Turkey’s Syria Strategy Could Yield Unintended Consequences

Article Summary
Turkey is supporting extremist factions within the Syrian opposition as a means of limiting Kurdish influence in the region, a move that could have disastrous consequences, writes Hoshik Owsi.

In the early nineties, an extremist Islamist organization known as the “Turkish Hezbollah” emerged from within Turkish intelligence to engage in a horrible and bloody conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Official and covert Turkish propaganda at the time considered the PKK “a group of communists, Armenians and infidels.”

More than 95% of the members and leaders of Turkish Hezbollah were Kurds. Consequently, the bloody conflict with the PKK pitted Kurds against Kurds, a primary factor in the conflict between the PKK and Turkey. The victims of both sides (the PKK and Turkish Hezbollah) were Kurds, and this is exactly what the war management departments and centers in Ankara were aiming for. As a result, thousands of people died in the mutual abduction and assassination operations between the PKK and Turkish Hezbollah over the course of nearly a decade.

The conflict ended with the abduction and arrest of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on Feb. 15, 1999. Afterwards, the Turkish authorities began targeting Turkish Hezbollah through large-scale arrests in an effort to do away with the organization, with these efforts reaching their peak between 2000 and 2001.

Following this campaign, Turkish Hezbollah suffered from internal divisions and infighting, and one of its wings joined the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey.

Some observers thought that the Turkish intelligence organization’s quest to get rid of one of its Islamic militia arms was the result of two things:

First: This party had gained increasing popularity in large cities such as Istanbul and Konya, stirring fears that it would become uncontrollable. Security leaks from the party itself reported that some of its wings intended to move the sides of conflict and direct them against the Turkish government.

Second: This party’s end goal was to distract the PKK with bloody Kurdish-Kurdish infighting to reduce the pressure on the Turkish government, the army and the security authorities.

During its rule, the government of the Islamic AKP made many constitutional reforms that resulted in the release of thousands of members of Turkish Hezbollah. Some observers saw this as some kind of “tribute” to the party for its efforts and participation in the battle against the PKK, while others believed it was a legal and peaceful attempt to incite the party against the PKK again.

Consequently, this extreme Islamist party carried out its activities in Turkey in a semi-public manner, and now has headquarters, newspapers, magazines, clubs and associations in the Kurdish regions in the southeast of Turkey and in other Turkish cities.

In any case, Turkish intelligence used Turkish Hezbollah as a tool in its war against the PKK. However, the military solution failed to disband the PKK, and Ankara is currently negotiating with Ocalan.

In Syria, the PKK’s popular presence surpassed the economic and political presence of Turkey, both before and after the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in March of 2011. In fact, whoever accepts the prominent and influential Turkish involvement in the Syrian opposition — both politically and militarily — must also accept the PKK’s presence and influence in Syria’s Kurdish regions. If the Kurdish issue in Turkey is not resolved, events could take a turn for the worse for Turkey.

Many media reports indicate the massive presence of Jabhat al-Nusra members in Turkish territories, and they believe that Turkey assists their infiltration into Syria through security coverage and support. The ongoing conflict between Jabhat al-Nusra and extremist Islamist battalions in the Kurdish Serekaniye region (Ras al-Ain), northeast of Syria, on one hand, and Kurdish militants supporting the PKK on the other hand, is merely another sequel to the PKK-Turkish conflict going on outside of Turkish territory.

During such times, the role of Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamic battalions will not be very different from that played by Turkish Hezbollah in the nineties — a mere tool in the hands of Turkish authorities to be disposed of as soon as its mission ends. The only difference here is that the victims are Syrians.

Another opinion states that there is a consensus between Turkey, the West and America to deal with the Syrian revolution as a holocaust for Islamist extremists by putting them at the forefront of the conflict with Assad, on the one hand, and with the PKK, on the other. Consequently, Ankara would be the sole beneficiary, since it would get rid of three enemies at once — the Assad regime, the PKK and Islamist extremists.

Turkey is following in the footsteps of the Americans, who provoked and supported extremist Jihadist groups in Afghanistan against the former communist-Soviet rule. If this assumption proves to be true, Ankara would be playing a very dangerous game, risking a situation where Jabhat al-Nusra and its partners liberate themselves from Turkish control and reached power in Syria. The Afghanization of one of Turkey’s neighbors — with which it shares an 800 kilometer-long border — does not comfort Ankara in the least. If and when Assad’s regime falls and the secular Kurdish and Arab forces in Syria are defeated, the road leading Jabhat al-Nusra and its partners to power in Syria will have been paved by Turkey, the West and America.

If Turkey wants to use Jabhat al-Nusra and its partners to get rid of the PKK’s influence in Syria, it may be simultaneously opening the gates of hell. It might as well be shooting itself in the foot. This comes in the framework of assumptions and readiness for all possibilities, knowing that Turkey — with all its power, tools, institutions, nobility and imperial heritage, and with the support of NATO and regional countries — failed to resolve the military battle with the PKK in its favor. How, then, can Jabhat al-Nusra and its partners hope to be successful in a similar task?

Found in: syrian opposition, syrian, kurdistan

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