Turkey’s high stakes gamble

Turkey’s high stakes gamble

Turkey has raised the stakes in Syria by beginning to shell the Syrian Kurdish Peoples Defense Units (YPG) in an effort to deter the group from capturing more territory along the Turkish border. Although pro-government media is drumming up support for this action, one does not need much imagination to realize that average Turks are worried about where this is all leading to.

Opinion polls from the beginning of the Syrian crisis have confirmed time and again that most Turks do not want to see their country embroiled in a war or any kind of conflict in Syria. The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) serial mistakes with regard to Syria have now resulted in what to many appears to be a desperate effort to alter the course of events in the country which continue to develop against Turkey’s interests.

It is not clear, however, whether Ankara can deter Syrian Kurds by showering shells on them from inside Turkey alone. Many question this and wonder if the next stage is some kind of military incursion into Syria by the Turkish military. Under normal circumstances that may not have been that unlikely a prospect. 

Today, however, there is a completely different situation on the ground due to the involvement of Russia, which has been aiding the YPG’s latest recent push northward. The fact that the YPG is also allied with the U.S. is a further complicating factor for Ankara.

Washington has called on the Syrian Kurds to desist from taking new territory near the Turkish border, and has also called on Ankara to stop shelling YPG targets. France too has called on Ankara to do the same. 

If Turkey disregards these calls it is clear that sympathy for the YPG, and its political wing the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which already exists in the West, will increase. Turkey considers these groups to be extensions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and has been trying unsuccessfully to get the West to designate them as terrorist groups like the PKK.

Sympathy for the PYD and the YPG will also increase if the beneficiaries of Turkey’s latest move appear to be radical Islamic groups in the region which Turkey has been accused of covertly aiding. Whatever the case turns out to be, it is not likely that Ankara will have much Western support in its battle against the Syrian Kurds.

This latest move by the Davutoğlu government, although popular among AKP supporters and some nationalist quarters agitated by the latest episode in the war in Turkey against the PKK, could leave Turkey even more isolated internationally than it already is.

There is much talk now about a strategic relationship between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, but if Ankara is relying on this to promote its agenda in Syria, this is a hollow expectation. The Saudi fighter jets said to have been deployed at the İncirlik airbase in the past few days will be under the command of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and will not be used against the YPG or the Syrian army.

The bottom line, as retired Ambassador Ünal Çeviköz from the Kadir Has University in Istanbul told daily Cumhuriyet in an interview published Feb. 15, is that it is not certain what the outcome of this latest step by Turkey will be. 

Many analysts are warning that Turkey is about to enter a war which could increase the security threat to the country rather than reduce it. Others are warning that moving against the YPG in this way will only inflame the war with the PKK at home.

There are so many unknowns in this equation that all one can hope for in the end is that the government knows what it is doing, despite all the mistakes it has already made in Syria.