Turkey’s grand offensive against all

Turkey’s grand offensive against all

Turkey supposedly gave up its reluctance to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and joined the anti-ISIL coalition, but in reality, the Turkish government started military operations against both ISIL and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) at the same time. 

In addition, the government has launched domestic operations against “all kinds of terror organizations,” as they put it. The operations have targeted ISIL, the PKK and radical leftist groups and individuals. Now the question is whether the priority is to join the Western alliance in its struggle against ISIL or target the PKK in Iraq and Kurdish political circles including the Peace and Democracy Party (HDP) inside the country. The other question is whether Turkey brokered a deal with the United States to have a free hand against the PKK in return for more determined support for the struggle against ISIL, which includes giving permission to use the İncirlik base in this fight.

Many in Kurdish and opposition circles already believe that the U.S. and Turkey have started to reconcile following a period of bad relations and that the present rulers of Turkey have won serious concessions from the U.S. in return for the İncirlik base and operations against ISIL. 

However, the reality seems to be more complex, so much so that all claims may be true at the same time.

Perhaps the Turkish government abandoned its reluctance concerning the fight against ISIL, perhaps it is using or abusing its new policy as an opportunity to suppress the PKK and domestic opposition and perhaps the U.S. gave some approval concerning military operations against the PKK. Still, the reality is so complex that all those speculations are all wrong. Perhaps the Turkish government did not sincerely decide to fight against ISIL, perhaps the government knows that it cannot deceive the U.S. to suppress the Kurds and perhaps the U.S. does not approve of military operations against the PKK. The truth may be too nuanced to reach clear judgments at the moment.

It seems to me that the Turkish government finally needed to change its policy toward ISIL, for more than one reason. First of all, the pressure from Turkey’s Western allies came to the point of requiring the Turkish government to make up its mind without any ambivalence. Then, the West-Iran deal weakened Turkey’s bargaining power and reminded the Turkish government of its limitations concerning regional politics. Finally, Turkish authorities started to perceive ISIL as an external and internal security threat. 

What is clearer is that the Turkish government considered using this policy change as a chance to suppress Kurds by including them as part of its “war against terrorism.” After all, for a long time and despite “the so-called peace process,” the Turkish governing party asked its Western allies to acknowledge Turkey’s fight against the PKK as part of “the struggle against terrorism in the region.” 

There are also domestic issues to be taken into consideration to be able to analyze the recent events; the Turkish government failed to lead the peace process and gave it up as its politics regressed toward “good old nationalism.” After the election, the governing party lost the majority to form a government and is now opting for nationalist support. Finally, the interim government could not “legitimize” the deal with the U.S. and the offensive against ISIL without assaulting Kurds.

As for the questions about the terms of the deal with the U.S., it is another complicated matter. It seems that the terms are not clear only because it is a secret deal and we cannot know the actual terms but I think it is “genuinely” not clear, and no party (the Turkish government and the U.S.) wants it to be clear yet. I do not think that Turkey has much bargaining power to ask for U.S. compliance in its Kurdish offensive, or for using it to suppress domestic dissent in return for the fight against ISIL. 

Nevertheless, Turkey’s objection to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) eagerness to have more parts of northern Syria to connect Kurdish enclaves is being acknowledged by the U.S. as more “legitimate” than Turkey’s many other objections and demands. After all, Kurds also need to avoid being maximalist, no matter how good their relations with the U.S. have been so far, and they have to avoid not making the mistake that Turkey made concerning regional politics.