Changes in Turkey’s borders?
The fact that some Syrian border posts are no longer controlled by troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad but by Syrian Kurdish rebel groups, and that Kurdish flags have been raised in some Syrian border towns with Kurdish populations, has seriously disturbed the Turkish government.
One group in particular has attracted Turkey’s attention, the well-organized Democratic Union Party (PYD), which according to spokespersons “shares the same ideology” with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has been waging an armed campaign against Turkey for the last three decades, claiming more than forty thousand lives to date.
Concern about the rise of the PYD caused Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan to convene an emergency meeting in Ankara with his top security and foreign policy team members. Another matter of concern to Ankara was the fact that some of the Syrian Kurdish militants in Syria have been sheltered and trained by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, while the KRG’s leader Masoud Barzani has promised Erdoğan that he will convince the PKK (based in his territory) to give up its “armed struggle” against Turkey. The government is going to take some “additional measures” against the PKK presence along the Turkish borders with Syria and Iraq, according to a statement issued following the meeting.
Turkey’s border with Iraq was settled in an agreement with the United Kingdom when it was the mandatory power there, following a serious of Kurdish uprisings (supposedly assisted by British-backed agitators) in 1926, three years after the regime change in Turkey from Sultanate to Republic. The border with Syria was settled when the people of the border province of Hatay voted to be a part of Turkey rather than remain with the newly founded Syria under French mandate in 1938.
Actually, the territories of the failing Turkish Empire under the Ottoman dynasty almost a century ago were “shared” among Britain, France and Czarist Russia, via a secret agreement to the Sykes-Picot plan of 1916, which was then exposed in the Brest-Litovsk peace agreement in 1918 by the Soviet leadership who seized power in Russia through the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.
Another wave of border changes came about with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Some were peaceful, like the reunification of Germany and the “Velvet Divorce” that gave birth to the Czech and Slovak Republics. But Yugoslavia was split into six parts via a human disaster that has not come to an end even today. Borders in the Caucasus are also not in a stable condition yet, with ongoing disputes between Azerbaijan and Armenia and Russia and Georgia.
Following the instability of borders in regions northwest and northeast of Turkey, now the Arab Spring has caused instabilities on Turkey’s southern and southeastern borders, which consist mostly of straight lines drawn in the sand by Mr. Sykes and Mr. Picot according to their strategic value as determined by energy resources. As the territorial integrity of Syria and Iraq is in greater jeopardy with every passing day, the borders become more unstable and the Kurds arise as independent actors in regional politics.
Yet there are three countries in the region which have the capability to expand, rather than shrink: Israel, Iran and Turkey. There are already political and economic actors trying to push Turkey to claim some energy-rich parts of Iraq and Syria, which would mean a regime change such as a federated Turkey, with Kurdish and possibly Arabic members. But Ankara instinctively resists the idea of border changes, which could drag the whole region into a chain reaction of wars. The region is heading towards a dangerously unstable phase because of the civil war in Syria.