No one is asking for Turkish troops in Syria

No one is asking for Turkish troops in Syria

There seems to be a misunderstanding or an intentional misinterpretation about Turkey’s contribution to efforts against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Many say Turkey should resist pressures to send troops into northern Syria against the group to help beleaguered Kobane. They maintain that this is not Turkey’s fight and Ankara should not get bogged down in a quagmire.

To start with the second point, it is a bit difficult, in the face of what has been transpiring in Turkey recently, to argue that what is happening just across its borders is not Turkey’s concern. Apart from that, though, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself is on record as saying in the past that it would not be ethical for Turkey to look the other way as bloody events unfold in Syria.

Turkey’s Kurds therefore query the logic of Erdogan’s recent remark when he said he does not understand what Kobane has to do with Diyarbakir. He was referring to the riots in Diyarbakir by Kurds protesting Turkey’s inactivity as Kurds in Kobane face a massacre.

A Kurdish youth I know asked me the other day, “If what Erdogan says is true, then what does Gaza have to do with Istanbul?” He in turn was referring to the rallies organized by supporters of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) for the Palestinians in Gaza, as well as Erdogan’s own angry rhetoric in this regard. 

Granted there was no rioting in those AKP rallies, but the question of the young Kurd is still a valid one. Especially when one considers that there are more direct links between the Kurds of Kobane and Diyarbakir than there are between Istanbul and Gaza.

As to the matter of Turkey sending troops to fight ISIL in Kobane, there may be those in the West who, as usual, know little about this part of the world but are quick to offer advice to this effect. There may also be those in Turkey who use this issue politically. The fact, however, is that neither Kurds nor Arabs want to see Turkish boots in northern Syria, or in Iraq, for that matter.

This is also why pro-Kurdish politicians voted against the government’s recent bill in Parliament which authorizes Turkish troops to enter Syria and Iraq. The fear on the Kurdish side is that Turkish troops will go to Syria to prevent the Kurds there from gaining autonomy.

As for Arabs, they have a traditional antipathy toward Turkish troops on Arab soil, as evidenced by past instances when the Turkish army entered northern Iraq to mount operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Those operations were always condemned by the Arab League.

Put another way, Turkish troops on what is seen as Arab soil has traditionally brought out charges of neo-Ottoman irredentism. At any rate, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the Voice of America’s Afghan Service Chief Masood Farivar in an interview on Oct. 10 that no one in the region wanted Turkish troops in northern Syria anyway.

This does not alter the fact that Ankara could be assisting the Kurds of Syria in different ways in order to avoid giving the impression that Turkey does not care about them and would rather they lost to ISIL. Especially when we have a deputy head of the AKP, namely Yasin Aktay, claiming there are no Kurds left in Kobane, that they have all taken refuge in Turkey, and that it is only terrorists fighting terrorists there. Or when we have AKP deputies like Emrullah İşler, a former government minister, indicating that he would prefer ISIL to the PKK.

We learn from Washington now that Turkey will be more active against ISIL in terms of training moderate elements of the Free Syrian Army and allowing the İncirlik Airbase to be used by the U.S.-led anti ISIL coalition.

Ankara, however, remains quiet on these issues and it still has to be seen if it has in fact decided to make an effort against ISIL, or if it is continuing to insist that it will only make this effort if the U.S.-led coalition targets Bashar al-Assad, rather than ISIL.