SHAFAQNA – Keen to jump in front of what he has viewed as a direct threat to his hegemonic ambitions in the region Turkish President Recep Erdogan appears to have unwittingly awoken the sleeping Kurdish giant, thus potentially precipitating his own demise.
Kurdish separatism has been a long-standing issue in Turkey, one which can be rooted to the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the 20th century, and the subsequent geopolitical redrawing of the Middle East under the Sikes-Picot agreement.
As Emily Whitman, a PhD in conflicts resolution noted in an interview: “It is often in History we find those faultlines which plague our present. In the case of Turkey and the Kurdish dossier, Ankara can claim to have fed a giant revolutionary movement, when it could have instead opted for integration, cooperation and fair political representation.”
By President Erdogan’s own admission, Turkey faces a crisis. Again here, guilt essentially lies with President Erdogan since it was him, who stroke the first blow, when it would have been easier to explore diplomacy – but then again President Erdogan is more of a neo-con than a pacifist.
Since Summer 2015, Turkey southeast region has been turned into a furious battleground – “a little Syria” Dr Whitman advances, on account the Kurdish leadership represents an inherent threat to national security – or so Ankara claims.
In an opinion piece for Sputnik. Andrew Korybko writes the following: “Erdogan is so fearful of Kurdish separatism that he’s ordered the military to brutally and blindly crack down on the community both at home and abroad. This explains the Ottoman-like violence that’s befallen Diyarbakir, pro-Ankara Barzani’s traitorous “invitation” for the Turks to invade Northern Iraq last December, and the latest cross-border shelling against the Syrian-based YPG. The Turkish strongman is now fighting against the Kurds in three separate theatres and there’s no foreseeable end in sight.”
Looking at the Kurdish dossier one needs to consider what asset the Kurds have represented in both Syria and Iraq against the advances of the Black Flag army, aka ISIL or Daesh as it is known in the Middle East. A powerful ally against terror, the Kurds have proven more than just capable as far as breaking Daesh’s momentum is concerned. It is likely Daesh radicals would have managed to annex much of north-eastern Iraq if not for the Peshmerga. Such usefulness has bought the Kurds a few alliances and political good-will in the region – especially where anti-Turks sentiments have been most virulent – Syria for example.
As far as Damascus is concerned, the Kurds are part of Syria’s global push against foreign interventionism and terror. And while Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might in fact stand a besieged president in his own land, he is not without powerful friends – whose friends have looked onto the Kurds with growing sympathy and empathy.
Washington has too expressed its appreciation of the Kurds over the years, going as far as thanking the Peshmerga forces for their resilience against the terror of Daesh and Co. in Iraq. In December 2015 Defense Secretary Ash Carter said: “The Kurdish Peshmerga forces define the indigenous fighters needed to accelerate defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Iraq and Syria.” In his speech to the press Carter made clear the Kurds had in fact Washington’s backing.
It is this political and military reliance onto the Kurds which troubles Erdogan most of all, as it could entail in the long run a broad backing of Kurdish emancipation. A NATO ally with imperialistic ambitions the “Sultan” is looking today to neutralize what he sees as a direct threat to his hegemonic plans – to hell with fighting terror.
Andrew Korybko brilliantly summarizes Turkey’s conundrum when he explains: “He [Erdogan] sought to attract the MHP nationalist vote after his AK Party’s surprise first-round electoral loss, and while this may have won him the Presidency, it could very well lose him the country, at least in terms of its present administrative arrangement.”
Erdogan might have in fact gone one step too far in his obsession with geopolitical control, as he struck a deal with our modern day devil – aka Terror. While Ankara still refuses to own up to its terror connections, there is little doubt left as to Erdogan’s financial interests in the Black Terror market. From the purchase of oil and gas, to human trafficking and the smuggling of precious artefacts, Turkey has become a grand facilitator and enabler.
But back to Turkey folie des grandeurs!
Turkey’s policies today are the manifestation of Erdogan’s geopolitical ambitions and fear.
Here is where Erdogan’s political paranoia gives: He, the ambitious politician wants to resurrect the Ottoman Empire, and towards such a pursuit self-governance or autonomy simply have no place at all – not for the Kurds, not for any ethnic minority.
If the Kurds of Iraq somewhat pose less of a threat in that Erdogan feels their political ambitions have somewhat been contained within the semi-autonomous Kurdistan, Syrian Kurds are another matter altogether. It doesn’t hurt that President Masoud Barzani sits in President Erdogan’s back pocket.
A growing power, and player within Syria it is likely the Kurds will realise greater autonomy in post-war Syria. And though President Bashar al-Assad will unlikely allow for Syria to be fragmented, he might nevertheless agree to a form of federal set-up where ethnic groups will enjoy greater representation and autonomy, while still held together under the umbrella of the central government.
Such foreseeable political emancipation would likely prompt Kurds in Turkey to campaign for their own independence – something Erdogan made crystal clear will not happen under his watch, hence the pre-emptive crackdown we have seen unfold in south-east Turkey.
But if Erdogan thought his move clever, he could soon learn that his belligerence and indiscriminate violence against the Kurds will actually lit a revolutionary spark within Turkey among those ethnic minorities which no longer wish to leave under the boot of the Turkman.
And while Turkey still gives out a sense of unity, its demographic make-up is much more complex, and fret with tensions than experts care to admit.
By Catherine Shakdam for the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies