After days of siege, ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) entered the Syrian town of Kobani on the border with Turkey, is now trying to take full control of the town. Recent reports indicate that fall of Kobani, also known as Ayn Al-Arab, seems imminent, though YPG fighters (The People’s Protection Units) under the command of PYD (Democratic Union Party) still continue to resist. PYD is an offshoot of PKK (The Kurdistan Workers’ Party) that is a Marksist-Leninist terror organization that has been fighting Turkey since 1984 to create an independent Kurdistan. The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization also by USA, UN, NATO and EU. Although the Turkish government has been in peace talks with PKK’s captured leader Abdullah Öcalan and there is a so-called ceasefire in effect, PKK continued its attacks, launching rockets into Turkish military outposts and setting dozens of schools on fire. PYD itself also attacked Turkish Armed Forces in June killing three Turkish soldiers.
PYD-PKK and Turkish Help
Turkey is naturally concerned by the prospect of a new neighbor ruled by an organization affiliated to PKK that has cost lives of thousands of its civilians and security forces. But still, it has been doing much for Kobani. Almost all Kobani civilians fled to Turkey and are now being sheltered and fed there. Even wounded YPG fighters who should normally be regarded as terrorists by the authorities because their affiliation to PKK, are allowed to receive medical attention in Turkish hospitals.
On certain conditions, Turkey said it is willing to make more efforts to help with the situation in Syria. Turkey desires a multilateral ground action in Syria, buffer zones to protect its borders and commitment to a post-Assad future. If these happen, ‘if others do their part,’ Turkey will even put boots on the ground in Syria, Ahmet Davutoğlu said to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
Drums of war played by ‘liberal’ columnists
For some, none of this is enough. Many foreign and Turkish commentators, often with unfairly accusatory remarks against Turkey, push for Turkish military involvement in Kobani, although PYD leader himself told they would regard a unilateral Turkish intervention in Rojava -the area that includes also Kobani- as an act of invasion. Now that is the primary reason for Turkey not to interfere: the locals there simply don’t want it. Nor do the Turkish people want their military to go into Syria. So it is indeed a mystery why so many columnists suddenly started to insist on a Turkish intervention and think there are grounds for it. Foreign columnists may want the ISIS problem handled by Turkish Armed Forces instead of theirs and the Turkish ones may be trying to ease their ‘Turkish guilt’ towards the Kurds or fearing that the peace process would end. Or they have other concerns. In any case, it is worrying that so many want something so wrong.
The Border, KRG, Future
Kobani won’t be the first Syrian town bordering Turkey to fall into claws of ISIL. ISIL already holds a significant number of settlements neighboring Turkey, meaning that a military involvement in Kobani could mean war almost all along the border. And there is the risk of attacks in city centers and touristic areas. Even the rumor of this is harmful for a country that relies on tourism incomes to cover its huge current account deficit.
A Turkish action in Kobani is likely complicate things with also KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) in Iraq. The KRG is an important economic partner of Turkey and have long been at odds with PYD. Considering that even ISIL threat didn’t unite them, one may have an idea how bad their relations are. Needless to say Assad regime, that has quite a good past with PKK, won’t be happy, either. Already furious at Erdoğan, Syrian president will want to get back at Turkey. And so will Iran that provides a good deal of Turkey’s energy needs.
And say that Turkish military entered Kobani and defeated ISIL. Then what? Will it fight also the PKK militants there which would automatically end the peace process? Will it fight also PYD that said it would regard the Turkish intervention as an act of invasion? How many Turkish soldiers will die? How long will the military stay there? How deep into Syria will they have to go? Will there be an anti-war social explosion in Turkey? Military strategists and analysts with fancy Ph.Ds can give some answers to these questions. And they would all be wrong, as they were in their predictions about Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, the wisest thing is having not to make these calculations and avoid the military option as much as possible.
HDP fighting for Kobani in Turkish cities?
The attitude of pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) is important and lately very unhelpful. The party called for demonstrations in support for Kobani but things got violent, as they usually do in their rallies. Atatürk statues, private and public vehicles were burnt, some businesses were looted. HDP also threatened Turkey that ‘If Kobani falls, the peace process (with PKK) will end.’ Of course, the pictures of city centers turned into hell during these demonstrations don’t help with the acceptance of Kobani cause in Turkish eyes. Turkish society is so polarized lately that it is child’s play to provoke a major internal conflict. And sadly it may be happening already. The reports that Turkish nationalists try to stop HDP demonstrators are really worrying. We are facing a Kurdish social explosion. And a Turkish one may be on the way, as the Turks still hate PKK almost as much as they hate ISIL, if not more. The Turkish police’s always problematic way of handling protests isn’t likely to help with the situation, either. The more violent these protests get, a bigger and harder matter the involvement in Syria will become.
In conclusion, Turkish military is unlikely to enter Syria under these circumstances and nor should it. Turkey has a moral responsibility to help the people of Kobani fleeing from ISIL but not to go there and get in a military adventure whose costs are hard to calculate. It is fair to say that Turkey’s Syria policy has been a monumental failure and that it is partly to blame for the tragedies in Syria. But we should not forget that there is a long list of countries, including Western ones, that failed in Syria and deserve to be blamed at least as much as Turkey.