The primary issue in Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s White House visit was Syria. Erdogan wanted Washington to be more active against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. He knew Assad would not resign and that diplomatic methods would not be effective in removing him from power. That is why he wanted the US to be more decisive.
But after his meeting with US President Barack Obama, Erdogan changed his view of the Geneva Conference, which he had earlier dismissed as “futile,” and accepted Obama’s Geneva proposal that brings Russia into the process. As he was leaving the White House, Erdogan said he will visit Russia and emphasize diplomatic contacts. His Washington visit showed that the US was not thinking of a military intervention in Syria and that it will try to increase the international political pressure on Assad. This reality directed Ankara — which is isolated in its Syria policy — toward the Geneva Conference.
White House talks once again illustrated the importance of Russia in the Syrian affair. In addition to the Russian stance, the military and political support Moscow provides to the Assad regime and Obama’s refusal to open a new Middle East front after Iraq and Afghanistan has prolonged the life of the Assad regime. In this situation, Ankara has to wait for the results of the Geneva Conference.
Turkey has always suffered the worst damages from wars the Western world launched in the Middle East. The latest example of this was the first and second Gulf wars, which culminated in the invasion of Iraq.
In the first Gulf war, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was not toppled, but northern Iraq was severed from Baghdad. Thanks to the US force based in Turkey’s Incirlik base, a state structure emerged in northern Iraq and the PKK was militarily and politically empowered.
After the March 2003 battles when the US occupied Iraq, the PKK firmly settled down in northern Iraq and stepped up its terrorist acts against Turkey using weapons it obtained from the Iraqi army. Northern Iraq's Kurdish administration, with the military and political support of the US that had occupied Iraq, achieved a quasi-independent status and Iraq was split.
This process cost tens of thousands of lives for Turkey because of PKK terrorism, as well as massive economic and political losses.
Nowadays, Turkey is supporting the quasi-state of Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani in northern Iraq — something it had once declared to be a “red line” — while rapidly distancing itself from the Baghdad government. That rapprochement, which progressed to the level of generating a US reaction — now includes Abdullah Ocalan and the PKK.
The splitting of the state structure that is developing in northern Iraq means Turkey’s policy based on “preserving the territorial integrity of Iraq” has remained [only] on paper.
In the face of Iraqi realities, the question of “what kind of Syria [will emerge]” gains importance. Nobody knows what kind of Syria will emerge after Assad’s departure. It is possible that Syria will be dragged into a sectarian-ethnic morass, as in Lebanon. The birth of a northern Syria [semi-autonomous state], similar to northern Iraq — which will be controlled by the PKK’s Syrian extension, the PYD — is also distinctly possible. If this becomes real, then Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq will be severed from Damascus and Baghdad and will be under the control of northern Iraq and northern Syrian Kurdish administrations. Turkey’s current policy is contributing to the formation of a quasi-state structure in northern Syria as it did in northern Iraq.
These developments are in harmony with the final goals of Barzani and the PKK, but it is not easy to say the same for Turkey.
Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
- The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
- Archived articles
- Exclusive events
- The Week in Review
- Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly