Is Kobane a Trojan horse for Turks?
Turkey is ambivalent on the siege of Kobane. The city lies in the Ottoman Governorate of Syria and was built in 1912 around a train station along the Baghdad Railway. Its name is said to be derived from the German company that worked on building the railway line at the time. By 2004, Kobane’s population numbered around 45,000, and since 2012 it has been controlled by the YPG, a Kurdish defense force.
In 2014, the YPG declared that it was administering three cantons in northern Syria, which it now calls “Rojova.” The three cantons are separated by territory controlled by ISIL, and Kobane is the one in the middle.
The city has been under ISIL siege since mid-September this year, while Turkey complains about the refugee inflow into its own territory, with over 1.5 million refugees now in the country. However, around 200,000 more refugees have crossed into Turkey due to the Kobane siege and the related campaigns of ISIL terrorists. That is a huge number from a city of 45,000.
But Turkey appears hesitant when it comes to immediate help to Kobane. Why is Turkey so indecisive when it comes to the siege of Kobane? Bear in mind that this is the land of Troy, the ancient city on our Aegean coast that the Greeks besieged for 10 years. Just as they were about to give up, Odysseus, a particularly clever Greek, devised a plan. The Greeks pretended to pack up and leave, but left behind a giant wooden horse. The Trojans were overjoyed to see their enemy’s backs. According to Aeneid, then Sinon, a Greek warrior held captive by the Trojans, told the Trojans that the wooden horse the Greeks left behind was merely a gift to the Gods to make sure that ships returned home safely. “But why is the wooden horse so big?” asked the Trojans. “So that you Trojans would not be able to move the horse into your city,” replied Sinon. Then he added that, “if you take the wooden horse inside your city, it would make Troy invincible, and of course, the Greeks would not like that” - a sort of gift. The demise of the Trojans who fell for the trick is reported by Homer in the Odyssey. The Trojans rolled the horse inside their walls, and at night, the Greek soldiers hiding inside disembarked to capture the invincible city of Troy.
That is the legend. And we are the descendants of those mighty Trojans. Once bitten, twice cautious.
Why is Turkey still ambivalent? Because it is afraid of what might happen when it brings its guard down. It still hasn’t made up its mind about its own Kurds – how to approach them and whether they can be trusted. The Kurdish reconciliation process for example, still has no understandable name in Turkish. We still call it the “you know what” process. How are we supposed to solve a problem without first defining it?
I was recently reading Patti Waldmeir’s old book on the end of the apartheid: “Anatomy of a Miracle.” There, the former Chief of Staff of the South African Defense Force, General Constand Viljoen, says that between 1975 and 1985, perhaps four times, “we had a formal meeting with the government, in which we warned them that militarily we can carry on for a long time, yet politically ... the strategic options keep narrowing.” He constantly pushed for early action, “otherwise you end up in much weaker position than if you had tackled the thing politically at the right moment,” he writes.
The Kurdish issue in Turkey is no apartheid problem, you may say, and you may be right. Still, 54 percent of Kurds who participated in an unpublished 2013 TEPAV survey say there is discrimination towards Kurds in Turkey, while only 17.5 percent of Turkey’s citizens as a whole participating in the same survey say the same. The problem is not nearly as severe as that in South Africa of course, but the dynamics between majorities and minorities conform to the same principles. Why is Turkey so ambivalent about the Kobane siege? Just read General Viljoen’s remarks once more.
It is also worth noting that while today’s Trojans appear anxious, our Greeks’ focus and determination is not unlike Odysseus. History does not repeat itself, as the saying goes, but it does rhyme.