Provoking Turkey will not bring peace

Provoking Turkey will not bring peace

Turkey is furious about the United States’ decision to arm Kurdish forces in Syria, and rightly so. So far, both the Turkish government’s Syrian and Kurdish policies have been, and still are, full of mistakes and miscalculations. In fact, from the beginning of the whole affair, I have been among the harsh critics of the both Syrian and Kurdish policies. Nevertheless, it is no longer a matter of suffering from past mistakes on both fronts, but it has been transformed into a stick to punish Turkey for its anti-Western and anti-U.S. political slide. 

At the beginning of the whole Syrian (and even Middle Eastern) affair, it was not only the policy of Turkey’s government to encourage regime change with the help of Islamists. It was U.S. and Western policy in general to promote the Muslim Brotherhood against corrupt and authoritarian secularist regimes. Moreover, it was not only the Muslim Brotherhood but also Islamist jihadists who were encouraged to fight against those regimes. The so-called Arab Spring proved to be nothing more than the rise of Islamist politics in the region.

It failed in Egypt, it failed tragically in Libya and it even failed in Tunisia, even though no one is yet willing to admit it. Finally in Syria, it turned out to be a total disaster. Only then did the U.S. and Western policy in general require a shift away from supporting Islamists of various kinds to fighting against Islamists. Turkey’s government could not comprehend the shift at the beginning and then refused to acknowledge the policy change and continued to engage in the fight against the regime in Syria. 

As for the Kurdish policy, Turkey’s government failed to achieve peaceful resolution with Kurds at home before the war spilled over its Syrian border. On the contrary, Turkey returned to its militaristic politics at home and started to be more and more alarmed by Syrian Kurds’ autonomy and militia. Moreover, the perceived “Kurdish threat” started to dominate its Syrian and regional policies. Turkey deluded itself that its Western allies would eventually surrender to Turkey’s demands and would “choose” Turkey at the expanse of an alliance with the Syrian Kurds. As that never happened, Turkey’s government became increasingly bitter about “the West” in general. Under the circumstances, Turkey tried to challenge the U.S. and its Western allies in general by flirting with the ideas and politics of anti-imperialism, anti-Westernism and “Easternism” in an attempt to provide a challenge but all to no avail. But the last hope in attempting to convince the new U.S. president proved to be in vain, and the U.S. decision to arm Kurdish forces duly left Turkey angry and alone. 

Under the circumstances, the so-called “U.S. military assurances” to Turkey regarding the supply of arms to the YPG sounds more like a further humiliation than a friendly gesture. I am one of those who wish Turkey’s government had chosen to engage in a peaceful dialogue with the Syrian Kurds at the beginning to avoid further conflict and confrontation at home and abroad. Nevertheless, no sovereign state/government can be expected to adjust itself to such radical changes along its borders. Moreover, it was not only Turkey’s government but also Turkey’s Kurdish politicians who mixed up their regional ambitions with their domestic politics. That is not to say that Kurds should and could have been totally aloof to regional Kurdish developments. Nonetheless, the “Rojava First!” policy of Turkey’s Kurdish political circles changed the stakes for both sides. 

No, I am not an apologist for Turkey’s Syrian and Kurdish policies, and I absolutely do not suggest that it was betrayal by Turkey’s Western allies that led Ankara to become more aggressive and antagonistic. However, the provocation of Turkey’s nationalistic government and public will not aid in any future peaceful solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey and the region. I never expected the U.S. to abandon its Kurdish allies against ISIL, but it could have been more discreet about it and refrained from provoking Turkey’s reaction. The provocation of a nationalist backlash that may foster further draconian policies by the state/government and trigger more nationalistic public reactions against those who support a peaceful Kurdish policy is never going to help Kurds and other dissidents in the country.