. Turkey is stuck between Russia and US/Russia-supported PYD just like a roasted "Turkey" sandwich. Does anyone need salt?

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