Turkey’s Syria Policy Backfires
By Ayhan Simsek - Deutsche Welle
July 31, 2012
As Syrian crisis deepens, Turkey is confronted
with the risk of a PKK-controlled Kurdish state in
Turkey’s immediate neighborhood. Ankara’s fear is
not a Greater Kurdistan, but a PKK controlled
semi-state, analysts say.
Ankara's support for a regime change in Syria has
started to backfire, threatening Turkey's own
national security, with Syrian Kurdish groups
forming a de facto state in the north of Syria.
Turkish media reported last week that the Kurdistan
Workers' Party (PKK), with its alleged Syrian branch
the Democratic Union Party (PYD), took control of
several provinces on Turkey's border. Several
reports published photos of Kurdish flags and
posters of the PKK's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan
flying from buildings in northern Syria towns.
"We will not allow the formation of a terrorist
structuring near our border," Turkish Foreign
Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkish media on
Sunday. "We reserve every right.... No matter if it
is al-Qaeda or PKK we would consider it a matter of
national security and take every measure," said
Alarm bells ringing
The PKK's growing influence in Syria border has
alarmed Turkey, prompting Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdoğan to convene a security summit with
senior government and security officials. Following
the meeting, he accused the Syrian regime of
allowing the PKK a free hand in the north of the
country and warned that Ankara would not hesitate to
"Recent developments have come as an unpleasant
surprise to Turkish officials," Deniz Zeyrek,
foreign policy columnist of the liberal left daily
newspaper Radikal, told DW. "When Syrian Kurdish
groups distanced themselves from the Assad regime,
Turkey welcomed this development. But Ankara did not
expect these Kurdish groups would soon unite around
the PKK-affiliated political groups," he said.
Turkey has been fighting against the PKK since 1984,
and the conflict has so far claimed some 45,000
lives. The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization
by Ankara and by much of the international
community, enjoyed the support of Damascus during
the 80's and 90's. Since early 2000, the PKK has
been effectively using its bases in the mountainous
region of northern Iraq. With its growing influence
and strength in Syria's Kurdish populated regions,
the PKK is now seen working toward an autonomous
administration, or even an independent "Western
Kurdistan" in Syrian territories.
Autonomy in Turkey
The recent developments have also sparked stronger
demands by Turkish Kurds from Ankara and further
increased tension in Turkey's southeast region.
Diyarbakir Major Osman Baydemir, an influential
Kurdish politician in Turkey, recently called for a
new political and administrative status for Kurd.
"The only way ahead is the creation of autonomous
Kurdistan regions in Turkey,www.ekurd.net
in Syria and in Iran, just as the one in Iraq,"
Baydemir said. "For sure there will soon be an
autonomous Kurdistan in Syria," he stressed,
suggesting the abolition of borders among these
entities, the creation of a customs union, and a new
political partnership with the regional countries,
Syria is home to some 2 million Kurds. In Iraq, the
Kurdish population is around 5 million and in Iran,
5.5 million. Turkey has the largest Kurdish
population, estimated to be around 15 million.
For years, Turkey's Kurds were deprived of their
basic political and cultural rights. In the course
of its EU membership process, particularly in the
last decade, Turkey has expanded political and
cultural rights for its Kurdish citizens. But Ankara
strictly opposes demands for Kurdish autonomy.
Turkish public opinion is highly suspicious of
Kurdish movements in the region and see them as a
threat to Turkey's territorial integrity.
Deployment on the border
As concerns grow in Turkey about a PKK-controlled
Kurdish state in Syria, the Turkish military has
stepped up its deployment on the border.
Despite Turkey's moves, analysts do not foresee an
immediate military cross-border operation which
would further complicate the crisis. Ankara's first
option is to use all diplomatic and political
channels to isolate the PKK and the affiliated PYD
group in Syria.
According to some Turkish analysts, the growing
concern of Turkish officials is not so much the
prospect of a Greater Kurdistan, which they see as
unlikely, but the PKK's increasing role and strength
"Turkish officials are saying that they will not
remain silent about a Kurdish administration in
Syria under the control of the PKK," columnist
Zeyrek said. "But they say that Turkey will
establish a dialogue with a possible new Kurdish
entity in Syria, resembling the regional government
For years Turkey has feared the creation of an
independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq and has
tried to prevent Kurdish groups there from forming
an autonomous regional government. But soon after
the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) was
established and gained international acknowledgement
after it democratically adopted the Iraqi
constitution, the Turkish government changed its
Today, the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region,
Massoud Barzani, is an important political ally for
Turkey, not only with his efforts to eliminate the
threat by the PKK but also on the Syria crisis.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will visit
Erbil on Wednesday and meet Barzani, where he is
expected to ask the Iraqi Kurdish leader to use his
influence on Syrian Kurds and persuade them not to
cooperate with the PKK.
According to Cengiz Candar, a senior foreign policy
analyst, Turkey's efforts are like "a journey in a
"Turkey is trying to solve its own Kurdish problem,
as well the Syrian Kurdish problem, with the help of
Massoud Barzani. This is mission impossible," Candar
wrote in his column in Turkey's Hurriyet daily. "The
Turkish state is deceiving itself and public
According to Candar, Kurds will have a "new status"
with the formation of a new state in the post-Assad
era and there are suggestions that Barzani will come
to an implicit agreement with the PKK in order to
maintain his influence in the region.
"This process of change in Syria is inevitable,"
Candar said. "And if the Turkish government wants to
turn this change into an advantage for itself, it
should first take genuine steps to solving its own
Author: Ayhan Simsek, Editor: Rob Mudge
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