With Turkey facing spill over from the Syrian Civil War and threats from ISIS’ advances, the border between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey has come into focus. A melting point of various groups and conflicts, the region places Turkey and its Southern area in a hot spot. Its citizens face the possibility of conflict merging across the border. Turkey needs to respond, and its people are calling for government action.
The Turkish government has recently made a change in their policies regarding Kurdish forces in their area of influence, or at least it seems so. While Turkey has been at odds with Turkish and Syrian Kurds, as well as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), it has been more open with Iraqi Kurds and their fighters. The Kurds, across Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, want an autonomous state to live in: Kurdistan. However through out history, Turkey has repressed the Kurdish demands for independence and detachment from the state.
Facing repression from the government, Turkic Kurds had resisted means of integration and censorship with the foundation of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Labeled as a terrorist group by Turkey, the EU, and the US, the PKK has used a violent struggle against the state in order to vie for an independent Kurdistan. Most of the fighters operate in Southeast Turkey or near the border in Northern Iraq and Syria.
Turkey had been dealing with a ceasefire with the PKK in 2013, and the Iraqi government was concerned over Kurdish presence in Northern Iraq. Their presence and calls for a more autonomous region only fueled the issue of divide in the country among regional and sectarian lines.
At the outbreak of ISIS and their campaign in Northern Iraq and Syria, Kurdish forces in the area were able to stand up to their offensive, or at least respond greater in comparison to Iraqi forces. Syria, ravaged by a nearly four year long war, had no ability to fully defend against ISIS. The opposition forces have been scattered and concentrated on government armies, while the Syrian government has tended to overlook ISIS. There has been bribery from ISIS to the Syrian government through selling oil.
Kurdish forces, in regards to the Syrian Civil War, has acted as sort of a border defense along Turkey against ISIS’ movement. While they have had less movement in the center of the nation, their position along Turkey’s border proves vital for stability.
What the Kurdish forces do is act as a defensive force for the unprotected and vulnerable regions. They have managed to defend a handful of towns and key points from ISIS as well as protect and evacuate large portions of the Yazidi community, a persecuted religion in Iraq. And with Kurdish forces already in positions along the Turkish-Syrian and Turkish-Iraqi border, these forces have the opportunity to act as a temporary defense.
Here is where the Iraqi Kurds come into play. Iraqi Kurds serve as a more trusting group, as they are more concerned with their own movement in Iraq than in Turkey. Also, they hold a tremendous amount of oil and oil passageways in their territory. Siding with Iraqi Kurds for Turkey would end up being a beneficial relationship, as it eases tensions with the Kurdish community abroad while solidifying their sources of oil.
Turkey is cautious of arming Kurdish forces, and wants to use Iraqi Kurds as a defense force in the town of Kobane, on the Syrian-Turkey border. Currently this town is in conflict between ISIS and Kurdish forces.
While appealing to outside groups and simultaneously denying labeled domestic terrorists any opportunities, Turkey is placed into a tough position. The Kurdish community in Turkey still is angered by the government’s lack of action against ISIS and mobility with PKK as a unified force. Turkey wanted to refrain from sending weapons, while the US acted against their desires and airdropped weapons recently into Kobane. Turkey faces the problem of falling onto the slippery slope should they grant PKK and other Kurdish groups in Turkey more autonomous control.
In terms for defense, the Kurdish forces are a strong secondary, but do need aid, weapons, and support from coalitions and neighboring governments. In terms of politics however, granting these benefits would open the floodgates for future demonstrations and separatist movements. ISIS is the main problem that needs to be focused on, and working alongside PKK and Kurdish forces has to be considered if a considerable push against ISIS is going to happen.
Photo Credit: Haralddoornbos