Turkey's Kurdish dilemma plays out in Kobani

Turkey has agreed to cooperate with the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition as a result of heavy international pressure, but there was no indication Ankara’s expectations would be met.

al-monitor Tracer rounds cross the sky over the Syrian town of Kobani, as seen from the Mursitpinar crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, Oct. 22, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach.

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turkish policy on syria, turkey, terrorist organizations, syria, pyd, democratic union party

Oct 22, 2014

We can call the last accord between Turkey and the United States on Kobani a “compulsory cooperation,” at least for the Turkish side. We can’t really say that Ankara has willingly accepted this accord. It did so because circumstances warranted and the government was under heavy pressure.

A couple of days ago Ankara was confronted by two simultaneous moves by President Barack Obama's administration. The first was the airdrop of weapons to the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People's Protection Units' fighters in Kobani. The second was to allow Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces to transit through Turkey.

About the first, the United States is determined to provide weapons assistance to the PYD; otherwise, they cannot last long. But our government’s position on arming the PYD is clear. As President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says, since Ankara sees the PYD as a terror organization, it firmly rejects any arming of the Kurdish organization and no power can change Turkey’s mind. This is why Turkey is not pleased with what the United States did, and the basic discrepancy of views between the two countries continues.

Turkey worries that the weapons given to the PYD to defend Kobani might fall into the hands of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), while the United States attaches priority is to continuation of the PYD combat against the Islamic State (IS). As for opening a corridor for the Iraqi peshmerga, in all fairness, despite some hesitation, Ankara agreed to it. There are several reasons why. First, Ankara has good relations with Erbil. If Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani’s forces go to Kobani, defense of the area will not be exclusively in the hands of the PYD and the perimeters of the struggle against IS will be expanded. Moreover, for Turkey to abstain from such a contribution would have had negative repercussions.

Turkey’s saying “yes” to the corridor was received well in Erbil, Washington and by coalition forces. No doubt it will help augment effectiveness of the Barzani administration, boost morale of Kurdish fighters and impede IS.

While Turkey was making this contribution to the coalition, it was not clear how far Turkey’s demands from the coalition would be accommodated. All official statements from Ankara said a no-fly zone and safe havens along the border were a must. Fighting IS is enough. To end the terror question, the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must be deposed. Turkey’s active support to the coalition that focuses only on Kobani depends of acceptance of its demands.

To be blunt, there are no indications yet that Ankara’s expectations will be met. A no-fly zone and safe havens are not on the international agenda and there is no move in that direction. Similarly, there is not the slightest move to eliminate the Assad regime.

Clearly, Turkey will have a tough time getting its demands accepted.

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