From the very beginning, I thought that the worst scenario concerning Turkey’s response to Kurds taking control of parts of northern Syria would be that the government would consider “playing Arabs against Kurds.” The Daily News’s interview (July 28-29) with a foreign policy analyst, Nuh Yılmaz, who is known to be close to the governmental circles, confirmed my concerns. He stated: “If the PKK
becomes very active and starts hurting Turkey’s interests, [Syrian] groups that are close to Turkey could become mobilized as well. The Free Syrian Army has already stated that it could even fight the PKK.”
It may be a personal account of the events, but it sounds perfectly in tune with the present mood of the government. It seems that history is repeating itself, since the present government is reacting to the recent developments in northern Syria in the very same manner that previous Turkish governments reacted against “events in northern Iraq” when Kurds started the process of gaining political autonomy. The official Turkish policy has always been to refuse to deal with Kurdish actors and to try to weaken them by all means. Now, Turkey may think that it has an advantage of supporting a Syrian opposition force that can be pitted against the Kurds. In fact, such “meddling” in Syrian affairs is the kind of “dirty politics” from which Turkey should refrain. Besides, it is very dangerous game, in many respects.
First of all, it means contributing to the inter-communal fight in Syria. Such a move would not only deny the principle of a “democratic post-Assad Syria,” but would also be a concern for all domestic and foreign parties involved in Syrian politics. So far, Turkey has failed to recognize the fact that some kind of prospective Kurdish autonomy is not a “red line” of any other country, including the allies of Turkey. In fact, it is the PKK
that is more of a concern for many parties involved, including the Western bloc and the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq. Nevertheless, it is another grave mistake to think that all countries and parties will refuse to negotiate with the PKK
indefinitely and to expect Barzani to be a “vassal of Turkey.” Turkey is surprised by the Arbil Agreement only because it expected Barzani to shape his policy in terms of the demands and wishes of the Turkish government. Otherwise, it is perfectly understandable that Kurdish actors would try to establish some sort of unity, both for idealistic and realistic reasons.
Turkey is in a very difficult position since its so-called “national interests” concerning Kurds coincide with Iran
more than anybody else. But Iran
is the arch enemy of all Turkey’s friends, including its Arab allies. In fact, this could be a chance for Turkey to opt for peaceful and democratic politics concerning the Kurds to overcome its “realpolitik” difficulties. Under the circumstances, the politics of democracy could become both a matter of principle and of pragmatism (which rarely come together) at the same time.
Alas! The AKP government has regressed to status quo politics and ended up with the policies and discourses of Turkish nationalism. This turned out to be a sort of “new nationalism” that started to be adopted with more and more enthusiasm and delusion - a neo-Ottoman dream at home and abroad. Turkish democracy suffered a lot under nationalistic politics, and may suffer more dramatically under a new nationalism disguised as “Ottomanism,” which would only lead to “war at home, war abroad”!