US, Kurds and Turkey

US, Kurds and Turkey

Turkey might be brought into a situation of war due to the Kurdish politics of the United States in northern Syria and the reaction by Turkish leaders, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stated Turkey is seriously considering military intervention in northern Syria.

I do not claim that Turkey’s domestic and regional Kurdish politics should not be criticized. Besides, it might as well be argued that it is the problems of Turkish foreign policy that have led to the deterioration of relations with the western world, especially with the U.S.

Nevertheless, it is not only unfair, but also misleading to put the all blame on the Turkish government’s misconduct in order to explain the whole story.

I have always argued that the end of the so-called peace process has not only destroyed Turkey’s chances of a democratic solution for Kurdish politics at home, but has also hindered the chances of better relations with the Kurds in northern Syria. Nonetheless, neither Kurds nor the U.S. had been willing to understand the fact that no sovereign state would remain unconcerned or unintimidated by the major changes along its borders.

Indeed, the dream of an autonomous Kurdish state along the Syrian borders had been a nightmare, not only for the rulers of Turkey but for the whole political establishment, including the main opposition party. It has been perceived not only as an external threat but also as a domestic matter, since a Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria would destabilize Kurdish populated regions in Turkey.

Even if the ruling party’s reaction against such a prospect could be viewed as extreme and over skeptical, it is also the underestimation of Turkey’s concerns that has contributed to the recent confrontation with the Kurds on one hand and with the U.S. on the other. It is true the Turkish government had ended the peace process abruptly but after all, the Kurds had not refrained from further militarization of the conflict after the June 2015 general elections. Turkey’s Kurdish party could understandably become excited by the regional gains in northern Syria and had expected the Turkish government to be friendlier with the Kurds along its borders, but as regional Kurdish politics became the priority of Kurdish politics, matters became further complicated.

It might also be argued that Turkey’s government could have handled the matter better with a more peaceful approach, but after all, we do not live in a dreamy world. Even Spain, an EU member, could not cope with the Catalan referendum and the prospect of autonomy. No one can deny that the EU and the U.S. have been more understanding about the concerns of the central government of Spain. It is not to say that Turkey’s western allies should have been unconditionally supportive of the Turkish state, but double standards are obvious and it only reinforces skepticism in Turkey concerning the western powers, not only in government circles but also in public opinion.

There is a vicious circle. This skepticism fosters a rise in nationalism, which legitimizes undemocratic politics. This rise of nationalism in Turkey and the undemocratic measures against politicians of the Kurdish party pushes some of Turkey’s Kurds to alienate from the Turkish state and drift away from democratic politics. Their disenchantment from Turkey’s politics in turn, fosters skepticism towards nationalism.

The U.S. military and political support of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) further enrages Turkey’s rulers and as their reaction is welcomed by the overwhelming majority, it does not benefit Turkish politics. Furthermore, it does not help foster peaceful relations between Kurds and Turks in the future. As northern Syrian Kurds become more drawn to the U.S., this strategic choice can create enduring hostility towards Kurds who will be seen as western pawns who work to undermine Turkey. It is not only Turks or the Turkish government but also Kurdish politicians who should see that power politics will destroy the chance for a peaceful future.

I am among those who have struggled against the long-established left and right-wing nationalist political skepticism that has viewed Kurds as “a pawn of foreign powers.” It has been this understanding of the Kurdish issue that has ruined the chance for democratic politics in Turkey for so long. For that reason, left-wing intellectuals refrain from telling the inconvenient truth about Kurdish politics in the name of political correctness, but we should admit that Kurds should also be considerate to avoid legitimizing this view.

Nuray Mert, hdn,