Turkey's real concern: Greater Kurdistan

Article Summary
Turkish politicians fear that a coalition military victory against the Islamic State will lead to the establishment of an independent and unified Kurdish nation.

A motion — to be voted on and almost certainly approved by the Turkish parliament today [Oct. 2] — would give the government and the army a crucial mandate [for military action in Syria and Iraq]. How this mandate is utilized will be equally crucial.

As far as I can see, the government and the military agree on one very fundamental point: They both think that the United States’ strategy in “the fight against the Islamic State (IS)” could lead to the creation of Greater Kurdistan, that is, an independent Kurdish state uniting the Kurds of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and later Iran.

Inevitably, such a state would be carved out on the territories of the said countries. This would mark the demise of the current Middle East, whose borders were drawn up under British leadership after World War I, and give way to a new map of the US' liking. Britain — together with France — had opted against an independent state for the Kurds and left them scattered in several countries. The United States, for its part, has centered its play on the Kurds.

When it comes to Turkey, the Turkish military upholds the nation-state ideology and, until recently, kept politicians under its tutelage. As of September 2011, it took a step back and left the arena to civilian politicians. Yet the military has not abandoned its ideology of the past nine decades. Its “neo-nationalism” — i.e., nation-state nationalism with little emphasis on religion — remains absolutely unchanged.

It's not an exaggeration to say that territory loss is the Turkish military’s biggest nightmare. And what about the government? What is its fundamental approach on Turkey’s Kurds?

Seeing eye to eye

A couple of days ago, I mentioned a survey on the Kurdish settlement process, conducted by Bogazici University political science professor Hakan Yilmaz and his colleagues for the Open Society Foundation.

The study found that 57% of Turks support the settlement process. Yet, when asked how the Kurdish problem should be resolved, the majority basically said that “resolving the Kurds’ economic problems and granting them a few rights related to their [Kurdish] identity would suffice.”

If you ask me, the government — always careful not to go against prevailing public sentiment — is of the same opinion on this issue, too. Its thinking basically goes like this: “Let’s strengthen the economy in the [Kurdish-majority] southeast. Let’s grant them some rights, primarily language-related ones. We can even give them autonomy in certain fields within the European Union framework. And that’s more than enough!”

However, the United States’ return to the Middle East due to the IS problem is changing the equation. If the armed Kurdish actors emerge victorious from their struggle against IS, they will certainly broaden their existing demands, moving a step closer to Greater Kurdistan.

And right here I’d like to recall an old saying: “Turkey is not so great as to be a playmaker, but it is strong enough to spoil the play.” Adapted to the current situation, it means that if the United States attempts to redraw the Middle East map while “fighting IS” to carve out an independent Kurdistan, it will face serious resistance from Turkey.

Ankara is already making its preparations accordingly. That’s why IS and the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK] go together in each and every sentence that Turkish leaders utter nowadays.

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Found in: turkey, kurds, kurdistan, islamic state
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