No all quiet on Turkey’s eastern front

No all quiet on Turkey’s eastern front

It was Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), who first likened the state of affairs in Turkey’s southeastern cities with Syrian provinces that have been the theater of nearly five years of clashes between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and opposition groups. Of course this comparison does not mean the CHP is equating the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the ongoing anti-terror fight in Turkey with the power struggle inside Syria. 

The evidence that would prove Kılıçdaroğlu’s suggestion was provided by the Turkish Chief of General Staff earlier this week with dozens of pictures from Sur, Cizre, Silopi and other southeastern provinces where heavy clashes between the Turkish army and PKK militants have been taking place for weeks. 

These cities have already turned into ghost towns as residents left their homes, while there is almost no building left undamaged by the clashes. Street scenes from these places are not very much different from war zones, as the normalization of life conditions in these cities will surely take months, if not years. 

There are no hopes that the clashes will cease soon and relevant parties will re-launch already frozen negotiations for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem. On the contrary, both government officials and PKK leaders are showing no signs of an immediate ceasefire. There are concerns that the terrorist organization may expand its warfare to other cities in the region with rumors about the announcement of what they call “autonomous governance.”     

The escalation of tension in the southeast makes Turkey more vulnerable to external threats, especially from Syria. The current picture puts only Masoud Barzani, the leader of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, as Turkey’s ally in the region in the face of multiple adversaries, including the governments of Iraq and Syria as well as regional power Iran and global power Russia.

The fact the PKK’s offshoot in Syria, the People Democratic Union (PYD) has been building an alliance with both Russia and the Syrian government is making the security situation on the Turkey-Syria border much more complicated. There are reports the PYD and Syrian forces are attempting to get control of the Mare-Jarablus line, an area Turkey and the U.S. were trying to clear of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants to establish a so-called secure zone. However, it’s been nearly a month since Turkish warplanes were able to hit ISIL targets in northern Syria because of ongoing tension with Russia, which threatened to down Turkish planes violating Syrian airspace. To top it all, the presence of ISIL continues to be a threat against Turkey both in Syria and domestically, expanding the scope of the country’s security needs. NATO’s recently-announced security package to boost Turkey’s air defense system is unlikely to have a practical impact against all of these threats cited.  

There is no question that the Turkish government’s reinforced anti-terror fight in the southeast is weakening Turkey’s hand in responding to external challenges. In addition, this fight is exposing more nerve endings which its rivals can easily stimulate. As seen, not all is quiet on Turkey’s eastern front, and it will not be quiet for a very long time.