Ankara has to get real in Syria

Ankara has to get real in Syria

Our own Serkan Demirtaş is one of the best connected journalists in Ankara. This is what makes his article on Wednesday important. It reflects Ankara’s delusions with regard to Syria, showing it is guided more by wishful thinking than anything else.

Demirtaş cites a Turkish source who maintains that Washington has received Turkey’s messages about Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Ankara considers to be a terrorist organization, “loud and clear.”  
This group is currently allied with the U.S. against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). “We have raised this question to them: Are you opting for a 2,000-strong PYD force over the 700,000 or 800,000-strong, second most powerful army in NATO?” the source said.  

The source also claimed that the American side admits they were not fully aware of all links between the People’s Defense Units (YPG), the armed wing of the PYD, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) until they received Turkish intelligence proving this. 

In fact these links were known to all, even without intelligence from Ankara. The source also claimed the American side admits now that the U.S. strategy of fighting ISIL was “short-sighted,” and sees that this has enabled the PYD to turn the situation to its own advantage. 

“There is this misperception that the PYD is fighting effectively against ISIL. In fact, it is al-Nusra that has been harming ISIL the most. Are we also going to arm them? This is what we are asking the Americans,” the source is reported as saying.  

The suggestion that al-Nusra should be armed in this case, rather than the PYD, is a cynical challenge at best. But it could also be an expression of a deep-felt desire. This group was listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. much to Ankara’s annoyance at the time.  It was only after pressure from Washington that Turkey also listed it as such. 

Some Western diplomats believe al-Nusra is still receiving clandestine assistance from Turkey. Even if this is not true, one has to admit that the suppositions cited by the source talking to Demirtaş are no less speculative than this claim.

Demirtaş’s source also believes that Russia will never risk confrontation with Turkey because of the strong and important bilateral relationship. Russia will not put itself into such a position, however, because it would mean confronting NATO.  The supposed influence of the “strong and important bilateral relationship” between the two countries, on the other hand, appears exaggerated. 

Moscow knew Turkey’s positon on Syria all along, and this did not prevent it from getting militarily involved to shore up Bashar al-Assad’s regime, even though it was aware that this would annoy Ankara deeply. As for the vast economic and energy interests between the two countries, these cut both ways.

The results of my soundings among Western diplomat circles do not tally with what Demirtaş’s source is saying. Open remarks by State Department and Pentagon spokespersons also indicate that Washington is not prepared to give up on the PYD or YPG at this stage. 

As to the rhetorical remark about “preferring the PYD to NATO member Turkey,” this is an argument Ankara has been using for some time. According to my Western sources, this argument might have been valid if Ankara were fully in tune with NATO on the need to prioritize the fight against ISIL. 

It was, after all, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter who not so long ago said Turkey had to do more in this regard. One could argue, therefore, that if Turkey’s commitment against ISIL was more convincing, the U.S. might have had less need for the PYD.

Looking at the picture as it really is, and not as some Turkish official would like it to be, one is reminded again of how important it is for Ankara to get real and recalibrate its Syrian policies, instead of floating notions clearly aimed at a domestic audience that is increasingly wary of the cost of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s misguided policies.